Since we launched MIT’s Innovation Initiative, a central focus has been learning how to shorten the time from idea to impact. In the realm of mobile apps, digital services, and games, rapid iteration and optimization have already been raised to a high art, offering a fast, reliable route for inventors to perfect a product for market—and for their investors to realize a quick return.
Yet as we focus on the challenge of making a better world, we know that many compelling human problems require solutions that go far beyond software alone. For tangible or “hybrid” products like these, is there a way to mimic the process and benefits of rapid digital iteration? With help from some generous alumni and friends, MIT is now actively creating facilities and connections to deliver the answer yes.
In May, we announced that thanks to the support of the Victor [’66, SM ’66] and William Fung Foundation, MIT students will soon have on campus a superb new hands-on maker space, a place where they can tinker and test, invent and explore, try and fail, and learn how to succeed. Collaborating in this new space to develop answers to hard problems, they will also nurture the kinds of personal connections that inspire creative teams, and they will build companies that are strong before they start.
This maker space is unusually powerful because of its direct link to the new MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node. Launched in June 2016 with the help and leadership of an outstanding group of Hong Kong–area MIT alumni and friends, it aims to equip the next generation of global innovators with the skills to take their ideas to impact.
The Innovation Node will give MIT students a way to learn from equally creative university students, innovators, makers, and manufacturers in Hong Kong and neighboring Shenzhen. By making it easy to draw on the area’s renowned capacity for fast prototyping, it creates a new learning environment in which ideas hatched in Cambridge, Hong Kong, or elsewhere can be quickly evaluated and tested. MIT students interested in seeking a deeper understanding of markets and technology development in Asia can also travel to Hong Kong for education programs in making and entrepreneurship, coördinated through the Innovation Node.
In effect, by connecting the innovative energy of MIT and Kendall Square with that of peers in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, we complete the educational circuit. As we begin to test this new approach for learning how to shorten time to market, we hope to study new funding strategies and business models, too. Stay tuned!
- L. Rafael Reif