The University of Washington and Tsinghua University have big ambitions for their new joint technology innovation institute.
The Global Innovation Exchange, or GIX, will welcome the first class to its Bellevue, Wash.-based graduate technology school this September.
There are 40 students coming from across the globe — U.S., China, India, France, Taiwan, Switzerland, Paraguay, Estonia and Canada — to study in the Seattle region at GIX, which was first announced in 2015 by the UW and Beijing-based Tsinghua, a top university in China, with the support of $40 million from Microsoft.
Students at GIX will be taught by teachers from both the UW and Tsinghua, and have the opportunity to spend time at each campus. The classes aim to break the mold for traditional technology education and train students in entrepreneurship, innovation, and user interfaces for connected devices. The idea is to encourage new ideas around real-world challenges by creating a project-based, global-focused learning environment.
Nine of the students coming to Bellevue this fall have spent the past six months at Tsinghua and are part of a 21-month dual-degree program, while the remaining will kick off their GIX experience this coming school year. This represents the first time a Chinese research university has established a physical presence in the U.S.
Vikram Jandhyala, co-executive director of GIX, told GeekWire that students were selected based on a unique model that assessed candidates on their capacity for risk-taking and their ability to work on teams. He said his colleagues looked at other programs like Cornell Tech and UW’s Foster entrepreneurship programs to help craft the selection process.
“It was very hands-on,” he said. “We wanted to make sure they were self-starters in terms of being entrepreneurs, and they could do things not just measured by GPA or scores from their undergraduate years.”
Jandhyala said GIX plans to double its class size each year and expects more than 3,000 students to graduate from GIX over the next 10 years. GIX will create new degrees and utilize online education to reach that goal, in addition to partnering with other universities around the world.
“Bringing together a leading university in China with a leading university in the United States is an ambitious project with incredible promise,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at a GIX event in 2015. “This gets even more exciting for us given the expectation that other universities from other parts of the world will join in.”
GIX is unique given that the U.S. and China are home to the world’s most robust technology industries, and that Seattle and Beijing are technology hubs. The universities, along with Microsoft — which has a large research footprint in China — can exchange ideas for which startup ideas and strategies work best in each respective country. This is important, as history has shown how it can be difficult for U.S. tech companies to find long-term success in China.