Twitter’s Former CTO Talks About Joining CornellNYC Tech

5/25/12Follow @jpruth

Greg Pass is bringing more technology “street cred” to the team that is establishing the applied science and engineering campus on Roosevelt Island in New York. The former chief technology officer of Twitter on Wednesday was named the founding entrepreneurial officer for CornellNYC Tech, a $2 billion school to be built in the city.

The planned campus got a boost early this week when Google announced it would give free space at its New York offices to house CornellNYC Tech classes over the next five years while the permanent home is built. The addition of Cornell alum Pass brings a notable name from the innovation community to the campus. Pass spoke to Xconomy about his role in helping to shape CornellNYC Tech and his hopes for the growing technology scene here.

Xconomy: What is an entrepreneurial officer?

Greg Pass: This is a new position that we’ve created to make sure someone is focused on making sure the academic program and the industry partnerships that we create result in entrepreneurial value for students, faculty, and the New York tech scene.

X: What got you interested in joining this project?

GP: It was an opportunity that blindsided me. I didn’t expect to be involved in helping to build a new school and program. I don’t know how you say no to an opportunity to build a new school from the ground up in New York while the city is surging in tech right now. It’s a unique opportunity for me to give back to my profession in a fundamental way.

X: What will your duties be as the campus develops and after it opens its doors?

GP: This is a fundamental role, not just an advisory role. On an ongoing basis there is going to be a lot of focus on thinking creatively about how the tech industry in New York can collaborate with the applied research activities of students and faculty. There is definitely creative work ahead of us but the goal is to drive much more value from that collaboration than we would typically see.

X: How important is it to team higher education with the technology and entrepreneurship community to keep the current momentum going?

GP: It remains a vital part of cultivating creative and innovative engineers. There is a great deal of untapped value there. In academia we have the latest research, which is often very applicable to industry, but there hasn’t been a honed interface between academic programs and tech right now, especially in New York. That’s definitely a great area of opportunity. We’ll see a ton of entrepreneurial value produced from those creative collaborations.

X: Are there new types of collaborations you would like to see happen at CornellNYC Tech that have not been tried elsewhere?

GP: There are certainly a lot of great engineering programs across the country and the world that are producing successful graduates. That’s not the issue per se. What we’d like to do is tailor our program specifically to students who are interested in having an impact through technological innovation. That could mean through entrepreneurialism and starting a company on their own or participating in a startup or an innovative company. To that end, in the program we’ll be exposing students to entrepreneurial experiences. Think of the program being somewhere between a masters program, so that students can achieve mastery in their topics, and something like Y Combinator, where students are getting actual entrepreneurial experiences, perhaps with New York tech companies.

X: Were there lessons that you wished you had learned in college to help you prepare for the technology and entrepreneurship world?

GP: When I first became an entrepreneur, twenty or so years ago, I wasn’t aware of programs to help me along the way. I’m certain there were some but they didn’t have the prominence and opportunity of things like Y Combinator. Things are moving in the right direction. In order to grow the size of the talent pool, additional resources like schools, community activities, and greater investment in incubators will really help increase the number of entrepreneurial engineers.

X: Will your position at CornellNYC Tech be full-time?

GP: It’s essentially full-time with time carved out to pursue entrepreneurial activities myself. Mostly things like advisories. I’m on the board of advisors of Obvious, which is Evan [Williams], Biz [Stone], and Jason [Goldman]’s new company. Certainly I want to keep engaged as an entrepreneur in the minority of my time.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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