MIT’s Hong Kong “Innovation Node” gives students and faculty an Asian perspective on entrepreneurship

HongKongIs Hong Kong the next new enterprise frontier? In June, MIT unveiled its Hong Kong Innovation Node, a collaborative space designed to connect the Institute community with partners and resources in what has become a key global business hub and a gateway to Asia. The “node,” which will be run by the MIT Innovation Initiative, convenes MIT students, faculty, and researchers to work on entrepreneurial and research projects with Hong Kong-based students, faculty, MIT alumni, entrepreneurs, and business leaders.

The goal of the new environment is to help students learn how to move ideas more rapidly from lab to market. It also will increase opportunities for MIT students to conduct research in collaboration with Hong Kong universities. An innovative makerspace and startup programs for student entrepreneurs will add to the dynamism of the environment.

“By bringing MIT to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to MIT,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif, “the Innovation Node will deepen MIT’s activities in Hong Kong and, through Hong Kong, in the entire Pearl River Delta region. In creating this node in Hong Kong, MIT is committing to advancing our engagement with the region in a mutually beneficial way.”

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Platform companies: Does the chicken really come before the egg?

Platforms make the digital world go round. Apple, Microsoft, Google—they’re all platform companies. So are billion-dollar startups like Uber and Airbnb.

cusumanoBut what exactly is a platform? MIT Sloan Professor Michael Cusumano, who teaches internet entrepreneurship, among other IT-related management subjects, explains. “Platforms are foundation technologies or services that bring multiple people together for a common purpose. Platforms are where we find each other or where we transact business that would be difficult without that intermediary component. Computers, the internet, and other digital technologies have enabled companies and governments to create truly global platforms. They can perform an almost unlimited number of activities and grow at a pace never before seen in human history.”

The classic chicken and egg dilemma

Cusumano notes that, at the outset, every platform company faces the classic chicken and egg problem. “Airbnb guests won’t rent rooms unless a lot of people make their rooms available to rent. But people won’t offer rooms on a website unless it has a good reputation and a deep pool of desirable consumers. How is a brand new company supposed to establish the reputation it needs to draw both chickens and eggs?”

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