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University-Industry Engagement Advisor

Princeton puts industry at the heart of its efforts to strengthen ecosystem

This article appeared in the February 2019 issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. Click here to subscribe.

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There’s much talk and activity related to building innovation ecosystems, but there’s no real road map for getting the job done. One thing that everyone can agree on, however: it’s a big, complex, and difficult job.

Princeton University has taken on this challenge, but the university is convinced that it can’t be done without partners, and university leaders have gone out of their way to make industry a full partner in the undertaking.

“Princeton’s long-standing commitment to growing the innovative ecosystem is clear,” says Jose Lozano, President and CEO of Choose New Jersey, an economic development organization formed in 2010 whose mission is “to encourage and nurture economic growth throughout New Jersey, with a focus on our urban centers.”

Princeton’s commitment to be a leader in central New Jersey’s economy came out of a strategic framework trustees and others worked on in 2016, shares Coleen Burrus, director of corporate engagement and foundation relations at Princeton. “One of our tag lines is, “Collaboration accelerates innovation,” she notes, emphasizing the importance of industry involvement. “One of our objectives is to develop our campus innovation program in ways that expand the ecosystem and our connections to it.”

Part of the reason she was hired, she continues, was “not only building industry collaborations around research with our faculty, but also doing outreach with business organizations in New Jersey as well.”

To that end, Burrus joined the Board of Choose New Jersey, the Research and Development Council of New Jersey, and has been “very involved” with BIO New Jersey, which connected her with the large pharmas in the state. “We have sat at the table, we’ve showed up, and we continue to show up,” she states. “We have our voice heard, and we listen a lot. We ask what they want from us.”

In 2018 alone, Princeton recorded a number of significant accomplishments in terms of industry involvement. For example:

  • May saw the opening of BioLabs, a 31,000 square foot project that includes wet and dry labs, as well as co-working spaces for Princeton start-ups and other companies in the region. “We thought it was important to have an incubator in central New Jersey near our campus — not just for Princeton faculty and students but for anyone who meets the threshold to get in,” Burrus explains.
  • Early 2018 saw the launch of the Princeton Catalysis, which seeks to build collaborations around chemistry research. On November 1 its first industrial collaboration was announced — a 10-year, $6 million partnership with Celgene.
  • In late November Princeton and Microsoft, who already had extensive collaborations, unveiled a plan to jointly research leading edge technologies in microbiology and computational research.
  • In December, Princeton and Google announced the opening of their AI lab.

Lozano points out that over the last several years, Princeton has also supported Choose New Jersey’s efforts to grow the life sciences industry in a variety of ways, including joining the group at BIO events in the U.S. and overseas, and “enthusiastic involvement” in Research with NJ (, a free portal that showcases New Jersey researchers in STEM, including their professional backgrounds, publications, and achievements. The site has over 3,500 faculty profiles from public and private universities across the state featuring abstracts of more than 180,000 published works.

A number of paths

Princeton has set out on a number of different paths to achieve its economic development goal. Among them, Burrus says, is having an executive in residence. “We have a New Ventures Associate (the position was created three years ago) to help us think more about start-ups,” she says. “At the same time we hired an Executive Director for the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council.”

That executive is Anne-Marie Maman, who says “the big local ecosystem piece” for entrepreneurship is BioLabs. “Yesterday we had an event there which was coordinated by CCIP, the state’s incubator, and us,” says Maman. The speaker, Steve Sun (founder of GENEWIZ), told how he had evolved from a scientist into an entrepreneur. Attendees included people from Rutgers and Princeton, local entrepreneurs, and funders. “It was a great cross-section of people wanting to hear either the company story or a ‘How I grew my company successfully to a good exit’ story,” says Maman.

In addition, she says, the council coordinates with other organizations, “And we boost one another’s signals and funding opportunities. The NJTC (New Jersey Tech Council) has an upcoming funding conference, and we talk as much as we can with start-ups looking for funding and suggest they apply.”

Maman is also president of the New Jersey Business Innovation Network — an organization of co-working spaces, innovation centers, and entrepreneurial hubs. “It’s the whole ecosystem of locations for small companies to work from,” she says.

