Visiting Technion leader discusses joint venture with Cornell U.

Prof. Boaz Golany

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

A partnership between the Technion, often called “Israel’s MIT,” and Cornell University, will result in a new, multi-billion dollar academic campus located on Roosevelt Island, N.Y. slated to break ground in 2015, according to a top Technion official who visited St. Louis earlier this month. However, inaugural instruction will begin at off-site locations around New York City in September. 

Professor Boaz Golany, vice president of resource development and External Operations at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, and former dean of the Technion Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, said that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the “driving force” in the creation of the new joint institute, noting that Bloomberg believes that it could create an East Coast version of Silicon Valley, Calif.  

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Golany stopped by the offices of the St. Louis Jewish Light earlier this month to discuss the new institute. 

Can you talk about Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement of the creation of the Technion-Cornell Innovation Istitute?

Mayor Bloomberg has a vision where the City of New York will have a technology sector of the likes of Silicon Valley. New York is very strong in financial services, entertainment and medical services, but is not really up to par with Silicon Valley and the other technological regions of the world.  So Mayor Bloomberg initiated an international competition, which was by invitation only. About 40 universities around the world were invited from this country and 10 from overseas. The Technion was the only university in Israel to be invited to join the competition.

What is the time-line for the new Cornell-Technion Institute?

The plans for the Cornell/Technion campus call for 2 million square feet of campus buildings incorporating several green energy components.  The two universities will begin operations in 2012 at an offsite location before construction begins in 2015 on the new campus, which will be on Roosevelt Island.  The Goldwater Hospital, currently located on Roosevelt Island, must be removed before Cornell and Technion begin building.  The first phase of the Roosevelt Island campus is expected to open in 2017, with 1.3 million square feet completed by 2027.  In total, the plans estimate that the campus will cost $2 billion. By 2043, the campus is designed to house up to 2,500 students and about 280 faculty members.

 

What will be unique about the way the new Cornell-Technion campus operates as compared to other universities?

Initially, the campus will be built around three major interdisciplinary hubs: “connective media,” “healthier life” and “the built environment,” and offer master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science and engineering, and information science and engineering.  The design of the campus calls for the hubs to change over time to address emerging industries and city needs. 

How will science and technology businesses be attracted to work with the new Cornell-Technion Institute?

There will be a $150 million startup fund, which will support new companies that elect to stay in the city, as well as programs designed to improve math and science in the city.

When did the invitation come, and how did the partnership with Cornell University come about?

The invitation came in December of 2010. And we made it clear that we could not do this alone…that we needed a partner. Luckily, were “matched,” to use a Jewish term with Cornell University.  Together we put together a proposal, and we won.

Why was your proposal accepted?

The model we suggested was revolutionary — combining the strengths of the Technion in Haifa, Israel and Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y, with a new location on Roosevelt Island.  The invitation made it clear that the competition was looking for a game-changer, something that was dramatically different from the ways universities run their businesses usually. Technion brought to the table the model we have started to develop, which is to move away from the rigid structural departments into an interdisciplinary approach that brings together the forces from different disciplines.

In the last decade, the Technion has launched a number of these activities which have been very well-received and which have brought us to new heights. So we followed the same school of thought in our proposal with Cornell and we suggested a structure of several hubs, each of which will focus on a particular area. 

How will the new Institute partner with private industry?

Technion already has a well-established history of collaboration with industry. The Technion has very strong links with Israeli industry, the international corporations in Israel. As documented in the book “Start-Up Nation,” every large technology company in the world has a (research and development) center in Israel. Nearly all of them are concentrated along the coastal road leading from Tel Aviv to Haifa. Ten minutes by car from the Technion, one can see an impressive collection of international corporations, including such firms as IBM, Intel, Yahoo, Google and Apple has just announced a new facility in Israel.

Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement mentioned support for start-up technology companies. Can you discuss that in more detail?

Yes, the idea is that around this new institute there will be several belts of companies. The first belt will be start-up companies, like the many start-ups we have in Israel. The second belt will be (science and engineering), most of them medium enterprises and the third belt will be larger companies, going all the way to the giant tech companies I have just mentioned. We can bring to the new institute our background in working with these companies including the movement of people between the campus and the companies back and forth. 

How does this business-academic collaboration benefit the students at Technion and the new institute?

At the Technion, most second year students are already working in engineering positions at firms even while they are completing their studies. Before they graduate, they are already getting experience in working at the companies. They bring the fresh knowledge they have from the campus to the companies, and they bring the problems and challenges from the workplace to the Technion, so it works both ways to the benefit of each. They get the professors interested in their projects, whether it is a regular project, a senior year project, and they are doing real work problems that they are facing in the workplace. This cements the relationship between the university and the workplace. 

How tough was the competition Technion and Cornell faced in submitting this proposal?

We faced very stiff competition, including such universities as Stanford, Columbia and NYU. And we won, which is a great achievement for us.