MIT Picks Hong Kong for Innovation Node Focused on China. Why?

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MIT has collaborated with a number of universities in Hong Kong over the years, so this is one strong reason that Hong Kong has been chosen as the location of an MIT “Innovation Node.” But the focus will be on the manufacturing prowess of China, especially neighboring Guangdong and Shenzhen. This initiative appears to go hand-in-glove with the Chinese government’s focus on entrepreneurship and the China 2025 plan aimed at upgrading the country’s manufacturing base.

So why not locate in Southern China instead of across the border in Hong Kong. Could this be another case where the challenges of intellectual property protection in China once again force intellectual capital to stay outside the border? This is most likely an unspoken part of the motivation. But alumni and funding also make or break these sort of programs.

MIT said that Hong Kong was chosen because it provides “ready access” to Shenzhen and Guangdong:

“MIT today announced the launch of an “Innovation Node” in Hong Kong, a collaborative space that aims to connect the MIT community with unique resources — including advanced manufacturing capabilities — and other opportunities in Hong Kong and the neighboring Pearl River Delta (PRD). Set to launch next summer, the MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node will convene MIT students, faculty, and researchers to work on various entrepreneurial and research projects alongside Hong Kong-based students and faculty, MIT alumni, entrepreneurs, and businesses. By combining resources and talent, the Innovation Node aims to help students learn how to move ideas more rapidly from lab to market…. 

“In addition to the presence of strong research universities, a major reason why MIT chose to establish an Innovation Node in Hong Kong is because it provides ready access to a unique manufacturing infrastructure that encourages rapid prototyping and scale-up, Sodini says. About an hour’s commute from Hong Kong’s Central District lies Shenzhen, a city home to many scientists and engineers — and fast, low-volume manufacturing. ‘Manufacturers in Shenzhen have mastered the ability to take a prototype device to unit quantities of hundreds overnight,’ Sodini says. ‘This unparalleled speed of small quantity manufacturing is unique to Shenzhen.'”

MIT President Raphael Reif cited quality universities, active MIT alumni and funding as reasons for the Hong Kong location:

“Universities in Hong Kong are very strong and the city has significant business expertise,” said Rafael Reif, President of MIT, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “In addition to that, you also have manufacturing infrastructure in Shenzhen that can handle small volume manufacturing.”

MIT currently has three centers outside the U.S., in Chile, Japan, and Singapore. The Hong Kong program will be the first one in the world that’s focused on innovation. It will have 5,000 square feet of space that will include a facility equipped with advanced tools and materials for invention and prototyping. Initial funding was provided by Hong Kong-based MIT alumni and other donors.”

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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About James McGregor
James McGregor is an American author, journalist and businessman who has lived in China for more than 25 years. Currently, he is chairman of APCO Worldwide, Greater China. A professional speaker and commentator who specializes in China’s business, politics and society, he regularly appears in the media to discuss China-related topics. McGregor is the author of the books "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism" (2012) and "One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China" (2005). He also wrote the 2010 report "China’s Drive for ‘Indigenous Innovation’ – A Web of Industrial Policies." From 1987 to 1990 McGregor served as The Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief in Taiwan, and from 1990 to 1994 as the paper’s bureau chief in Mainland China. From 1994 to 2000, he was chief executive of Dow Jones & Company in China. After leaving Dow Jones, he was China managing partner for GIV Venture Partners, a $140 million venture capital fund specializing in the Chinese Internet and technology outsourcing. In 1996, McGregor was elected as chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. He also served for a decade as a governor of that organization. He is a member of the Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, National Committee on US-China Relations and International Council of the Asia Society. He serves on a variety of China-related advisory boards.

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