Cornell’s $50 Million Innovation Challenge

cornell johnson school of managementFive Johnson Graduate School of Management alumni have committed to donating a total of $27 million to their alma mater. But 27 is a bit of an oddball number; it logically follows that these alumni have invited the Johnson community to raise an additional $23 million. The goal is to put a nice, round $50 million behind Cornell’s Innovation Challenge.

What has made these graduates so eager to part with their fortunes? Dean Soumitra Dutta, who has been at Johnson for two years, is responsible for much of their enthusiasm. “The first year was really getting people excited about his ideas and vision and the direction of the school, and now I think this year it’s starting to pay off,” says Bill Huling, Johnson’s associate dean for alumni affairs and development. “People are willing to bet on and show their confidence in his direction of the school with their generosity. I think that’s basically why we’ve had a tick up this year.”

Cornell’s Innovation Challenge has three main components: boosting the Ithaca-based programs; supporting the new one-year MBA program at Cornell NYC Tech, the school’s applied sciences and technology campus on Roosevelt Island; and extending Johnson’s global reach, most notably in China.

The Cornell NYC Tech MBA program launched last year, and it’s intended for students with well-formed career blueprints. “The kind of people that we’re appealing to basically know where they want to go,” Huling says. “It’s not like they’re coming here to transition—like, they need that extra year, they need that summer internship to really land the new course direction or the new career that they’re pursuing. They know what they want to do.”

Regardless of what the campus’s name might bring to mind, graduates won’t all be joining startups. “Think about banking: 70% of the jobs in banking are IT-related, technology-related, so we’re not talking about just going into tech companies,” Huling says. “They could be going into a lot of different kinds of companies, but they will be able to succeed in the digital economy.” Still, there’s plenty of material for startup-oriented folk. The program’s entrepreneurship effort is led by Greg Pass, chief entrepreneurial officer at Cornell NYC Tech and former CTO and VP of engineering at Twitter.

Since Cornell NYC Tech operates on land it won in a competition held by former mayor Michael Bloomberg, it’s committed to producing graduates that will contribute to the city’s growth. “It’s all about commercialization, not technology in itself,” Huling explains. “It’s to produce jobs for New York and the New York area.”

Johnson is also working on extending its influence far beyond the Big Apple. The school has signed an agreement with Tsinghua University to launch a dual-degree, Mandarin-language MBA program in Beijing—the first of its kind. Some 70% of the instruction will take place in Beijing, and the rest will be split between Ithaca and New York City.

The program’s goal isn’t to bring Chinese talent to the United States. “The hope is that [the students] will stay in China and do very, very well, and be successful, and then will build up our alumni base in China,” Huling says.

Johnson’s initiatives are part of a larger trend: business schools customizing their offerings for a wider variety of students with a wider variety of goals. The only question is who they’ll target next.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.