Highly-Educated Workforce Helps Attract Scientist-Turned-Entrepreneur to Grow Company in NJ

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) continues its series highlighting how entrepreneurs and investors are helping to build New Jersey’s technology ecosystem.

In 1999, scientist-turned-entrepreneur Navneet Puri earned his PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Rutgers University and went on to found InnoPharma, Inc. in Piscataway just a few years later. The research and development pharmaceutical company, focused on developing complex generic and innovative specialty products in injectable and ophthalmic dosage forms,   was ultimately acquired by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer last year. Under Puri’s leadership, InnoPharma had more than 30 products in various stages of development, including 10 generic products that had received Food and Drug Administration approval.

Puri, a resident of Lebanon, Hunterdon County, currently serves as Vice President of Worldwide Research & Development at Pfizer, a position he plans to leave at the end of the month to start a new company.

As a graduate of a New Jersey-based university and an active entrepreneur, Puri understands the importance of nurturing and leveraging New Jersey’s technology ecosystem. “New Jersey offers an abundance of professional talent, particularly in the pharmaceutical sector. With numerous major pharmaceutical companies locating and expanding in the State, as well as a top-notch network of colleges and universities, the talent pool in New Jersey is second-to-none.”

In addition to sharing his knowledge with CEOs of New Jersey startup companies, including participating in events hosted at the EDA’s Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies (CCIT), Puri is a charter member of the New Jersey-Philadelphia chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), a not-for-profit networking organization that aims to foster entrepreneurship through mentoring, education, incubating and funding. He also lends his expertise to Vistage, a peer-advisor group that hosts once-a-month, day-long events to enhance career development. This year Puri also volunteered his time as a judge at the New Jersey Tech Council’s Venture Conference, a program that showcases more than three dozen entrepreneurs and their businesses.

Prior to being sold to Pfizer, InnoPharma also took advantage of various state programs, including the popular Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer (NOL) Program, which enables qualified, unprofitable New Jersey-based technology or biotechnology companies to sell a percentage of net operating losses and research and development tax credits to unrelated profitable corporations.

“Navneet not only grew a startup company into a multi-million dollar enterprise, he has also devoted his time and energy to cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs,” EDA Chief Executive Officer Melissa Orsen said.

@NJEDATech spoke with Puri about his experience in New Jersey and the advice that he has for emerging entrepreneurs.

 While growing InnoPharma, you tapped into State resources such as the NOL program.  How did the company benefit from this program? 

The NOL program is very beneficial to R&D based companies like InnoPharma. During growth years, R&D based companies are required to infuse a lot of cash into development of products, while not leading to immediate revenue accretion. This happens at a time when, as an entrepreneur, you are confounded with inherent risks to success. NOL brings in much-needed, non-dilutive cash influx, where companies can sell their net operating losses to the state. However, companies should be careful in their corporate entity structure to take full advantage of this program, and should consult with their tax accountants and attorneys, as well as engage with the EDA.

What advice do you give budding entrepreneurs just starting out?

Budding entrepreneurs enter into this mysterious world of entrepreneurship with mixed emotions, including uncertainty, fear, excitement, ambition, anxiety and numerous other feelings. All these feelings are natural and should be embraced, as they can lead to higher self-awareness as well as empathy toward the ecosystem around us. Both of these aspects are crucial; the former to assure true motivation to start a new venture is crystal clear, leading to self-sustainable entrepreneurial mindset, and the latter to assure unmet market needs are well understood, analyzed, paving the way to form a well thought out business model.

It is imperative for entrepreneurs to write a detailed business model, and have it vetted by others who have experience in relevant areas of expertise. This will assure that possible weaknesses in the model are highlighted, all the assumptions challenged. Every business model needs a reality check.

A new entrant in the journey of entrepreneurship should assure he/she has appropriate family and professional support, and should surround himself/herself with an experienced team of professionals, consultants and advisors.

There are various forums in New Jersey where relevant advice, guidance and mentorship can be provided to new entrepreneurs, and one must reach out to seek advice. Successful entrepreneurs are (or should be) happy and keen to share their experiences; some of them can be extremely beneficial and relevant during growth years of a new venture.

What recommendations do you have for other serial entrepreneurs thinking about giving back to emerging entrepreneurs?

I cannot speak enough about the importance of giving back to the community, society and emerging entrepreneurs. This leads to a cascading effect of growth and improvement in our overall economy and ecosystem — more than we can ever imagine.

The most important asset of serial entrepreneurs is their wealth of knowledge accrued from years of experiences in the real world.  Sharing these experiences with emerging entrepreneurs can often shave off years of time spent going down the wrong path.  A new entrepreneur is wise to learn from the mistakes of his mentors. The spirit and practice of entrepreneurship is industry-agnostic, making it easy for entrepreneurs in all stages to find common ground.

Serial entrepreneurs should seek out forums where they can engage with emerging entrepreneurs, provide them with guidance and advice, and where appropriate, investment and referrals.

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