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Deshpande Center to support technological innovation

Jaishree Deshpande and Desh Deshpande.
Jaishree Deshpande and Desh Deshpande.
Photo courtesy / Sycamore Networks

MIT has announced the creation of a new center for technological innovation, established through a gift from Jaishree Deshpande and Desh Deshpande, who is 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, which will be a part of MIT's School of Engineering. The center will be dedicated to supporting research on novel technologies in collaboration with the high-technology and venture capitalist communities of New England and will support undergraduate education in engineering practice.

"It gives me great pleasure to announce the establishment of the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation at MIT," President Charles M. Vest said. "This new center is being established through a generous gift from Desh Deshpande and his wife, Jaishree. Their remarkable commitment of $20 million will establish a five-year fund to support the pilot phase of the center's operation.

"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," Vest said.

"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 Desh 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.

"Starting new businesses and growing them is a very powerful way to contribute to the society," said Deshpande, who cofounded Coral Network, Cascade Communications and Sycamore Networks. Two MIT alumni, Eric Swanson and Richard Barry, are the other cofounders of Sycamore, which develops products that increase the speed and efficiency of fiber optic networks.

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 give these companies 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 to 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.

"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, who encouraged Deshpande to consider the idea.

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 [the Deshpande Center] is very strongly aligned with the School of Engineering's mission of 'leadership through technical excellence and innovation,'" said Thomas Magnanti, dean of engineering. "The Deshpande Center will provide much-needed funding for research on incipient technologies and, through UPOP, also offer MIT undergraduates 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 center will complement other research centers, laboratories and programs at MIT, including the MIT Entrepreneurship Center located at the Sloan School of Management. The Deshpande Center will also support special seminars and courses that focus on technology innovation.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 9, 2002.

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