As the state’s premier research institution, the University of Washington has a profound impact at both the local and global levels. In addition to being the top recipient of federal research dollars among the nation’s public universities, UW generates $12.5 billion in economic impact for the state, and is one of the top universities for technology startups. In part because of this, Reuters recently ranked UW as the #1 most innovative public university in the world.
Within the university, CoMotion serves as the collaborative innovation hub. CoMotion is where anyone at UW who has a useful vision can go to turn their innovations into impact. To this end, CoMotion offers a wide variety of tools and services that potential startups need, from the seed of an idea to the launch of a startup and beyond. UW startups can also plug into Seattle’s thriving innovation community by joining a CoMotion incubator.
In the past two years alone, CoMotion has helped spin-out 35 startups, in fields ranging from biotechnology to health care to computer science. All told, CoMotion has helped more than 300 companies solve real-world problems.
But CoMotion is more than just IP and startups. “Our aim,” says Vikram Jandhyala, UW’s Vice President for Innovation Strategy and CoMotion’s Executive Director, “is to expand the societal impact of the UW community by developing and connecting local and global innovation ecosystems.”
Jandhyala says CoMotion does this via three pathways: Innovation Transfer, Innovation Learning, and Innovation Strategy. With Innovation Transfer, CoMotion helps take the best ideas from the university out into the market, through protection of their work, marketing, licensing and business development. Through Innovation Learning, the members of the university community and beyond are taught the best practices for entrepreneurial thinking, and creative problem-solving. And Innovation Strategy is the application of those practices in the world beyond the university, all while helping the university adapt to a changing educational environment, whether through experiential learning or online courses. “We need to connect differently not only with our students, but with the community at large,” Jandhyala says.
Equally important, the staff of CoMotion are driven by Jandhyala’s philosophy of inclusive innovation: thinking and acting holistically about changes for meaningful, positive impact. This means taking a cross-disciplinary approach by engaging the community at large in the innovation process and cycle, including legal, social, regulatory and policy issues. It also includes thinking through the potential negative consequences of innovation on things like family-wage jobs, homelessness, affordable housing, and food access, and how innovation can help improve quality of life in these areas.
One important way CoMotion is connecting to the broader community is by helping to create and grow an inclusive innovation district in and around the University of Washington campus. The idea is not to create a tech hub, but a district where everyone can participate and benefit from the innovations coming to the university.
Another such connection is through international collaborations. Last year, UW, in a successful collaborative effort with UW academic departments and CoMotion, announced the formation of the Global Innovation Exchange, or GIX. Years in the making, GIX is a first-of-its-kind partnership between the University of Washington and Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, with initial support from Microsoft. GIX will extend far beyond the walls of its Seattle-area facilities, attracting participants and encouraging collaboration that is not limited by geography or discipline. Through project-based learning that addresses real-world issues, students, researchers and industry professionals will create solutions to global challenges.
A third example of how CoMotion connects to the broader community is by building new partnerships, particularly with industry, around innovation efforts at the UW. For example, last year, Amazon Catalyst was created to fund bold, inventive projects with select universities, with UW being their first collaborating institution. CoMotion is a resource for developing these kinds of creative engagement opportunities.
The coming year will be one of dynamic growth for CoMotion. GIX will officially launch in the fall in China at Tsinghua University, with a dual master’s degree program. In the fall of 2017, the GIX Bellevue location in the Spring district will open its doors with a 15-month master’s degree in technology innovation. And this summer, CoMotion will not only move to its new headquarters in Seattle’s University District, but also open its newest incubator in this space focused on startups in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. This will join the existing CoMotion incubators in Fluke Hall and StartUp Hall, and will all be under the “CoMotion Labs” moniker going forward.
“At CoMotion, we believe breakthroughs are not just from individuals working late into the night,” Jandhyala says. “More often it’s a team of thinkers discovering possibilities in the world and then working together to apply that discovery.”