The Board of directors of Media Lab Europe announced on Friday, Jan. 14 that the lab would be closing Feb. 1 due to a shortfall in financing. Launched in 2000 by the Irish government and MIT, Media Lab Europe (MLE) was a groundbreaking research and innovation laboratory in the fields of digital technologies. The lab, located in Dublin, grew to a community of close to 100 people, many of whom came to Ireland from across Europe and the U.S. The lab launched a substantial array of projects in association with corporate sponsors such as Ericsson, Intel and Orange, and development agencies including Highlands and Islands Enterprise in Scotland. Fourteen patent applications were filed by the lab’s researchers. The lab also participated in a number of European Union-funded research collaborations.
Initial funding for the lab came from the Irish government; it was expected to gradually become self-financing through securing corporate funding for its research activities. However, the economic climate of the past four years proved extremely difficult for the lab.
“Europe has always been a challenge for private universities seeking corporate support, even though the late 1990s looked otherwise,” said Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and chairman of the MIT Media Lab, and the Wiesner Professor of Media Technology at MIT. “The bursting bubble and downturn in the digital and telecommunications industries made a difficult task impossible. MLE fell short of its corporate projections and could not transition to an EU-or publicly funded entity rapidly enough.”
When asked how the closing of the lab would affect the Media Lab’s future outreach efforts, Walter Bender, executive director of the Media Lab, noted that international programs will continue to be developed, but with a de-emphasis on managing overseas operations. He cited a recently formed collaboration with Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute as an example.
“These types of collaborations are primarily focused on building rich venues for people to develop joint projects and to exchange ideas and research methods,” said Bender. “We have learned that we don’t need to be in the off-campus management business, and that having a local organization run the show is a better model.”