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MIT unveils new center supporting technological innovation in New England

$20M gift from Sycamore founder and wife to link venture capital, research and high tech communities
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Caption: Jaishree and Desh Deshpande
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Jaishree and Desh Deshpande
Jaishree and Desh Deshpande
Photo courtesy / Sycamore Networks

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) today announced the creation of a new center for technological innovation, established through a generous gift from Jaishree Deshpande and Desh Deshpande, the co-founder and chairman of Sycamore Networks Inc.

Their gift of $20 million will establish the initial phase of the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation (DCTI), which will be a part of MIT's School of Engineering. The center will be dedicated to supporting leading-edge research on novel technologies in collaboration with the high technology and venture capital communities of New England and will support undergraduate education in engineering practice.

MIT President Charles M. Vest said, "It gives me great pleasure to accept Desh and Jaishree's gift. Desh is an extraordinary leader in the entrepreneurial community. His 'disruptive' idea to connect MIT faculty, students and researchers with the high-tech and venture capitalist communities will give MIT undergraduates practical experience in the engineering field and provide a stimulus for technology innovation in the region, and more broadly, in the nation."

"Our hope in creating this resource is to give creative new entrepreneurs and companies the ability to translate their ideas into innovative companies and products," said Dr. Deshpande. "MIT has always provided a fertile ground where its students and faculty can break through technology barriers, fuel new areas of research and development, and fundamentally transform whole industries. We can think of no better place to begin this work."

The Deshpande Center was created to serve as a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship by supporting research and collaboration among entrepreneurs, young companies and MIT students, alumni and faculty.

The idea for the center arose from the realization that the limited research and development funds available to young companies restrict their ability to collaborate with leading universities. The center will provide these companies with the opportunity to collaborate with MIT faculty, staff and students on quality research of academic interest to MIT and of potential commercial interest to the company.

The research programs supported by the center will provide flexible research funds that permit MIT faculty and students to investigate and create new technologies, and support the transfer to young companies of new knowledge and technologies from university research. In its first year, the center plans to award five seed 'ignition' grants of $50,000 and three research grants of $250,000 that will support research on new technologies that have the potential to fuel ground-breaking businesses or products.

It is hoped that the Deshpande Center will act as a stimulus to economic growth and help New England maintain its position as a leader in the field of new technology. "The Deshpande Center will enable the local entrepreneurial community to capitalize on the resources of MIT to further research and lay the foundation for the next wave of new technology," said Alex D'Arbeloff, Chairman of the MIT Corporation.

As the center grows and receives support nationally and even internationally, it is expected that its scope will broaden beyond the New England region.

In addition, the center will provide significant funding to the School of Engineering's new Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program (UPOP). In part, this support will offer MIT undergraduates meaningful work experience in industry and government. It will also improve student and faculty understanding of the practical application of new knowledge and technology in those settings.

"The vision for DCTI is very strongly aligned with the School of Engineering's mission of 'Leadership through Technical Excellence and Innovation'," said Thomas Magnanti, Dean of the School of Engineering. "The Deshpande Center will provide much needed funding for research on incipient technologies and, through UPOP, also offer MIT undergraduate students the opportunity to apply their knowledge in real-world settings."

The fund to support the Deshpande Center will be administered by an oversight committee that will include venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, in addition to senior MIT faculty. The Deshpande Center will be complementary to other research centers, laboratories and programs at MIT, including the MIT Entrepreneurship Center, located at the MIT Sloan School of Management. The center will also support special seminars and courses that focus on technology innovation.

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