Celebrating America’s First Technion Graduates

New York’s start-up scene is about to start up faster. Last month, the city’s Silicon Alley welcomed new graduates of the Technion into its growing community of innovators. Yet, they weren’t coming from across the Atlantic Ocean, but from my hometown of NYC.

The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute inaugural class is comprised of 12 men and women—the first to earn a degree from an accredited international university while studying on American soil. The Institute is a part of Cornell Tech, and is currently based in Google’s NYC headquarters and will move to its permanent campus on Roosevelt Island in 2017.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vision to build New York City into a capital of not just culture and finance, but also high-tech entrepreneurship aimed to cultivate a new breed of entrepreneur that would benefit from an institution fostering creativity while teaching technical and business skills in an unprecedented way.

To translate his vision into reality, he chose Cornell University and the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology from a slate of world-class institutions. And the first cohort of graduates from the Jacobs Institute—who earned an M.S. in Information Systems in Connective Media—offers a glimpse into the promise and possibilities of the new university. Their rigorous coursework included unmatched applied science training specifically geared to translate innovative research into entrepreneurial success, guided by world-class faculty. At a recent reception, we at the American Technion Society were proud to toast these graduates, celebrating how they will make a lasting impact in New York and beyond—changing lives all over the world.

The Institute’s multidisciplinary approach trains students to pull knowledge and insights from many different fields to come up with completely novel solutions. Take Sean Herman, who studied English and history as an undergraduate, and worked with the Clinton Foundation and the Lesotho Ministry of Health to develop and deploy software that tracks medical samples between hospitals and laboratories, making the supply chain for health care in developing countries much more efficient.

In lieu of a traditional thesis, students showcase their creativity and know-how with practical projects. Alap Parikh and Brandon Plaster will turn their start-up project at school into a bona fide start-up company where they will work full-time after graduation. The company, called “OneBook,” features a blank physical book on which any digital content can be superimposed via augmented reality, making reading both more exciting and eco-friendly.

Inaugural graduating class of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute
The inaugural graduating class of the Joan & Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute

Another student project, called “palette,” provides greater independence to quadriplegics through a tongue-operated interface with a variety of digital applications. This came after one student’s internship with an Israeli Technion alumnus whose company, ReWalk, builds rehabilitative exoskeletons for people with spinal cord injuries, allowing those who are paralyzed to walk again.

If the past is any predictor of the future, Technion graduates in America will make a transformative impact, leveraging the unique skills and mindset of a Technion education just like their Israeli counterparts. These innovators will join the ranks of others who have made cutting-edge drugs to fight cancer, discovered revolutionary surgical techniques, and pioneered new solutions to reduce pollution and global warming.

While tackling the greatest challenges facing humanity, Technion alumni are powering forward economies. Today they manage nine out of Israel’s top 10 exporting companies and serve as the CEOs of two-thirds of Israeli companies listed on the NASDAQ. Technion alumni are the founders, CEOs, presidents and vice presidents and senior leaders of influential multinational companies like Apple, Google, Flextronics, Tango, Box, Fiverr, and hundreds of other remarkable businesses.

During my recent visit to Israel for the Technion Board of Governors meeting, I met some of these alumni, like Dov Moran—the inventor of the USB flash drive—who helped to build dozens of companies in Israel that created thousands of jobs around the world, and credits his Technion education as integral to his success. I also met Eyal Waldman, the founder of Mellanox, a cutting-edge supplier of solutions and services for servers and storage, whose engineering department is primarily composed of Technion graduates, and employs hundreds of Americans and Israelis, with joint headquarters in California and Israel. Both men received Technion Honorary Doctorates for their accomplishments.

(From left) Dov Moran, Technion President Peretz Lavie, Eyal Waldman
(From left) Dov Moran, Technion President Peretz Lavie, and Eyal Waldman

In the coming years, we are excited to watch how Technion graduates on both sides of the Atlantic will work together to make an impact. How many millions of people will feel the effects of innovations in medicine, improvements to public infrastructure, and radical approaches to protecting the environment? How many startups from the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute will become an integral part of New York’s high-tech ecosystem? How many jobs will be created? How many lives will be saved?

Only time will tell. But after meeting the Technion’s first graduating class in America, it is clear that the sky is the limit.

About the Author
Jeffrey Richard is the Executive Vice President of the American Technion Society.