Tomorrow’s innovators: First class graduates from Global Innovation Exchange

 |   Equipo Microsoft Latinx

As a founder of GIX, Microsoft provided $40 million to help build the 100,000-square-foot facility, an airy, open building designed for collaboration and centered around a large makerspace with augmented and virtual reality technologies, a woodshop, 3D printers and laser cutters for students to develop prototypes.

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At the ceremony, Microsoft President Brad Smith told the graduates that “At a time when technology is sometimes used in ways that don’t necessarily bring out the best in humanity, you’ve shown us that technology can be a powerful force for good.”

GIX marks the first time a Chinese university has had a physical presence in the United States. Its team-based, experiential approach aims to eliminate boundaries between academic disciplines and bring together the strengths of students with different backgrounds from around the world. Students in the MSTI program take an idea from concept to launch, learning about design, technology development and entrepreneurship. The Dual Degree pairs the MSTI program with a Master of Engineering in Data Science and Information Technology from Tsinghua University, which has students studying for an additional six months in Beijing.

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GIX trains students to think globally and ethically in an era of rapid change and increasingly shorter business and technology cycles, says Vikram Jandhyala, GIX’s co-executive director and vice president for innovation strategy at the University of Washington.

“How can we build a future set of innovators who will create products and services and be part of organizations that can navigate this changing landscape and lead innovation?” Jandhyala asks. “That is the premise. It’s not business as usual.”

Most of the 10 team projects of GIX’s inaugural class were sponsored by the institute’s industry partners, which include Microsoft, Boeing, T-Mobile, AT&T and Chinese technology company Baidu. Company leaders pitched loosely defined projects to GIX students, then mentored the teams as they developed their projects, leveraging the companies’ technologies.

That approach to learning makes GIX unique, says Ranveer Chandra, chief scientist for Microsoft Azure Global and an advisor on the chicken-monitoring project, named Cluck AI.

“The students are able to take the latest research from industry, build on top of it and show what can be achieved,” Chandra says.

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GIX’s second group of students started classes in September, and the institute — befitting of its mission — is already evolving. GIX will add executive training and “lifelong learning” programs over the next year, Jandhyala says, and there are plans for internship opportunities and online studies. The school will also build programs in collaboration with its academic network partners, which currently include universities in Canada, Switzerland, Israel, India and other countries.

One measure of success, Jandhyala says, will be what GIX graduates do when they go out into the world — whether they’re launching start-ups, leading innovation groups in large companies or working in positions that are part of the emerging innovation economy. While most students are in the early phases of their job searches, several have already received employment offers from companies including Alibaba, Baidu and AMINO Capital.

“The main goal of GIX is creating the right mindset to be an innovator,” Jandhyala says. “I think we are off to a good start.”

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GIX graduation ceremony photos by Dan DeLong; all other images by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures

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