Great Ideas in the Making

May 7, 2018

New ideas in science, medicine, and technology have transformed our lives and our planet over the past century. More recently, advances in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and data science—to give a few examples—are accelerating our ability to fight disease, use information, and communicate with one another. Each breakthrough opens new areas for exploration. Yet, as a global community, we continue to face major challenges that demand bold and creative solutions. 

When I first became president, I called for a more innovative Yale. Our university’s core mission of education and research rests on the belief that knowledge and understanding can improve the world. That is why we are creating new ways for members of the Yale community to harness the potential of their ideas.

This week, faculty members, investors, and industry experts will gather for the Yale Innovation Summit—an opportunity for Yale inventors to share their best ideas with leaders in biotech, technology, and venture startup. Last year, over 600 people attended the event, and inventors received over $1.6 million in grants and prizes. 

Winners of the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale awards will again be announced at the end of this year’s summit. Please join me in extending congratulations to this year’s finalists. Each of our finalists is engaged in innovative research with potential to improve lives. It is amazing to imagine what life-changing efforts will be supported by the 2018 Blavatnik awards.

Just as international partnerships strengthen our university, we know that innovation today depends on global collaboration. In a new addition to this year’s program, one panel at the Yale Innovation Summit will focus on biotech opportunities in China and Asia. Featuring Yale faculty members as well as Chinese investors and entrepreneurs, such as keynote speaker Yibing Wu of Temasek China, the panel will explore the current landscape for biotech investment and collaboration with Asian partners. Dr. Arie Belldegrun—a successful biotech researcher, investor, and entrepreneur— and Jonathan Rothberg—chief strategy officer of 4Catalyzer and an inventor of high-speed DNA sequencing—will also address the summit. 

Other panels will look at trends in biotech investing and the future of blockchain and internet security, with experts including Maja Vujinovic, a former chief innovation officer at General Electric and current CEO of OGroup, an internet security group; Katherine Kuzmeskas, CEO and cofounder of SimplyVital Health, a blockchain infrastructure company specializing in the healthcare industry; and Jason Rhodes ’91, a partner at the biotech investment firm Atlas Venture.

The Yale Innovation Summit is one of the many ways we are fostering discovery on our campus. We are also working to expand and diversify the pipeline of inventors and entrepreneurs. At the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (CITY), our new innovation hub, students from across Yale are generating new ideas and learning how to translate them into reality. And in April, we hosted Startup Yale 2018, a week-long conference that featured conversations among students, faculty members, and leaders across sectors, including many alumni entrepreneurs. New ventures in health care, finance, technology, food entrepreneurship, and social innovation were highlighted throughout the week. Women Entrepreneurs and Innovators at Yale (WE@Yale) hosted a panel discussion on women in the workforce, bringing together successful female entrepreneurs from diverse sectors, and students competed in pitch-off competitions for five prizes worth $125,000; you can read about the winners here

As we seek new ways to support and recognize the innovators on our campus, I am also mindful of what has long made Yale the site of new ideas, insights, and creativity. Our campus is broad in scope, but we are also a tight-knit community. Leading thinkers from diverse disciplines and intellectual persuasions can easily form collaborations to address challenges. And they are encouraged by our collective aspiration to improve the world. 

That is why I am confident that our university will continue to nurture great discoveries—perhaps a cutting-edge biomedical device that prevents disease, or a new technology that leads to cleaner energy, or a “great big idea” that moves a generation. Yale embraces imaginative thinking and inspired risk-taking. We know that investments in innovation are really investments in our shared, exciting, and unknown future.