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New Cornell Campus to Cultivate High-Tech Industry in New York City [Slide Show]

A collaboration with an Israeli University will incubate start-ups from an East River island with a colorful past
cornell, tech, israel, new york



Courtesy of Larry Greenemeier

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For years New York City–based universities have been opening satellite campuses worldwide, whether it is New York University's sites in Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv or Columbia University's Global Centers in Beijing and Nairobi. Technion–Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa is returning the favor in a big way, partnering with Ithaca, N.Y.–based Cornell University to build a campus on New York City's Roosevelt Island.

The purpose of this high-tech venture is to turn the 52-hectare sliver of land in the East River between Manhattan and Queens into a techno island of sorts, an incubator for start-ups akin to what Stanford University has done in Silicon Valley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (M.I.T.) role in the Boston area.

By 2027 Cornell and Technion plan to have built more than half of their 18.6-hectare NYC Tech Campus on the site of Roosevelt Island's Goldwater Memorial Hospital, just south of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. Coursework aimed at cultivating health care, social media and green energy entrepreneurs could begin on site as early as 2017. Cornell and Technion hope to attract 2,500 students and 280 professors learning, teaching and living on the island within two decades.

NYC Tech will offer a dual masters from both Cornell and Technion in applied science. The program will be tailored to students who already have an undergraduate degree in a technology-related discipline—such as computer science or engineering—and add to that the business and entrepreneurial skills needed to develop and commercialize new technologies. Students will have mentors from New York–based businesses and work on projects with real-world applications, says Daniel Huttenlocher, Cornell dean of computing and information science.

The ultimate goal is to initiate student- and faculty-led start-ups that will remain in New York City. The NYCTech Campus plans to establish a $150 million revolving financing fund that will be solely devoted to start-up businesses in the city‬.

Cornell alumni have a strong track record in forming successful tech companies but few have remained on the east coast. Irwin Mark Jacobs, who graduated from Cornell in 1956 with an electrical engineering degree, co-founded San Diego-based telecommunications company Qualcomm in 1985. PeopleSoft, Inc., which made human-resource management software before being bought by Oracle in 2005 for $10.3 billion, was co-founded in 1987 in Walnut Creek, Calif., by Cornell alumnus David Duffield.

Huttenlocher attributes some of Cornell's challenge of retaining its homegrown talent to its relatively isolated and rural location. E Ink Corp. (makers of the Amazon Kindle's electronic paper displays) and Harmonix Music Systems (makers of Guitar Hero and other popular video games) emerged out of M.I.T.'s Media Lab but stayed nearby in Cambridge. Carnegie Mellon University has likewise benefited from spin offs Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition (makers of computer vision software) and RedZone Robotics remaining near Pittsburgh.

The challenges NYC Tech graduates will face in New York City are less about isolation than they are about setting up shop given the city's pricey real estate, which is where the $150 million financing fund may come into play. One of Technion's roles will be to lend its experience getting start-ups off the ground near its Haifa campus.

Columbia has since 1982 had a program to help turn entrepreneurial ideas into start-ups through that university's Technology Ventures office, but Huttenlocher says Cornell and Technion are taking a new approach. NYC Tech's applied science program will be organized around three interdisciplinary themes relevant to industries operating in and around the city. One will emphasize the development of technology to promote healthier living, which is of interest to the city's health care institutions and insurance companies. Another theme will focus on ways to make media more interactive—perhaps along the lines of "social TV" or "two-way" programming—that might appeal to the city's more traditional broadcast media companies as well as advertising and marketing firms. The third theme, so-called "smart" technologies, will develop on retrofits for city buildings to make them greener and more energy efficient.

"Each of these three areas brings together technology and non-technology fields such as social science, design, public health and the study of human behavior," Huttenlocher says, adding that, as times change, the NYC Tech curriculum will adapt. "The themes themselves might look different in a few years, but the fundamental approach of the campus will not change."

Cornell wants to initiate classes and labs like those that will be offered at NYC Tech during the 2012–13 school year in rented space in Manhattan. Huttenlocher says they have not yet chosen a location but that the NYC Tech coursework will begin even before Goldwater Memorial is razed and the foundation for the new campus is poured.

Change is nothing new to Roosevelt Island, whose population has swelled to 14,000 in recent years. Native Americans used it as a hunting ground and fishing hole before 17th-century Dutch settlers bought the island to raise hogs. For the past 180 years it has been home to a mental hospital, penitentiary, smallpox hospital, almshouse, nursing school and government rent-subsidized apartment buildings.

The aging Goldwater facilities, which opened in 1939, do not meet NYC Tech's needs for a modern workspace. For example, plans call for the campus to include a solar array that will generate 1.8 megawatts at daily peak and a 400-well geothermal field, which uses the constant temperature of the earth to cool buildings in the summer and heat them in the winter.‬

The campus is also expected to include newly constructed classrooms and computer labs as well as open workspaces where students and faculty can design and build projects. Local companies may also have access to some of the space so that mentors can work with students on campus. NYC Tech will also include housing for students and faculty.

View a slide show of the site of New York City's New Cornell High-Tech Campus

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