June 27, 2014

The power of unleashing ideas

By Michael K. Young

One of the things I most appreciate about a major research institution like the University of Washington is that our ideas are limitless. In every UW college, school, program and discipline, people are individually and collectively engaged in the pursuit of ideas with the potential to become something transformative. With thousands collaborating in the creative process each day, the UW is able to sustain an environment of ongoing discovery, and the possibilities for innovation are boundless.

Much of the university’s focus is on finding ways to unleash this vast storehouse of human ideas and potential, and one of my principal endeavors is to lead that effort. We strive to empower people and to create an environment in which everyone feels encouraged to think expansively and broadly for the greater common good. At the same time, we aim to provide people the freedom to innovate, knowing they have the support and resources to take risks, choose unexplored paths and try bold approaches. And when great ideas are conceived, we take them where they have the capacity to make a difference.

Innovating with a purpose is and always has been fundamental to the UW’s mission. Like many others engaged in the creative process, our ideas are not complete until we connect them with the larger world, to the great opportunities and challenges of our time. One way we achieve this is through commercialization — licensing faculty research or incubating student startups.

Korvata Inc., a UW student-led startup, won the top award at the 2014 UW Environmental Innovation Challenge. Launched in April, the company provides customers in the food and beverage and consumer-packaged goods industries with cutting-edge alternative chemistry products to help mitigate their environmental impact. Members of this student team succeeded in turning their passion for cleantech into a marketable opportunity that meets a genuine need, and many other UW students are engaged in similar pursuits.

Photo of members of the Korvata startup team

Korvata Inc., a UW student-led startup, won the top award at the 2014 UW Environmental Innovation Challenge.

Commercialization and incubating startups are not the only creative ways we link with the larger community. Ideas with impact can be found in scholarly publishing, delivering health care, crafting public policy and creating partnerships with the community on a host of activities essential to a vibrant, successful society. Indeed, nearly every aspect of our world is predicated on ideas that can be applied in solid, practical ways.

No matter how our faculty, staff and students innovate, the UW is committed to providing the opportunities and the resources that will unleash their ideas. This is the higher purpose of higher education — where the real strength of our thinkers, creators and doers will flourish.

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