What will MIT’s Innovation Initiative look like? By definition, there will be surprises along the way. But the contours of this new effort—laid out in the December 2014 preliminary report “The MIT Innovation Initiative: Sustaining and Extending a Legacy of Innovation”—make one thing clear: it’s a natural extension of MIT’s established culture of creative, collaborative problem solving.
The Innovation Initiative is co-directed by Vladimir Bulović, the Fariborz Maseeh Chair of Emerging Technology, and Fiona Murray, the William Porter Professor of Entrepreneurship. The two professors are also associate deans for innovation in the School of Engineering and the MIT Sloan School of Management, respectively. Under their leadership, a faculty committee from all five of MIT’s schools answered MIT President L. Rafael Reif’s charge to define the scope and goals of the new initiative. The resulting proposals in December’s report fall into the categories of capabilities (seeding the world with innovators); communities (engaging the full spectrum of stakeholders); and convening (creating physical and digital spaces that promote a culture of innovation). The report also includes the development of a new Laboratory for Innovation Science and Policy that will take a multidisciplinary approach to analyzing and understanding the innovation process, and so provide the evidence base for the initiative’s proposed changes.
Another way to look at MIT’s Innovation Initiative is in terms of opportunities to support and educate the next generation of innovators. For MIT faculty, postdocs, and students, this could mean additional innovation-focused spaces and new sources of funding to test their ideas out in the world as an integral part of their research and/or education at MIT. Undergraduates may select a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation to complement their major course of study. The entire MIT community will benefit from the inclusive perspective of a new Women in Innovation, Science, and Entrepreneurship Program, and from interaction with Visiting Innovation Fellows—leaders from the spheres of industry, academia, government, and risk capital. (The first such fellow, announced in January, is former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.)
The Institute will make an ambitious investment in facilities dedicated to generating, sharing, testing, and refining new ideas. These will range from small maker spaces distributed across campus to a state-of-the-art center for nanoscale research and prototyping. Already under construction, MIT.nano will also become a hub for partners from the start-up and corporate sectors to join forces with MIT’s “nano makers.”
Like-minded innovation communities—particularly groups of alumni on the West Coast and outside the US—will find new ways to engage with MIT’s community of innovators through a global network of “innovation nodes.” Online points of connection will expand participation in the initiative further still, sharing MIT’s hard-won insights into the workings of innovation with online learners through MITx, and creating new avenues for all members of the MIT community to locate the collaborators, resources, and expertise they need to convert their novel ideas into tangible change.