Extending Education through the MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node

MIT’s entrepreneurial network thrives on connections around the world, and it has grown even more robust with the MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node. Launched in June 2016, and the first of its kind among MIT’s innovation programs, “the Node” connects the MIT community with unique resources—including local universities, local alumni, entrepreneurs, advanced prototyping and manufacturing capabilities, and the world-class financial industry—in Hong Kong and the neighboring Pearl River Delta. The Node offers a broad spectrum of programs designed to foster closer communication between the MIT campus and large and small companies and students in the Hong Kong region.

The Node connects the MIT community with unique resources—including local universities, local alumni, entrepreneurs, advanced prototyping and manufacturing capabilities, and the world-class financial industry—in Hong Kong and the neighboring Pearl River Delta.

“A major reason MIT chose Hong Kong is its world-class universities and the ready access to a unique manufacturing infrastructure that encourages rapid prototyping and scale-up,” says Charles Sodini, the faculty director of the MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node and professor of electrical engineering at MIT. “Manufacturers in Shenzhen, a city about an hour’s commute from Hong Kong, have mastered the ability to take a prototype device to unit quantities in the hundreds overnight.” According to Lewis Chan ’91, chairman of the Node Advisory Board, exploratory initiatives like the Node, when “armed with sound purpose and coherent methodology,” can and should push the boundaries of cross-cultural innovation.

Launched in 2017, MIT Entrepreneurship and Maker Skills Integrator (MEMSI) is the Node’s flagship program. MEMSI is a fully immersive two-week mini-accelerator for aspiring innovators who want to build skills in entrepreneurship, hardware production, and product development for connected devices. Teams of 30 students from MIT and Hong Kong-area universities work together to choose a customer problem to solve, and then develop, build, and pitch a solution. They also have the opportunity to observe mass production in Shenzhen factories. Beginning in August 2018, the Node’s offerings also include MIT Entrepreneurship and FinTech Integrator (MEFTI), newly developed to address the huge interest in fintech in the region.

Other Node programs include the MIT Innovation Academy, an immersive boot camp for high school students to experience the journey of entrepreneurship and advanced prototyping. In partnership with the MIT Club of Hong Kong, the Node also sponsors and provides a venue for a variety of speakers, including MIT faculty, local community experts in the Hong Kong innovation ecosystem, and several interest groups such as the MIT-China Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (MIT-CHIEF), a student-hosted forum to explore academia’s role in the startup environment and to provide a platform for MIT startups to pitch for funding and partnerships in the region.

The Node recently celebrated the grand opening of its residence in a 5,000-square-foot facility in the Kowloon Tong area of the city, featuring prototyping equipment, a makerspace, and multipurpose areas. But the Node is best defined by the personal interactions it enables, according to MIT’s associate provost for international activities and Node Steering Committee chair, Richard Lester PhD ’80. “It’s about bringing people with ideas, imagination, and energy together, and about building connections between them even when they are separated by 8,000 miles,” says Lester, who is the Japan Steel Industry Professor. “The MIT community is committed to working and collaborating in this region for the long term.”