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Northwestern delegation builds ties with alumni and peer institutions in Japan

Trip highlighted by discussion with major Japanese universities about how to increase capacity for translating basic research into commercially viable and societally beneficial services
Northwestern President Morton Schapiro leads a delegation to Japan, hosted by U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel.

A Northwestern University delegation recently made a five-day visit to Japan, highlighted by meetings with alumni and a roundtable discussion with leaders from major Japanese universities interested in exploring how to increase their capacities for translating basic research into commercially viable and societally beneficial services.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, who hosted the gathering at the U.S. embassy June 17, cited Northwestern as an exemplar of a research university with faculty skilled in the processes of technology transfer and invited Northwestern administrators and faculty to offer their counsel and expertise to Japanese institutions.

The event drew chief executives and senior officials from Waseda University, Keio University, the Tokyo Institute of Technology, the University of Tokyo, Tsukuba University and Nagoya University. Representing Northwestern were President Morton Schapiro, Vice President for International Relations Dévora Grynspan, Kellogg School of Management Dean Francesca Cornelli and Vice President for Research Milan Mrksich.   

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(Faculty) are genuinely interested in having their work make the world a better place.”

Milan Mrksich
Vice President for Research

“Not every university [in the U.S.] was focused like they are now on going from pure research to translation,” said Ambassador Emanuel, an alumnus of Northwestern's School of Communication, who served as mayor of Chicago from 2011 to 2019 and also served as White House chief of staff and member of the U.S. House of Representatives. “It has been a gradual transformation over the years,” in particular over the past 15 years, as institutions have been inspired by the spectacular growth of the Silicon Valley academic-business ecosystem.

“We’d love to help however we can,” Schapiro told his Japanese colleagues in response to the ambassador asking if Northwestern would be willing to expand its partnerships with them. “We have longstanding relationships with the University of Tokyo, Keio, Waseda and many others, and we’re always ready to do more, especially in the area of tech transfer.”

Schapiro said that fellow attendee Mrksich “epitomizes the process, as someone who does great research and then uses it to create companies that can change the world.”

Morton Schapiro

Schapiro and members of the delegation met at the U.S. embassy for a reception in honor of local alumni and friends of Northwestern.

Mrksich discussed the increasing commitment of faculty and students to the often-arduous process of turning basic research into successful products and services.

“Those who have focused on basic scientific questions have had to learn how to build teams and companies. Northwestern has brought in experts in entrepreneurship to support them," Mrksich said. "During these past 15 years, the culture has changed dramatically, and many faculty in the sciences are now interested in translational technology. They are genuinely interested in having their work make the world a better place.”

Cornelli told attendees that one of Kellogg's chief strategic priorities is to help scientists and technologists move effectively from the laboratory to the boardroom.

“We are bringing together businesspeople and scientists,” she said, "to help them interact, talk and engage in ways that are mutually beneficial.”

Cornelli said this often requires a delicate balance, as businesspeople learn how to respect the technical expertise of the scientists and scientists learn to value the market expertise of those on the business side. She noted that Kellogg would be active in Northwestern’s ambitious new technology accelerator at 1801 Maple Street in Evanston, made possible by a $50 million grant from the state and $25 million from trustee Kimberley Querrey.

Ambassador Emanuel also discussed his goal to bring even greater numbers of Japanese citizens to United States for formal undergraduate and graduate study. Northwestern currently has approximately 1,000 alumni in Japan, the majority of them with Kellogg degrees.

“We’re eager to further diversify our student body with even more students from Japan. Increasing partnerships and collaborations with Japanese universities and scientists benefits Northwestern in many ways,” Grynspan noted, “not only in terms of diversifying our student body, but also because of the promise of joint research by great scholars on both sides—Northwestern and our peer universities in Japan. This is essential to increasing our productivity in science.” 

While representatives of local Japanese universities expressed eagerness to focus further on technology transfer and to partner with Northwestern and other universities, Ambassador Emanuel exhorted them to find their own, distinct paths along the way.

“Don’t follow everything the U.S. has done,” he said. “Learn from our mistakes. You don’t have to repeat them. Make your own way.”

An Ambassadorial Reception for Northwestern Alumni and Friends

That night, Schapiro, Grynspan, Mrksich, Cornelli and other members of the delegation returned to the U.S. embassy for a reception in honor of local alumni and friends of Northwestern, becoming the first university to be officially hosted by Emanuel since he assumed his post earlier this year.

During a short formal program, Emanuel discussed the strong partnership he and Schapiro enjoyed during his time as mayor of Chicago, noting in particular their efforts to strengthen the city’s K-12 public education through programs such as Chicago Stars and the Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools.

Group at dinner table

"We’d love to help however we can,” Schapiro told his Japanese colleagues. “We have longstanding relationships with the University of Tokyo, Keio, Waseda and many others, and we’re always ready to do more, especially in the area of tech transfer."

“What you did for education is the greatest part of your legacy as mayor,” Schapiro told the ambassador during his own remarks. Schapiro also told attendees that he and his wife, Mimi, had a deep love for the people, culture and traditions of Japan. “I’ve been coming to Japan since the mid-1980s, and it’s one of my and Mimi’s favorite places in the world. When we thought about one more trip to connect with alumni and friends in Asia, I immediately said, ‘Let’s go to Tokyo.’”

Celebrating Northwestern and Its Alumni

Schapiro also hosted a Celebrate Northwestern in Tokyo event at the Peninsula Hotel for approximately 100 Tokyo-based alumni, parents and friends June 16. The evening represented the concluding installment of a series of global receptions Northwestern hosted to thank a dedicated global network of supporters.

Kellogg Alumni Club of Japan President Hiroshi Odawara (’11 MBA) welcomed guests and introduced Schapiro, who offered remarks and moderated a panel featuring Asako Hoshino (’88 MBA), Executive Vice President of the Nissan Motor Company; Cornelli; Mrksich; and Nanao Yamada (’18 MMus, ’22 DMA), a noted violinist who performed both that evening and at the embassy reception. Schapiro asked each of the panelists to discuss their distinct “Northwestern direction” toward career success as well as their thoughts on how the collective efforts of the Northwestern community during the campaign can pay dividends in future years.

During the delegation’s five day-stay in Tokyo, Asako Hoshino and Shigeru Uehara (’06 MBA) hosted a meeting of the Kellogg Executive Board for Asia (EBfA), with many attendees attending in-person and others attending virtually. Trustee Jianming Yu (’00 MBA), co-founder and managing partner of New Horizon Capital, was among those traveling to Tokyo for the meeting.