Tech Mogul Pledges $133 Million for Technion-Cornell Institute in NYC

Donation seeks to facilitate the establishment of a major research institute, which is meant to make New York City a science and technology hub on par with California's Silicon Valley. Israel's Technion institute and New York's Cornell University have partnered up for the project.

Max Weiss
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Max Weiss

A collaboration between Israel's Technion institute of technology and New York's Cornell University received a major donation on Monday - a gift meant to facilitate the establishment of a joint research institution in New York City. The foundational gift of $133 million was announced in a news conference that featured speeches by both schools' presidents, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the donors of the gift, Joan and Irwin Jacobs.

The foundation of the institution - to be named the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute  (JTCII) and be built on New York's Roosevelt Island - was first announced in 2011 and is the result of a multi-billion dollar competition between various schools that was aimed at transforming New York City into a science and technology center on par with California's Silicon Valley. The Technion and Cornell had submitted a winning bid in the competition, which required schools to devise plans to build a campus in the city in exchange for essentially free city land and up to $100 million in city funding. 

At the press conference, Bloomberg detailed the city's enthusiasm for its technology initiative, which also features two other similar campuses being organized by different schools. "It is no secret just how excited we are about what these campuses are going to bring to New York in the years to come," he said. "A sharp increase in science and engineering teaching, world class research centers that attract students from around the world, and new local companies and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars injected into our economy."

Bloomberg then called the occasion "a great day for New York," and expressed extreme gratitude for the Jacobs' hundred-million dollar gift by dubbing it "incredibly generous" and "extraordinary." The gift, Bloomberg said, would allow the city's technology industry to expand.

Irwin and Joan Jacobs are established philanthropists, particularly in the technology and education worlds. Irwin Jacobs, who was an engineering professor at MIT as well as at the University of California in San Diego, is the co-founder of Qualcomm, a global telecommunications company that features a research and development center near the Technion. The Jacobs also funded a similar project at UCSD, where they were the main philanthropists behind the creation of the Jacobs School of Engineering.

At the press conference, Irwin Jacobs cited his experience with the UCSD project, as well as his history as an engineering student in Cornell's engineering program where he was exposed to technology professionals, as central influences in his decision to get involved in the Cornell-Technion partnership. "This idea of the approach with this effort, with Technion and Cornell, of bringing in industry representatives, having a large amount of contact, I think from my experience that's going to work out very, very well."

Cornell president David Skorton also spoke at length about the Jacobs' gift and the JTCII. "This gift and this vision is a big day for all of Cornell University on all of our campuses because [Joan and Irwin's] continuing generosity has helped us tie together the expertise that we have in so many places with our new partnership with the Technion," said Skorton.

Skorton offered a look into the progress of the project, saying that the two universities were currently looking for faculty "literally from around the world" and that in a few months the first post-doctoral innovation fellows at the institute would be appointed, noting that these fellows would "combine technological excellence with a passion for solving real world problems," and would be given easy access and connections to technology investors and corporations within the city.

Before stepping off the podium, Skorton expounded upon the impact that the institute could have on the city, and on technology as a whole. "The Cornell-Tech campus will bring industry partners into direct daily contact with faculty, students and researchers, greasing the wheels of innovation. Together we will train and inspire new entrepreneurs and tech leaders."

Last to speak was Peretz Lavie, the president of the Technion in Haifa. Lavie also thanked the Jacobs, mentioning that Irwin Jacobs would be awarded the Medal of Technion next month in Israel in recognition of his contributions "not only to industry, but for mankind in general."

Lavie spoke about how the Cornell-Technion project could impact the way that universities worked together in the future. "The way we put together the two institutes will be a test case for many, many business schools around the world," said Lavie. "It is a new model, and I do hope that many will come after us."

The Technion's president concluded by turning to the Jacobs and personally thanking them for their generosity. "Thank you so much for this incredible gift," Lavie said, "which will be a launching pad of one of the most exciting academic projects in modern history." 

A rendering of the design for the Technion-Cornell campus on New York’s Roosevelt Island.Credit: Kilograph
Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs announced $133 million donation to Technion-Cornell institute. Credit: Natan Dvir