“Smart Cities, Smart Futures” - Building a Roadmap to a Future Where There Are No Roads

How to energize and tap the creativity of talent within the higher education pipeline across a broad spectrum of disciplines, interests and geographies

Alan Yeung
Foxconn Technology Group

David Brukardt
University of Wisconsin System

Rebecca Larson
Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities

Katy Pettersen
Wisconsin Technical Colleges

Background and objectives of the case
In an age of low unemployment and increasing shortages of skilled talent, how might a major global company introduce itself to a significant untapped market, successfully engage new stakeholders, attract thousands of potential future employees, and achieve all of these goals in innovative and impactful ways? Such a challenge requires bold, out-of-the-box thinking.

This abstract outlines Foxconn’s innovative Next Practice, its “Smart Cities, Smart Futures” three-year, $1.0 million ($U.S.) higher education initiative for crowdsourcing the best and brightest ideas, energizing talent, and engaging campuses and communities. Foxconn’s “Smart Cities, Smart Futures” competition was launched as the Taiwan-based company began construction in Wisconsin, U.S.A. on its first North American production operation for advanced research, manufacturing and high-tech electronics. Among Foxconn’s top reasons for selecting this medium-sized Midwestern state was its highly regarded pool of skilled manufacturers and suppliers. Foxconn Founder and Chairman Terry Gou also acknowledged Wisconsin’s globally respected higher education network, consisting of public and private university and technical colleges, with combined enrollments in excess of 500,000 students and tens of thousands of faculty mentors and educational leaders.

As Foxconn indicated in its early announcements, the Taiwan-based $150 billion ($U.S.) company expects to attract and cultivate a strong North American ecosystem of researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs capable of building much more than its industry-leading advanced electronic systems. In a larger sense, Foxconn intends to foster and support creative networks and collaborations that focus on finding new ways to live and work, facilitate more healthy lifestyles and leisure activities in addition to building the company’s market leading products.

Foxconn formulated its bold Next Practice idea in mid-2018 in partnership with the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System, and the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. The result: A Foxconn-funded $1.0 million competitive effort designed to energize, reward, and potentially attract further investment in innovative ideas and concepts created by students, staff, and faculty across the state’s broad and diverse range of higher educational institutions. All of the award money will go to higher education—to students and faculty primarily—for bold, creative, and thoughtful ways to build strong, smart futures, whatever that might represent in a variety of contexts. Foxconn’s “Smart Futures” competition is designed to foster widespread involvement in the development of a vital and innovative “third coast” ecosystem the company dubbed “Wisconn Valley” with a vision that the region might someday rival Silicon Valley and other widely recognized tech-savvy hubs.

Foxconn’s goal—unlike any other competitive effort of its kind—is to crowdsource a wide spectrum of innovative ideas and to elicit inputs and collaborations from the best and brightest students and faculty researchers and innovators. Following discussions with leaders from the state’s public and private educational institutions, the public-private Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation entity, the Wisconsin Technology Council and the respective higher educational technology transfer units, Foxconn launched its “Smart Cities, Smart Futures” program in the summer of 2018. The inaugural summit attracted hundreds of key partners and Triple Helix collaborators across the educational, governmental and business sectors. For the next several months, Foxconn will promote the competitive opportunity through an intense and ongoing series of community events and campus informational sessions. Already, entries from all parts of the state are beginning to be submitted as part of the initial call for ideas that will compete for Foxconn recognition and rewards over three years.