Microsoft is investing $40 million in a new technology-focused academic institute in Seattle, in what is being touted as a “groundbreaking new partnership” between University of Washington and Tsinghua University, a research-focused institution from China.
The Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) will be built in Bellevue, around 10 miles from the main University of Washington campus, and is expected to open by the end of 2016, kicking off with a master’s degree program in technology innovation. According to a University of Washington press release, “this is the first time a Chinese research university has established a physical presence in the United States.”
While it’s expected that fewer than fifty students will enroll at the beginning, the longer-term vision is to have several thousand attendees and a range of certificates within a decade.
The GIX isn’t being pitched as your typical university — it says it will “bring together people from around the world to learn about and work on innovative ways to address some of our biggest global challenges,” which includes health care, energy, urban planning, and climate change.
Underpinned by a so-called “governance structure,” the plan is to allow other research-based universities to join as “equal partners” further down the line, and GIX will enter partnerships with other research and development organizations, in addition to Microsoft.
“Our commitment to GIX is grounded in our belief that technology can empower people to achieve more and help solve the world’s biggest challenges,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. However, despite giving altruistic reasons for backing the initiative, it’s imperative that the company keeps its finger on the pulse and is privy to early-stage projects that could blossom into a solid business.
While technology on the West Coast is often dominated by what’s happening in and around Silicon Valley to the south, the mighty Microsoft and Amazon both hail from the Pacific Northwest, so there is a solid local ecosystem in which the new institute could flourish.