March 11, 2012, Updated September 11, 2012

Israel, the little startup nation that could — and does — has carved itself a niche as a global superpower in high-tech. From architecting and designing computer chips, to data compression, search technologies and fail-safe mechanisms to keep data secure, its innovators and electrical engineers are on the watch lists of the world’s most astute financial scouts.

Now a new partnership is about to give a little more competition to Silicon Valley in California and Silicon Wadi in Israel: Backed with a $350 million gift and the blessing of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Israel’s Technion Israel Institute of Technology has partnered with Cornell University to build a new net-zero energy science and tech campus on New York City’s Roosevelt Island.

Announced in December by the mayor’s office, the deal might seem strange for an American city more used to exporting education and art, but to the parties involved, the alliance was a natural and smart fit.

Known for churning out graduates who go on to start Israel’s most exciting startups, such as Better Place, and Nobel laureates to boot, the Technion will apply its model at the new Cornell University-Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Graduate School of Applied Science, or NYTech.

The school will open at a satellite location this fall until the new facility is ready around 2018. The 2-million-square-foot campus will be built on an 11-acre unused site. Its founders aim for it to be the world’s most environmentally friendly campus, capable of producing 1.8 megawatts of energy from a solar array and connected to 400 geothermal wells to cool the buildings in the summer and heat them in winter. It will act as a living laboratory for the Built Environment hub.

Backed by Bloomberg and Cornell alums

The arrangement between Cornell and the Technion was hammered out in an extremely secretive setting in order to make its bid more attractive than those of the other front-runners. Sealing the deal was a $350 million donation from Charles Feeney of DFS Galleria, more than twice Cornell’s largest gift ever. An additional $150 million venture fund approved by Cornell’s board of trustees will help get new startups off the ground.

Powerful alumni from New York’s Cornell University signed the bid, stating their support for the new jointly run campus that will eventually encompass 2,500 students and 280 professors. Press reports estimate that the campus will generate more than $23 billion in overall economic activity over the course of the next three decades, as well as $1.4 billion in total tax revenues, while some 600 possible spinoff companies could create some 30,000 jobs in the city.

While New York is known for its art, culture and entertainment, the new campus will attract the high-tech brains that otherwise would have gone west.

“Mayor Bloomberg and his team knew that Technion was a world-class science and engineering university – bringing ‘international star power,’ in his words – but the winning argument for Technion was our proven track record of fostering a powerful ecosystem of high-tech innovation and entrepreneurship, leading to prolific start-up company creation, on the one hand, and attracting huge multinational technology companies to set up R&D centers nearby,” Technion VP Boaz Golany tells ISRAEL21c.

“Mayor Bloomberg’s vision is to create a New York City version of the high-tech cluster surrounding Stanford in Silicon Valley and MIT in Boston. He understood that the Technion has this kind of ‘game-changing’ capability.”

Technion grads wrote the books on high-tech

Technion president Dr. Peretz Lavie, who negotiated the deal, is a world-renowned expert on sleep disorders and the developer of sleep labs around the country that have been copied in the United States and spawned related companies.

Other notable Technion alumni include Shai Agassi, the founder of the Better Place electric car and infrastructure network; Levy Gerzberg of Zoran, which was supplying chips for one-third of all digital TVs and DVDs on the market when it was acquired by wireless chip maker CSR for about $484 million in 2011; and Dr. Amit Goffer, inventor of the Rewalk Exoskeleton.

Bloomberg presented the high-tech keys to his city to the technology drivers at the Technion: “Thanks to this outstanding partnership and groundbreaking proposal from Cornell and the Technion, New York City’s goal of becoming the global leader in technological innovation is now within sight,” said the mayor.

“By adding a new state-of-the-art institution to our landscape, we will educate tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and create the jobs of the future. This partnership has so much promise because we share the same goal: to make New York City home to the world’s most talented workforce.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director