Cornell NYC Tech: Building a Culture for Innovation on Roosevelt Island

Marisa Wong |
Updated: August 19, 2013 at 10:00 AM
Encore: July 23, 2013

MetroFocus reports on progress on New York City’s new applied sciences school: Cornell NYC Tech.

Since Mayor Bloomberg named Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology the winners of his Applied Sciences NYC initiative in December 2011, the proposed Cornell NYC Tech campus has attracted over $500 million in private funds and the school launched its “beta” class of 7 students in Chelsea office space donated by Google.  In August 2013, Cornell Tech began accepting applications for a new MBA program.  Today, the $2 billion campus is still a collection of architects’ renderings, but preparations for the awaited applied sciences school have continued to progress behind the scenes and on Roosevelt Island.

Groundbreaking for the future campus will begin early next year on Roosevelt Island, a quiet, residential two-mile strip of land between Manhattan and Queens in the East River.  As part of Mayor Bloomberg’s 2011 initiative, Cornell Tech was awarded a 99-year lease to the 12.5-acre site along with $100 million in city capital for site maintenance and construction.  Cornell’s plans to build and develop the campus include demolition of the island’s Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital & Nursing Facility.  The new campus will include up to 2.1 million square feet of development and will house approximately 2,000 students and 280 faculty members by 2037.


Cornell NYC Tech by the numbers; click to enlarge (Source:

Dan Huttenlocher, Dean and Vice Provost of Cornell Tech, told MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman the most challenging part of the process has been “…getting the culture right. We’re building a new organization. That organization is really intended to be a model for the world, to bring together academic excellence and academic leadership with real world impact.”

Cornell chose the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa as its international partner.  Craig Gotsman, Founding Director of the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, told Pi Roman, “one of the reasons the Technion is involved in the first place, is that the innovation and the entrepreneurship that you see in Israel is something that the city of New York wants to have here in New York City.”  The New York Times reports that Technion graduates in high-tech industries have an annual estimated output of at least $21 billion.  While the partnership has been at times controversial, The Cornell Daily Sun reports that Cornell Provost Kent Fuchs has said the partnership “is intended not as a political statement, but rather as an opportunity for the University to foster global academic cooperation.”

We’re building a new organization. That organization is really intended to be a model for the world, to bring together academic excellence and academic leadership with real world impact.

The City of New York will act as a “third partner” in the campus by connecting students and faculty directly to businesses in the city’s growing tech sector.  In recent years, the city has risen as a success story in the tech community.  According to The Center for an Urban Future‘s recent report “New Tech City,” the number of information technology jobs in the city climbed 60% in less than ten years – from 33,000 in 2003 to 52,900 in 2012. “New Tech City” also reported that the number of venture capital deals in New York rose by 32% in that period, while it fell by about 11% across the nation. Today, Mayor Bloomberg’s economic development initiative, “We Are Made in New York,” reports that over 1,000 city tech companies are currently hiring.

The plans for Cornell Tech have prompted debates about whether New York’s “Silicon Alley” will become a force to rival California’s Silicon Valley. When asked whether Cornell [NYC] Tech will help the city surpass Silicon Valley’s tech economy, Huttenlocher noted that it’s more about identifying and harnessing the city’s strengths to set New York apart from other high-tech sectors around the world. “We’re the center of so many of these information-rich industries, bringing real technology expertise here, on the ground, in New York City, we think is a unique opportunity for New York to lead in the next century of information technology development,” said Huttenlocher.

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