Michael Johnson
Science & Technology

NJII President Eyes Sustainable Growth

Note: This news item was supplied by New Jersey Institute of Technology

Even before he started as president of the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s New Jersey Innovation Institute, Michael Johnson was on campus to introduce himself to his staff and meet with his entrepreneurial peers at the university.

So, clearly this scientist, entrepreneur and business leader is energized by the prospect of leveraging NJIT’s culture of innovation and technology and accelerating efforts to commercialize its most potent research through NJII, a multi-division corporation that bridges the university and the business world.

Before NJII, Johnson was chief commercial officer at MatTek Life Sciences and managing director of Visikol, a drug discovery company born at Rutgers University that he co-founded, developed and sold. Sounds like the perfect preparation for his new role.

What led you to leave industry for NJII?

By background, I am a scientist with a Ph.D. in microbiology and my career focus has been to transform cutting-edge research into innovative products and services that have a positive impact on the world. I co-founded and was the CEO of Visikol — a biotech drug discovery company that I spun out of Rutgers. I was fortunate to have lived the full entrepreneur’s life cycle with Visikol as we took the company from technology licensing to a profitable business that we sold in 2021 to a Swedish life sciences company called BICO. When we sold the company, I knew that after our two-year integration process that I’d want to move on to the next chapter of my career. What I was looking for was a role in which I could leverage my strong scientific background and passion for commercialization and entrepreneurship. The role at NJII was the perfect opportunity.

What are your initial goals?

To thoroughly understand the NJII organization and quickly familiarize myself with the resources and research efforts at NJIT. NJII is a complex organization that was designed to be the conduit between NJIT and the outside world while having a significant economic impact in New Jersey. And to properly lead NJII and fulfill this mission, I need to be immersed in the community. So, I’ve been getting to know my staff and NJIT’s leaders.

What excites you most about this role?

I have always felt that in the U.S. universities are an underutilized resource given that they have abundant top-tier researchers, substantial physical assets and a wealth of intellectual property and know-how. I find the structure and intention of NJII to be novel. Why? Because NJII serves as a conduit between a leading R1 research institution and the marketplace that better harnesses this untapped potential. What’s exciting is that we’re a nimble and flexible organization that can easily partner with industry and spur innovation through multiple avenues, such as developing for-profit companies like BioCentriq and HCIS, creating large consortium grant programs or building upskilling programs for advanced manufacturing.

Where do you see NJII long-term?

Ultimately everyone at an organization needs to have a north star. For NJII, we want to be an organization that’s able to sustain growth so that we can expand the impact we have in New Jersey. If we look out toward 2030, we’d ideally like to exceed $70 million in revenue, which would represent sustained 10 percent annual growth. The shorter term and continuous goals are to leverage the vast resources of NJIT and government and private industry relationships to accelerate technology translation, upskill workers and spur innovation. We want to do this while aligning and collaborating with NJIT wherever possible.

How will you apply your experience as an entrepreneur?

By getting engaged with the entrepreneurship team within NJII and all of the different stakeholders at NJIT. There’s a lot of great entrepreneurship work going on across both organizations and I want to work with both NJIT and NJII to support these efforts and provide leadership wherever possible. I have a lot of experience that I’d like to share through mentoring, presentations and talks. Also, I have plenty of great contacts in New Jersey and look forward to leveraging them to tighten the bond between NJII and the state.

What are your first impressions of the campus community?

In working at multiple companies and on many teams, I’ve found that one of the most important drivers of success is the team itself and the culture. I have been really impressed by all of my interactions with NJIT and NJII so far and am grateful for having great division leaders like Jennifer D’Angelo, Kathy Naasz and General Bill Marshall. Also, working with President Lim, Provost Pelesko, the NJII Board of Directors and NJIT Board of Trustees has been an absolute pleasure and I look forward to their continued support. I intend to build on this community’s strong culture of innovation and collaboration as we pursue our future goals.

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