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NJBIA’s Melanie Willoughby on ‘NJ’s Innovation Ecosystem Taking Shape’

Melanie Willoughby

Trenton, NJ, June 18, 2017In the June “Innovative State” issue of New Jersey Business, the monthly magazine of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, Melanie Willoughby, NJBIA Chief Government Affairs Officer, writes:

In today’s business world, anyone with a car can be a taxi-cab company, anyone with a house can be a hotel, and we all can walk around with desktop computers in our pockets.

Few people predicted these developments, but those who shape their organizations to be innovative are in a stronger position to take advantage of whatever changes are in store in the future.

That’s what NJBIA has been doing for the past seven years.  We formed the Innovation NJ Coalition in 2010 to bring together a coalition of businesses and higher education institutions to grow the state’s innovation ecosystem and make our business environment better prepared for what’s next.

Higher education is crucial in providing businesses with knowledge and resources so academic achievement can turn into economic development, and New Jersey’s colleges and universities have taken up the challenge.

For instance, we now have the New Jersey Innovation Institute, which offers the science and technology resources of the NJ Institute of Technology to help startup companies get through their most challenging times. As the institute says, the goal is in “transforming intellectual capital into commercial success.”

In South Jersey, Rowan University has launched the South Jersey Technology Park, which combines the expertise of its engineering and science faculty with a broad range of university facilities and resources, and then works with the Rohrer College of Business to help companies bring those products to market.

Rowan also backs up its efforts with funding. The Rowan Innovation Venture Fund provides early-stage funding primarily to students, faculty, staff, alumni and South Jersey companies that have developed projects and products that are ready to compete in the marketplace.

Rutgers University meanwhile is bolstering innovation by making entrepreneurship part of its education model.

The university now offers a Certificate of Entrepreneurship. The program is made up of three 3-credit courses: Entrepreneurial Mindset and Innovation, Creating Your Startup Business Model, and Pitch and Launch Your Startup. It also offers a Graduate Certificate with advanced courses where teams engage in creative problem-solving, and develop and test solutions.

In addition, Rutgers Business School is now offering a full MBA in Technology Commercialization, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It’s a degree that brings business students and the science and engineering disciplines together to develop the skills necessary for turning great ideas into successful ventures.

These are just a few examples of new innovative programs. Virtually every higher education institution in the state is undertaking projects to bring business and academia together, and their efforts may soon get a big boost.

The NJ Economic Development Authority (EDA) is in the process of creating a database where each university’s research projects, facilities and resources will be catalogued and available to the business community. Can you imagine having the entire state’s college-level R & D merely a mouse-click away? The venture is still a ways off, but EDA hopes to award a contract soon.

This is a huge undertaking, but one that is essential for our economic future. When we began analyzing New Jersey’s innovation economy years ago, there was no bridge between what businesses were doing and the research going on at our colleges.

We recognized right away that if New Jersey is going to reclaim its reputation as the innovation state, this was the first thing that had to change.

Colleges and universities are embracing partnerships, and the government is ready to build the infrastructure needed to make those partnerships possible. And I know the business community is ready to do its part.