Global Innovation Exchange is Open!

by Tom Bauer

Last Thursday, Amy Donohue, John O’Toole and I attended the grand opening of the Global Innovation Exchange, along with the rest of our Bora team, and an excited crowd of dignitaries, university representatives, incoming students, and press. The anticipation and delight was palpable as guests experienced the space for the first time, witnessing the first fruits of a collaboration that spans institutions, continents, and the boundaries between industry and academia.

The founding GIX partners are the University of Washington, Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Microsoft. While it was a large gathering, representing a who’s who of the “Cascadian Innovation Network,” it felt intimate because of the unrestrained positivity. Seeing UW President Ana Mari Cauce, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Tsinghua President Qiu Yong, and Chinese Consul General Luo Linquan rolling up the garage-style doors, sent a wave of applause through the crowd and kicked off a memorable evening.

One particularly touching moment occurred during the naming ceremony. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith announced the building would bear the name of former CEO Steve Ballmer, and heralded his vision for international partnership. When called up to speak, Ballmer was visibly moved by the gesture, and admitted to being slightly skeptical about the project before his departure from Microsoft. But he was clearly won over by the finished result, saying he was “beyond impressed by what’s here and what’s going on.” Seeing Microsoft’s past and present leadership gathering together in celebration added to the uniqueness of this event, and represented a huge endorsement for GIX.

Throughout the evening, it was a pleasure to have opportunity to speak with UW leaders about their perceptions. We had a great conversation with President Cauce, who expressed her appreciation of the project and the role it will play in her vision for the University’s global leadership and impact. Towards the end of the night, GIX’s chief technology officer Shwetak Patel led a tour through the building, and shared the many instances where the finished product exceeded his expectations. In his typically thoughtful, laser-focused, sincere manner, he talked about how much he valued the level of engagement with our design process, and the sense that his input was clearly evident in the physical space.

We also had a lot of fun with Nicholas Ames, who will direct the cutting-edge makerspaces throughout GIX. He was almost giddy about the capacity and quality of his new domain, and all the possibilities it will offer students. The first cohort were nearly all present, and we had some of our most enjoyable conversations with them. It’s rare that students get to interact with the design team after a building is completed, so we were delighted to share stories about our conceptual underpinnings for the project. They especially loved the idea that this space is a 21st Century interpretation of the architectural design studios we had inhabited for most of our university careers. It was clear they couldn’t wait to start exploring the amenities and equipment that will support their academic and research pursuits.

Amy, John and I laughed as we left the event, recognizing that in typical Bora fashion for GIX project milestones, we were among the first to show up, and certainly the last to leave. The day ended with us and the core GIX leadership hanging out on the first floor, sharing the glow of a successful launch, and speculating about Phase 2! We were so fortunate to work with such a motivated, thoughtful group of people, and we can’t wait to see what comes next!

For a list of national and international press coverage on GIX, follow this link:

In addition to UW and Tsinghua, the GIX Academic Network members are as follows: École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, The Indian Institute of Science, Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology, National Taiwan University, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Tecnológico de Monterrey, The University of British Columbia

In addition to Microsoft, the GIX Industry Consortium members include: Arm, Baidu, Boeing HorizonX, T-Mobile