Here’s Where Harvard’s Engineering Dean Sees MedTech Research Going

Surgical robotics, artificial intelligence, and combatting climate change are but some of the priorities that […]

Surgical robotics, artificial intelligence, and combatting climate change are but some of the priorities that have Harvard’s engineering school dean excited.

Speaking today at DeviceTalks Boston, Frank J. Doyle III described the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences as a “well-kept secret” historically. But Harvard engineering is staking out a strong position when it comes to medtech innovation.

Doyle noted that the school he runs has 5% of the faculty — and produces 40% of the startups out of Harvard.

The university constructed a 500,000-square-foot Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) for SEAS in Boston’s Allston neighborhood in 2020. Other exciting developments include a $500 million gift from Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg to support the Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence, expected to open at SEC by the end of the year.

The nearby Harvard Enterprise Research Campus project will open as early as late 2024, with the first phase adding around 1 million square feet of leasable tech space, housing and a conference center.

“The idea is to have startups in there, have outposts of big companies, have VCs in there, create an ecosystem so that we can really have a rich, collaborative environment adjacent to engineering across the street from Harvard Business School,” Doyle said. “It’s the perfect setting for the next big innovation.”

Doyle also discussed some more immediate developments. This summer, Harvard is going to announce an initiative called Grid — like an electrical power grid — to better support entrepreneurial activity in three ways.

The university’s accelerator fund “is not big enough,” Doyle said, so Grid will double or even triple its size.

The Grid initiative will also promote connectivity by building its entrepreneurs-in-residence (EIR) program with an executive director and offices in the engineering building.

The third focus of Grid will be on education, Doyle said. “We need a better roadmap for the students who come in — let’s say, sophomore year, a history major, or an electrical engineer, and say, ‘I want to be an entrepreneur, be a startup when I get out. What are the additional classes I can take to complement my major, my concentration at Harvard?’”

That third part will call for additional lecturers to “build out a robust curriculum” that will better prepare students to become researchers and  innovators and leaders not only at the university, but in the medtech industry.

Other ongoing efforts include robotics and medtech, a just-launched AI initiative and a quantum initiative that will soon be announced.

“We’ve got faculty recruiting, got a brand new building on the Cambridge campus in quantum science and engineering,” Doyle said. “This is investing in tech that will innovate medical measurement technology, it will innovate computing  … lots of exciting things happening in quantum. So watch this space [for] fast-changing developments.”

There’s one more major move looming on the horizon, Doyle said.

“We’re just about to announce a big recruiting effort in climate,” he said. “Very broadly, climate and energy tech is going to be [a big priority at Harvard], and in our school, a very big priority.”

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