The University of Washington is committed to partnering with China’s leading technologists and innovators.
That much was clear last week in Shanghai, where the UW held its inaugural Innovation Summit in China’s second-largest largest city.
The four-hour long event at a hotel in downtown Shanghai included a handful of presentations from top innovators with some connection to the UW, either as a student, professor, or administrator.
The main focus of the afternoon was innovations — many of which are coming out of the UW — and how those are helping solve the world’s problems. It was also a time to celebrate the Global Innovation Exchange Institute (GIX), a new technology institute based in Bellevue, Wash., created by the UW and China’s Tsinghua University with the initial help of $40 million from Microsoft that is developing a curriculum specifically designed to educate future entrepreneurs and innovators.
UW President Ana Mari Cauce and former Washington governor (and UW graduate) Christine Gregoire made opening remarks, and Microsoft’s China President Ralph Haupter also gave a short talk on how the tech giant is helping encourage more innovation, particularly with its support of GIX.
“Innovation is part of the UW’s DNA,” Cauce said, touting the UW’s recent top ranking among innovative universities. “We want to be on the cutting edge of everything we do.”
Cauce, who was in Beijing earlier in the week visiting Tsinghua University, said the UW picked Shanghai for its first Innovation Summit “because it’s the center of world trade and innovation.” She also touched on Seattle’s own creations.
“The Seattle region has its own flavor and has a unique spirit of innovation — it’s inclusive, it’s cooperative, and it’s bringing different industries and disciplines together,” she said. “From technology and bioscience, to aerospace and retail, to architecture and high-impact philanthropy, you’ll find it all in Seattle.”
Gregoire, who graduated from the UW in 1969 and was Washington’s governor from 2005 to 2013, said that it’s key for both China and the state of Washington to continue building its collaborative partnership, particularly as it pertains to innovation.
“I firmly believe today is the beginning of a much greater partnership, particularly with GIX,” said Gregoire, who’s heading up a new effort called ChallengeSeattle. “We quite literally have the opportunity to change the world and show the rest of the world that when you’re friends and you’re partners, there is absolutely nothing you can’t do.”
Gregoire told GeekWire afterward that this trip was an important one to make, especially with GIX starting up in the fall of 2016.
“We’ve met with some of the most burgeoning companies and their CEOs throughout China to talk with them about the need for innovation beyond what they have come up with and how they can make that happen, like sending some of their up-and-coming employees to GIX, or their top leaders to be a professor as part of GIX, ” she said. “We’ve had some conversations actually about having some companies co-locate their R&D with GIX in Bellevue.”
The UW, which also played a regular season college basketball game in Shanghai last week, invited people well-known in the Seattle startup community with ties to the UW to speak at the Innovation Summit about their work and research. They included entrepreneurs like computer science professor Shwetak Patel, a former GeekWire Newsmaker of the Year and co-founder of connected home startup SNUPI, and Adina Mangubat, a two-time nominee for GeekWire Young Entrepreneur of the Year and CEO of Spiral Genetics.
Also participating were UW Vice Provost for Innovation Vikram Jandhyala, who’s leading the charge to help boost the number of startups coming out of the university; Gina Neff, an associate professor of communication who spoke about “data empathy”; and Ben Waters, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering and CEO of WiBotic Inc. who discussed his work with wireless technology.
As part of GeekWire’s trip to China this month, we caught up with these innovators after the event to learn more about why they attended.
Vikram Jandhyala: “The next innovation is going to be global. It’s about taking the best ideas from the two top innovation places in the planet, and that’s China and the U.S. right now. It’s about getting our best innovators together.
The problems are also harder — climate change, energy, Internet, security, etc. — and can only really be solved when we put our best minds together. It’s going to be hard, but it’s really going to be worth it. That’s really why we are here.”
Shwetek Patel: “I am here partly for GIX — I helped create the curriculum — but I’m also here because the research that we’re doing and the work we’re doing in general, I think we can definitely benefit from innovation in China. Being able to make connections with Tsinghua and UW alumni is really important.
This was also a way to connect with other resources and collaborations outside of the U.S. For example, yesterday we visited one of the largest automobile battery manufacturers. It was just amazing to see what they are doing, and gives you the opportunity to break out of the companies I’m typically used to seeing. It’s just great to know, because some U.S companies might not be aligned well with my research, but something here might be.”
Adina Mangubat: “There are two reasons for why I really made the trip to China. One is that one of the legacies I wanted to leave behind is to inspire others to create great change in the world, specifically using both the head and also the heart. It drives me crazy when people think they don’t have options and they can’t do what I’ve done. Nothing about what I have done is particularly miraculous. If you look at great leaders of our time or the past — Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, etc. — any of these people were totally ordinary people just like you and me, but the only thing different about them is they stood for a belief that was extraordinary. They stood for the passion and did so professionally. I think that if we could all identify what that is and stand for that, then we’ll have more transformational leaders. I think that every person has that capacity, we just don’t necessarily have permission to do it.
The second reason is that for Spiral Genetics, we are really focused on really large-scale sequencing projects and China is one of the places where a lot of sequencing is happening. I wanted to get better acquainted with the ecosystem here and really understand how are people thinking about it and see if we can really make a difference and work together. I really want to have answers as quickly as possible, and I think there is a lot to be gained by enabling as many large sequencing projects in the world to be working on the same platform, but also be able to share data.”
Gina Neff: “The UW has made a big bet on innovation. It’s important we recognize that innovation is not just local and it’s not just Seattle — it’s actually global. The UW now has one of the largest undergraduate bodies of mainland greater Chinese students in the U.S., so when we do events like this, we recognize that our constituency is no longer simply from Cle Elum or from Seattle — they are also from Shanghai.
I’ve been so excited by my trip and have met some amazing people, like colleagues at the Disney Research Lab or at NYU Shanghai. I’ve met so many interesting people here today, too — it’s been great.”
Ben Waters: “I really do feel like the UW gave me a lot in terms of the knowledge and resources to get through the PhD program and to start a company. I’m happy to give back to the community and inspire all the future students and entrepreneurs to go start their own companies to cultivate a place not to just with a focus on technology or research, but a place where people can be successful and enjoy the work they do.
Also, one of the things that I’ve personally always been interested in is construction and technology around construction processes and so forth. Shanghai has been fascinating for me just to observe all the intricate details in the architecture and to realize that there are things everybody obviously thinks about China being associated with — cheap ways to manufacture things — but that cheap can also lead to incredible beauty. That’s something we can think about — you don’t always have to pay the most to have something that is nice and that works.”