Courtesy of Yale News

This week, the University launched the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale. The center, which was funded by an undisclosed major donation from Joseph Tsai ’86 LAW ’90 through the Joe & Clara Tsai Foundation, will succeed the existing Yale Entrepreneurial Institute as the nucleus of entrepreneurship on campus.

In a Yale News press release, University President Peter Salovey noted that CITY will serve as a “hub of creative activity” that will bring together students from diverse backgrounds and various academic perspectives. The release noted that CITY will be located on Becton Plaza, adjacent to the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design. However, according to Cassandra Walker Harvey, the program director for social entrepreneurship at CITY, until the center itself is completed in late 2019, its operations will be housed in the space of the former YEI at 254 Elm St.

“CITY will serve as the foundational hub for entrepreneurship and innovation on Yale’s campus,” Harvey said. “We will offer baseline programming that will run throughout the year, including everything from accelerators and lab programs. These programs are aimed at engaging everyone from those who found for-profit groups, social enterprises and nonprofits.”

CITY’s implementation and programming will be led by Executive Director Andrew McLaughlin ’91, who was selected following a nationwide search overseen by Provost Ben Polak.

Prior to joining CITY, McLaughlin worked extensively with political startups, served as deputy chief technology officer under the Obama administration and was a member of the technology and innovation advisory committee for the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton LAW ’73.

McLaughlin said he envisions programming that will help students build their ideas “from the back of a napkin to launch.”

“I want to support startups, but I think we can also increase Yale’s connectivity to Silicon Valley, New York City, Boston, Chicago and other startup centers,” McLaughlin said. “The other big thing is to take this principle that you can teach innovative skills and entrepreneurial mindsets and apply it to nonprofits, cultural and arts organizations, social justice organizations and faith-based organizations — whatever Yale students are interested in doing.”

He added that two of CITY’s priorities are the encouragement of interdisciplinary collaboration, particularly among graduate schools that have historically been underrepresented in entrepreneurship, as well as supporting populations that may not have felt welcome in the past, including first-generation college students, LGBTQ students, Native American students and black students.

“There is a slight tendency nationally for innovation to be the domain of third-generation white males, and the center will have programming focused directly toward being more inclusive,” Polak said in an interview with the News in December 2016, when CITY was first announced. According to Polak, the University hopes to engage students across race and ethnicity in innovative thinking.

McLaughlin noted that in furthering CITY’s goal of diversity and inclusion, he is beginning to meet with representatives from the University’s cultural centers and deans from the graduate schools to identify opportunities for collaboration.

According to Harvey, CITY’s programming will expand upon that of the YEI. However, as the organization is just beginning to launch, she encouraged students to be “the driving force behind CITY” and come forward with ideas with which they need support.

“The YEI did an incredible job over the last 10 years of creating a foundation for entrepreneurship on Yale’s campus,” Harvey said. “However, YEI was focused purely on venture creation — that’s the biggest difference. While YEI was focused on creating businesses, CITY is going to be focused on a wider breadth of activities.”

Harvey also clarified that while the YEI did some work with faculty members, CITY will be purely student-facing. She added that faculty-related entrepreneurship programming will be located at the Office of Cooperative Research.

CITY is currently hiring 10 student interns to help develop programming. Applications for the positions are currently available on the University’s student employment portal.

Kevin Linkevin.lin@yale.edu 

Correction, Sept. 12: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly noted that the University announced the launch of CITY last week. While CITY was launched last week, it was announced in May.