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Deshpandes Donate $20M to New Center

DCTI to Support Young Companies, UPOP

By J. Helen Tang


A $20 million gift from Jaishree Deshpande and Desh Deshpande, the co-founder and chairman of Sycamore Networks, Inc., will fund the initial phase of the new Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation (DCTI).

The center will also provide significant funding for the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program (UPOP).

MIT works with young firms

A good portion DCTI’s fund goes to support collaboration between MIT researchers and small companies.

The Center was founded upon the realization that “limited research and development funds available to young companies restrict their ability to collaborate with leading universities,” said Dean of the School of Engineering Thomas L. Magnanti at the DCTI announcement ceremony on Jan. 3.

“Small companies don’t have a part [in MIT research] because they don’t have the cash and the chance,” said Alexander V. D’Arbeloff ’49, chairman of the MIT Corporation.

“The Center will provide these companies with the opportunity to collaborate with MIT faculty, staff and students on quality research of academic interest to MIT and of potential commercial interest to the company,” Magnanti said.

Since immediate cash is not readily available from young companies, other forms of reward for this collaboration, like stock holding, are being considered, according to D’Arbeloff.

Currently, most of the funding for research at MIT comes from either the government or large corporations.

UPOP teaches real word skills

Geared towards promoting real-world engineering practice, the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program (UPOP) bridges course and research work with skills necessary to thrive in the real world.

“The vision for [the Deshpande Center] is very strongly aligned with the School of Engineering’s mission of ‘leadership through technical excellence and innovation,’” Magnanti told Tech Talk.

“The Deshpande Center will provide much-needed funding for research on incipient technologies and, through UPOP, also offer MIT undergraduates the opportunity to apply their knowledge in real-world settings,” he said.

UPOP provides an opportunity for sophomores in the School of Engineering to gain first-hand knowledge about the economic, legal, and business aspects of engineering practice.

The program is only open to sophomores because “they need more help finding internships,” especially in this economy, said Lora P. Chamberlain, assistant director of UPOP.

The culminating experience in the program is a summer internship with one of the participating companies.

“The companies [participating in UPOP] look really good,” said Melissa B. Read ’04, a sophomore in Course II (Mechanical Engineering).

The three-phase program consists of a week-long workshop, summer internships, and assessment and reflection.

In the workshop, led by senior faculty members from the Sloan School of Management and the School of Engineering, students participate in interactive exercises mirroring dimensions in workplace dynamics.

After their summer internship, “the students will have the opportunity to receive recognition and win prizes based on their presentations,” Chamberlain said.

The first UPOP activity, a week-long workshop, starts next Monday.

Fund supports leading research

The DCTI also provides another venue for MIT researchers to request funding.

Currently, the envisioned research program will have two major targets for funding, the “more well defined ground breaking technologies ... and exciting but still incipient ideas,” Magnanti said at the ceremony.

Magnanti expects the early research proposals to be centered around bioengineering, nanotechnology, large and complex systems, and information engineering.

Another component of DCTI, a complement to the research program, promotes “direct knowledge transfer through technical briefings and other communications to younger companies, again, with the [MIT] Entrepreneurship Center,” Magnanti said.

A call for proposals will take place this spring, with the first research grant expected to be given in the fall, said Catherine R. Avril, director of communications for the School of Engineering.

A steering committee will work out the details of the center this spring and start the program next fall.

“Initially, the steering committee will be composed of four members: D’Arbeloff, Deshpande, Tom Magnanti, and the center director, to be named,” Avril said. “We are hoping to have the director named shortly.”

In the future, the Steering Committee will grow to include people from the venture capital and entrepreneur communities.