Building a University-Led Innovation Ecosystem at the October 2019 J-WEL Week | MIT J-WEL

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Building a University-Led Innovation Ecosystem at the October 2019 J-WEL Week

HE group photoOctober 2019 J-WEL Week: A global collaboration

From October 28-31, 2019, J-WEL Higher Education members gathered at MIT from six continents and 14 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Nigeria, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay. During the Week, they came together to explore, collaborate, and develop a vision around the theme they had selected as most relevant to their universities’ current challenges and opportunities: “Building a University-Led Innovation Ecosystem.” MIT defines innovation as “the process of taking new-to-the-world ideas from inception to impact.” There is a growing recognition among thought leaders that innovation is often, though not always, highly concentrated in regions and organizations that are referred to as ‘innovation ecosystems’. 

J-WEL Week participants explore the role of the university in innovation ecosystems

During J-WEL Week, J-WEL’s Higher Education Collaborative considered the role the university can take in leading, growing, and sustaining these innovation ecosystems. This can occur both within and outside the walls of the university campus. Participants heard from 21 MIT faculty and staff presenters, with sessions such as “Innovation: Local and Global,” with Vice President for Open Learning Professor Sanjay Sarma; “Practicing Innovation as a Faculty Member,” with Professor Cynthia Breazeal; and “Innovation to Market” with Professor Yoel Fink. But the event was also about sharing collective knowledge and challenges surrounding innovation. Participants heard about the work other members are doing, including Universidad Iberoamericana’s "Innovation Vision for 2030," for which it is developing strategic institutional mechanisms to support an innovative and socially engaged culture across its university; and Universidad de los Andes’ (Uniandes) work reforming its engineering curriculum, incorporating project-oriented, problem-based learning models.

The five pillars of an innovation ecosystem

During the event, participants formed geographically diverse teams representing the five pillars of an innovation ecosystem, as outlined in the 2018 white paper,  “An MIT Framework for Innovation Ecosystem Policy”: Human Capital; Funding; Infrastructure; Demand; and Culture and Incentives. To spark new and innovative ideas, team members shared with one another their own unique experiences at their universities, spanning Brazil’s University of São Paulo, the United Arab Emirates’ University of Sharjah, Sierra Leone’s Njala University, and Uruguay’s Universidad Tecnológica del Uruguay. 

Over the course of the Week, participants discussed questions posed about the five pillars and came to a consensus on main points. At the end of the Week, they presented their output and a graphic facilitator created a co-designed collective vision to enhance the Framework (below).

Some key points to enhance the Innovation Framework include the following:
  • Having a clear theoretical and structural framework for innovation is critical. 
  • Universities need to tolerate risks and empower students. 
  • Innovation can be facilitated centrally, but should not be controlled centrally. Individual departments should feel freedom and responsibility to innovate. 
  • Innovation (with a framework) needs to be organic to create meaningful impact. 
  • Universities can transfer research outputs to the market through strategic alliance between the university, entrepreneurs and corporate bodies. 
Interested readers will be able to view the full October 2019 Summary later this month. 

Looking ahead to 2020

The Higher Education theme for the next J-WEL Week will focus on university curriculum. Innovation ecosystems are important, but they cannot flourish without a curriculum that encourages students to think entrepreneurially. The J-WEL team looks forward to seeing everyone again in March 2020.