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Seattle has top-notch engineers, well-respected technology giants and a culture of entrepreneurialism and risk taking.

So, what’s the region really lacking when it comes to becoming a world-class technology hub?

I get asked that question a lot, and many of you have shared your thoughts on the matter in the comment threads of GeekWire over the past few months.

But here’s what I think the region really needs: A world-class private university on the scale of Stanford or MIT or Carnegie Mellon.

Don’t get me wrong. The University of Washington is a huge asset for the region, and I think more should be done to make sure it is churning out some of the top minds on the planet.

But just imagine if there were another university focused on science and technology that was not subject to the budgetary woes of Olympia? Imagine a university supported and bankrolled by a tech billionaire who wanted to educate the next-generation of scientists and engineers?  Imagine a university where physics took precedence over football?

Sand Point Naval Air Station in 1955 (Now Magnusson Park)

Could it actually happen? Well, there’s certainly enough wealth in the region to support it. And we have the land. (I’d propose the former Naval Air Station at Sand Point, but I am open to other ideas too).

If you’re of the belief, as I am, that having smart people living in your neighborhoods and walking around your city streets is the best way to foster economic development, then what’s holding us back?

After all, The New York Times just reported that New York City is currently reviewing seven proposals from 17 universities (including Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and Cornell) to create a new technology campus in the city. That’s part of an effort — led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg — to transform New York into a “mid-Atlantic Silicon Valley.”

Isn’t it time for Seattle step up and make a similar push? There’s certainly an opportunity. Citing a lack of developers and engineers to fill the roles at Seattle area tech companies, Northeastern University of Boston just announced a plan to establish a new university in the Seattle area.

I’ve laid out the private tech university theory before, floating the idea in September for a piece in Seattle Magazine titled “The Big Idea.” Here’s what I wrote:

Seattle needs to become a destination for the smartest people in the world. Microsoft,, the Institute for Systems Biology, Boeing and the University of Washington are doing their part. But we need more. So, here’s the Big Idea: We need the citizens of the state, along with some of our billionaires, to step up and create a new private university on the scale of Stanford or MIT.  

I also floated the theory in a recent appearance on Seattle Voices, hosted by Eric Liu.

In the interview, I noted how New York has supplanted Washington state in terms of venture capital, and how Seattle would be best served by making sure that there’s a well educated workforce to take advantage of strengths in engineering, software and biotechnology. (I talk about the private university concept in the video below in minute 14 and minute 26).

So, what do you think? Is the notion of a private university — either one bankrolled by the wealthy barons of Seattle or a branch of a private university — a pipe dream or a reality?

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