Skip to main content

UW and China’s Tsinghua University launch groundbreaking Global Innovation Exchange

September 22, 2017

UW President Ana Mari Cauce speaks at the GIX launch.

The Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) is the first of its kind, marking the first time a Chinese research university has built a physical presence in the United States.

The University of Washington and Tsinghua University joined forces to establish the graduate institute in Bellevue, Washington. The space, which was funded through a $40 million donation from Microsoft, prototypes new technologies as one of the largest and most advanced maker spaces in the region.

GIX was founded as a catalyst for new innovation. The well-stocked maker space provides new students with the tools needed to conduct high-impact research. The vision of GIX is to support students as they tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems – from health to the environment.

“We intend to teach students enough in each area – design thinking, technology development and entrepreneurship – to build their confidence in pursuing their own innovations in high-impact fields such as health and sustainability, and improving standards of living both locally and globally,” UW Washington Research Foundation Entrepreneurship Endowed Professor in Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering and GIX CTO Shwetak Patel said on the institute’s website.

After only two years, the institute’s vision came into being; a physical space was located and assembled, and a program was identified and developed. The quick turnaround reflects a passion for innovation from university educators. Professors of UW Electrical Engineering and Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering Joshua Smith and Matt Reynolds were members of the original curriculum committee for GIX. They have continued these efforts on the Interdisciplinary Faculty Group (IFG), which governs the academic degree program at GIX.

The GIX building was named the Steve Balmer Building after Steve Balmer, the former CEO of Microsoft.

When selecting students for the new program, Co-CEO at the institute and UW Vice-President for Innovation Strategy Vikram Jandhyala wanted to ensure the students at GIX had an entrepreneurial spirit.

“It was very hands-on,” Jandhyala said in a recent article. “We wanted to make sure they were self-starters in terms of being entrepreneurs, and they could do things not just measured by GPA or scores from their undergraduate years.”

In addition to Tsinghua, eight other universities and five other companies from around the world are partnering on GIX.

“Literally, we are bringing the world together,” said one of the key architects of the GIX vision and Microsoft President Brad Smith in a recent article.

This fall, GIX will open its doors to 43 students from China and the United States. In ten years, it is estimated that GIX will educate about 3,000 students. At this point, the 43 students are all a part of the master’s degree program. However, the institute’s leadership envision that GIX will grow to support a wide-range of programs, including refresher courses, virtual reality and remote learning.

“I’m very proud that EE and CSE faculty have been a part of the core group in the establishment of GIX,” UW Electrical Engineering Professor and Chair Radha Poovendran said.

Microsoft President Brad Smith

A grand opening for the institute was held on September 14. Leaders from both China and the Pacific Northwest attended. UW President Ana Mari Cauce, Governor Jay Inslee, and previous Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire were in attendance. Additionally, top executives from Microsoft, including Smith, CEO Satya Nadella and former CEO Steve Ballmer, and many Chinese officials, including the consul general from San Francisco and Tsinghua’s President Qiu Yong, attended the event.