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Tech incubator ready to create innovators

By LINDA DENG in Seattle | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-09-18 06:54

The new GIX building in Bellevue, Washington. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

"Innovation is all about 'what is new', and the key is to dare to think differently," said Microsoft's Harry Shum.

Shum, executive vice-president at the tech giant, leads Microsoft's AI and Research Group.

He is also actively involved in educational innovation as one of the five board members of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a partnership between major research universities and innovative corporations to develop leaders in innovation.

The two founding partners of GIX are the University of Washington and Tsinghua University, with foundational support from Microsoft.

The idea of the model was born in 2012, and the partnership between the two universities was created after Microsoft President Brad Smith visited Tsinghua University in Beijing.

"We started working on this five years ago, and it was based on the sense that future education would need to bring people together from different countries," Smith said. "Some of the problems of the world are global problems, issues like climate, (and) don't respect boundaries. If we are going to make progress in solving these problems, we have to find new ways to work together. It really requires that people start to learn together as students. As they learn more about each other, in our view, we build a new bridge across the Pacific.

"I still remember it like it was yesterday, the very first conversation I had with the University of Washington about this," he said. "And I said in that breakfast that, if we were very fortunate, we would succeed in persuading one university above all others to join, and that would be Tsinghua University."

Smith said "it was a reflection of Microsoft's long-standing research work in Beijing, our relationship with Tsinghua University. I felt that of all the universities in the world, it could bring more to this kind of international partnership, really the kind of partnership the world needs, than any other institution.

"So above all, I am very pleased now five years later to look back and see this become real," he said.

Shum said "the model is a cross-country, cross-culture and cross-discipline one, which I believe builds fertile soil for innovation".

On Sept 14, GIX announced that it had been joined by eight more Academic Network members and five Industry Consortium members.

The eight members of the GIX Academic Network are: École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Indian Institute of Science, Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology, National Taiwan University, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Tecnológico de Monterrey, and the University of British Columbia.

GIX Industry Consortium members include: Arm, Baidu, Boeing HorizonX and T-Mobile. Hainan Airlines has joined GIX as a valued partner providing travel support, fellowships and project support for students.

Academic Network members promote GIX to their students and connect faculty with relevant areas of research expertise. They also may offer projects to GIX learners in connection with industry partners. They benefit by gaining connections to UW research and Seattle's innovation ecosystem.

Industry Consortium members gain access to the GIX community of faculty, inventors and learners and may submit projects for students in the launch phase of the curriculum.

The goal shared by this member network is to forge connections and foster long-term relationships leading to technical exchange, co-invention and collaboration.

On the same day, GIX also celebrated the opening of its new home, a 100,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Bellevue, Washington.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, announced that the new GIX facility will be named the "Steve Ballmer Building" in honor of the former Microsoft CEO.

Microsoft provided $40 million in early funding and is committed to GIX's long-term growth and success. Ballmer has always been an advocate for business collaboration across international borders. He advanced Microsoft's global footprint and operations and forged groundbreaking new partnerships around the world.

Under Ballmer's leadership, Microsoft was the first company to open a basic research facility in China, and as a result, the Redmond, Washington company has a 20-year relationship with Tsinghua University.

"With the building opening, the partnership really enters its next phase, because the most important thing for us to contribute right now is frankly not more money, but time," Smith said.

Later this month, the GIX building will be occupied by the program's first two cohorts of master of science in technology innovation (MSTI from UW) degree students and dual degree students, which combines the MSTI with a master of engineering in data science and information technology (MEDSIT from Tsinghua) degree.

Half the students are from the United States and China. The rest hail from around the globe, from Canada, Estonia, France, India, Pakistan, Paraguay, Russia and Switzerland.

The Chinese students selected for the program were among the school's top tier but also had to prove they were adept at problem-solving, said Yang Bin, vice-president and provost of Tsinghua.

"We just 'opened the door' to the brand new GIX building," said Tsinghua University President Qiu Yong at the celebration ceremony. "I know we have opened the door to a level of cooperation that is unlimited by boundaries. We have opened the door to a collaboration that will facilitate international and interdisciplinary integration for technological innovation. And we have opened the door to an innovative education model and greater global capacity to tackle the world's greatest challenges."

Smith said it was "an important day for the relationship between China and the United States, because this is a building and this is a partnership that will help our countries (move) closer together. And I think that's what the future of the world requires if we're going to make progress and solve the world's problems."

With more global partners joining, GIX looks for an enrollment of 3,000 in a decade.

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