“We have an entrepreneurship certificate — specific classes through the engineering school around entrepreneurship to be more targeted,” she adds. In addition, the Keller Center has a summer internship program in Israel, New York City and Shanghai that puts students to work with start-ups in those cities.

“We also have an e-hub, where you can rent space here in Princeton,” says Maman. “And we have an alumni entrepreneurship fund; alumni can apply to help with start-ups, and they can also be linked with other opportunities in the state.”

In terms of industry collaborations, “we’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response from industry who want to come and collaborate with our faculty,” Burrus says. “The partnerships developed with New Jersey business organizations are terrific.”

Burrus also noted the BioLabs and the New Jersey researcher database as other factors contributing to the overall effort. “We have played a central role in getting that database up and running,” she says.

The school’s overseas missions with Choose New Jersey have also borne fruit, she continues. “Last June I, along with others, gave a talk in London at the University-Industry Innovation Network (UIIN) about the ecosystem in the tri-state area,” she shares. “We were asked to come back — just to talk about New Jersey — for the UIIN meeting in Helsinki. We let them know we have very cutting-edge activity here and it’s a very good place do business — and the government will help. Our business organizations will also help companies that want to re-locate.”

A one-on-one contribution

Of course, a successful approach to any goal rests on the foundation of many individual steps. In the case of Princeton’s efforts to strengthen the ecosystem in partnership with industry, few “building blocks” are as important as the individual partnerships forged with corporations.

Siemens is one of the companies looking to work with Princeton on its efforts to build an innovation hub.

“First of all, we’ve identified only a handful of universities with which we want to partner; Princeton is one of six,” says Arturo Pizano, Siemens’ program manager for university relations. “And second, we look at topics more relevant to us.” In this case, he notes, it is computer science and engineering. He also notes that “it’s much easier, and more effective, to work with university partners when they’re close by (Siemens has a facility near the campus).

So how does their partnership enhance the innovation landscape of the region? “One factor has to do with the way you work with industry,” he says. “Princeton looks at Central New Jersey as a hub of innovation — and we do too. That’s not just with faculty members, but also with students — with talent. We jointly make sure talent comes out ready to work for us, and for Princeton it’s good to have industry partners that can have students interact with them so they benefit from that relationship and ultimately stay in Central New Jersey.”

Another key area of the partnership, he continues, is government funding. The company’s Government Research Program office “helps our researchers get funds primarily from federal agencies — higher risk, higher reward,” says Pizano. “Work with universities is very important [in securing government grants]. In the last several years we partnered with Princeton in multiple proposals and were successful in at least two, bringing federal tax dollars to both Princeton and Siemens. This strengthens the competencies of the region by bringing federal dollars.”

Students are the prize

Then there is student engagement. “They [students] are the prize when looking at Princeton’s very valuable resources,” says Pizano. “We like to keep the best students working with us and in the region, though we know many will go elsewhere.”

In addition to state recruiting events, he says, “we have a more systematic approach. For example, we have a research group that leads to Princeton giving tech talks. We have recently started bringing students to Siemens for PhD lab tours; we’ve found a good match between Siemens and universities, and it helps students understand what it would be like to work in industry.”

In addition, last year Siemens implemented two challenges. “One was a hackathon for solving problems we gave them; they came up with unique solutions,” says Pizano. “We also provided some PhD fellowships with more exposure to real-world programs,” which also helps the company determine best fits for employment, he adds.

The final area he sees as relevant for strengthening the ecosystem is thought leadership. “We have a strong relationship [with Princeton] at the executive level — for example, our senior vice presidents know each other very well,” Pizano reports. Drawing on that relationship, a program called Siemens Connect was created, bringing in partners from the outside. “It’s an opportunity to show externally what we can do individually and together, while highlighting the strength of the region and the state,” he explains. “At the last Siemens Connect we had involvement of Princeton and its students but also the New Jersey Governor.” Siemens execs also participate from time to time, he adds.

Princeton also organizes similar events, Pizano adds. “Last summer there was a workshop for an energy and environment group,” he recalls. “We had representatives from Siemens to provide the industrial perspective on a topic relevant for the region.”

Contact Burrus at 609-258-5954 or; Lozano at 609-297-2186 or; Maman at 609-955-4978; and Pizano at

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