New Jersey’s colleges and universities are proving to be an invaluable resource when it comes to collaborative research and development opportunities for high-tech businesses. The state’s institutions of higher education are playing an active role in supporting industry innovation and maintaining New Jersey’s reputation as a leading global research hub.
“New Jersey is home to highly-respected public and private research universities that provide world-class expertise and access to state-of-the-art facilities for high-tech businesses – whether you’re a start-up, mid-sized company looking to expand, or a global pharmaceutical company seeking collaborative research and development opportunities,” says Haskell Berman, senior vice president of state affairs for the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey and co-founder of Innovation NJ, the latter a coalition of businesses, trade associations and higher education institutions established to strengthen and enhance the culture of innovation in New Jersey.
Many of the state’s colleges and universities are bridging the gap between academia and industry through dedicated centers that facilitate partnerships with high-tech businesses. New Jersey Institute of Technology’s New Jersey Innovation Institute (NJII) was incorporated in 2014 to serve as the focal point for the university’s technology and economic development initiatives. According to Joel S. Bloom, president of NJIT, NJII applies NJIT’s intellectual and technological resources to challenges identified by private- and public-sector partners with the goal of efficiently moving scientific and technical knowledge into the marketplace and creating a platform for resource partnerships. NJIT is also home to the Enterprise Development Center (EDC), which is the largest technology and life science incubator in the state with more than 90 start-up companies.
“NJII partners with NJIT’s Enterprise Development Center to provide office and lab space, access to scientific and technological equipment, financial guidance and extensive technical and coaching advisory services,” Bloom explains.
One of the growing responsibilities of institutions of higher education in New Jersey is to address the needs of high-tech businesses in search of research and development opportunities. “Higher education must fill this important role that has been left vacant by the disappearance of large corporate labs – particularly in New Jersey, one of the most intense science, engineering and technology states in the nation,” Bloom adds.
Similarly, the New Jersey Big Data Alliance (NJBDA) was established in 2013 by Rutgers University along with eight higher education partners to spur collaboration between academia, industry and government. The alliance has served as an invaluable resource for businesses in need of expanding their computation capabilities and expertise, and has enabled New Jersey businesses and higher education institutions to leverage, analyze and protect data – and all while increasing their competitiveness, securing federal funding, and driving innovation. The university is also home to the WINLAB (Wireless Information Network Laboratory), with a mission of advancing the development of wireless networking technology and training the next generation of wireless technologists. Meanwhile, the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute (RDI2) conducts research in the areas of scalable discovery analytics and computational science and engineering.
“We work with state agencies and companies to facilitate interactions in computer science in a variety of research areas, and all while working closely with industry in order to help students secure internships within the state’s high-tech firms,” adds Dr. Christopher J. Molloy, senior vice president of the Rutgers Office of Research and Economic Development. “Rutgers is not interested in being an ivory tower. We’re interested in developing collaborations and working at the speed of business, such as through our RDI2, which has allowed us to build a network of academic computer scientists that are enabling super computing and big data analysis for a variety of industry, state and academic partners.”
Princeton University’s Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations team is also contributing to New Jersey’s reputation as a hub for global research by building collaborations with companies and foundations that support strategic, catalytic and capacity-building programs and research across all academic areas. The university launched the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council two years ago, and this fall will open the doors of the Princeton Innovation Center, a 30,000-square-foot incubator with wet labs, dry labs, and desk co-working space for start-ups with the aim of giving entrepreneurs space and support for their ideas to become successful companies.
“We actively work to connect our Princeton researchers with industry as the primary way we focus on strengthening the innovation ecosystem here in New Jersey,” says Coleen Burrus, Princeton’s director of corporate engagement and foundation relations.
Perhaps just as importantly, the state’s colleges and universities are doing their part to provide students with skills that will allow them to make significant contributions to the state’s high-tech firms upon graduation. “We’re developing top-level undergraduate and graduate students who can go to work at these companies, because we understand how important it is to attract companies here to New Jersey with our strong talent,” Burrus adds.
Many of the state’s research universities are also making efforts to partner with local healthcare organizations and companies in order to address challenges that continue to plague the state. Stevens Institute of Technology is home to a community of researchers that are leading collaborations with organizations like Hackensack University Medical Center. In fact, Stevens faculty and student researchers recently developed a new cancer research method by which multiple myeloma cells can be successfully cultivated outside the body. They have also developed research and corporate education collaborations with firms including Verizon, Pfizer, Accenture, ExxonMobil and Lockheed Martin, among other local and national corporate partners, to help organizations remain on the cutting edge of innovation and meet industry needs.
“The Stevens research community works with internal and external stakeholders in a variety of ways to create powerful technologies, tools and sustainable solutions that address pressing technical and social challenges, while expanding human knowledge through analysis, innovation and insight,” says Edward Stukane, vice president of communications and marketing for Stevens Institute of Technology.
In addition to continuing to grow its research and development capabilities and housing the South Jersey Technology Park, Rowan University is also taking a unique approach to collaborating with high-tech businesses. According to Dr. Shreekanth Mandayam, vice president for research at Rowan University, the university is making collaboration with industry one of its primary educational missions, and inviting industry leaders from firms like Lockheed Martin to teach classes and help students develop the skills they will ultimately need to secure positions within the state’s high-tech firms.
“Traditionally, a university will reach out to a business and offer to share their technical expertise in solving any problems they may be facing. But what we’ve done is include that business in our core mission, and invited them to develop a curriculum and teach classes right here at our South Jersey Technology Park that will allow them to educate our students while training their future workforce,” Dr. Mandayam explains. “We’ve heard feedback in the past from businesses, that they found it difficult to work with universities, and we want industry to stop saying that … so we’ve decided to let them in and give them an opportunity to become vested in our operations and develop a truly worthwhile partnership that benefits everyone involved.”
While colleges and universities may have faced communication challenges in connecting with industry in the past, the state’s institutions of higher education are finding that opening dedicated outreach centers on campus, regularly inviting industry leaders to teach classes or lead seminars on campus, and providing facilities and resources for research and development is going a long way towards strengthening New Jersey’s longtime reputation for innovation.
“New Jersey has always been a global innovation hub … from telecommunications to pharmaceuticals to chemical engineering, it all started here. And today, we know that to sustain and grow that innovation economy, we need to have that dynamic, enthusiastic, collaborative academic research community,” Berman concludes. “Our focus now is to continue to cultivate a functioning innovation ecosystem through a collaboration of industry, the state, and the academic community working together to create an environment that continues to support research and innovation.”