CEFR's Burrus testifies to NJ Assembly Committee

Feb. 2, 2018

New Jersey Assembly Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation

On February 1, 2018, Coleen Burrus, Director of Princeton University's Office of Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations, testified before the first meeting of the New Jersey Assembly Committee for Science, Innovation and Technology.

The Committee had requested several of New Jersey's research universities and innovation organizations to share their thoughts on what New Jersey government can do to build and support a dynamic innovation ecosystem in the state. The Committee is chaired by Andrew Zwicker. Coleen's testimony reflects input from many of the University's external-facing units, including the Dean for Research (of which CEFR and the Office of Technology Licensing are a part),  the Office of Public Affairs and the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council

Testimony of Coleen Burrus

Thank you for inviting me to speak to this new Committee on Science, Innovation and Technology. I also want to thank you for your service to the residents of New Jersey. My name is Coleen Burrus and I am the Director of Corporate Engagement at Princeton University. My office is within the Dean for Research.

I have been at Princeton University and in New Jersey for nearly three years and have been working in higher education for nearly two decades. Prior to my tenure in higher education, I worked in the government sector as an urban and economic development planner at the local, regional, and federal levels. I am also proud to share that I too was an elected official and had the honor and privilege of serving constituents in Illinois. Thus I have an understanding of the multiple issues you are required to address as well as the fiscal constraints.

So, when reflecting on the questions you posed to us, I bring the perspective from my experience not just in academia but also in economic development and government. I hope I provide some useful thoughts for you to consider.

As we know, to capitalize on the economic potential of the state with the limited funding and resources available, we need to have a targeted approach in order to have an impact in the long term. As numerous reports and white papers from business organizations have stated, key elements needed for a vibrant ecosystem are: industry-academic research collaborations; developing a STEM talent pipeline; attracting new businesses and investors for start-up companies; and collaboration between industry, universities, and government.

Thus, today, I would like to focus on specific aspects of three critical elements of a strong "innovation ecosystem" that are both relevant to research universities and on which we think the state can have a significant impact.

The first critical element is the presence of research institutions — including universities and hospitals — that bring knowledge workers together. These institutions are proven to be key assets in the development of vibrant local and regional economies; hence structures and programs that encourage and support collaboration between these institutions and the state are essential.

The second critical element is a talent pipeline that fills the specific workforce demands of the innovation ecosystem. We need to have programs that help attract and retain highly skilled researchers in the state to work both in industry and academia.

And the third critical element is a robust environment for entrepreneurship and start-ups. Our focus is on addressing the challenges of emerging companies that are based on innovation.  

Academia, Industry and Government Working Together

Many key innovation activities are led and carried out by companies and universities; thus it is valuable for these entities to have strong partnerships with government — individually and through innovation organizations — so that all stakeholders can contribute to policy formation.

The collaboration between industry, government, and academia, sometimes referred to as the triple helix, provides an integrated approach and solid base upon which to build an innovation ecosystem because this union of perspectives and resources can achieve more than any one entity can alone.

Princeton University wants to be a leader in creating a system and culture in NJ that allows all critical parties — entrepreneurs, companies, investors, universities, researchers and government — to interact effectively to amplify the economic and societal impact of research and innovation. It is no coincidence that in my corporate engagement role at Princeton, I work very closely internally with Princeton’s academic researchers, as well as with the offices of government affairs and technology licensing and with our Princeton Entrepreneurship Council. Externally I work with industry, government, other universities and higher education institutions, and the many organizations that support the innovation ecosystem, such as Choose NJ, BioNJ, the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, the New Jersey Technology Council and the Research & Development Council of New Jersey.

Over the past year, the State has made significant strides to support, encourage and incentivize academic-industry collaborations. These include the creation of a Commission on Higher Education and Business Partnerships, to which Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber and several other college presidents and industry representatives were appointed. The Commission awaits the necessary legislative appointments to begin its work.

Recent State efforts also include an expansion in the Grow NJ tax credit program to include companies that are located within three miles of and engaged in collaborative research agreements with New Jersey universities. This geographic consideration will help to build strong local ecosystems around academic communities. Continuing to focus on building a critical mass of innovative companies around research universities should be a goal of any new or expanded efforts to develop an innovation ecosystem.

We also would like to cite our own program through Princeton’s Dean for Research as a model for the state to consider. The Innovation Fund for Industrial Collaborations is a competitive grant program that provides Princeton University researchers with funding for projects that have industry support, thus encouraging faculty to collaborate with industry. A similar program by the state could leverage state funds to attract industry research funding at NJ universities.

One of the most exciting projects the state is in the midst of launching encourages not just academic-industry collaborations but also collaborations between the state’s academic institutions. The New Jersey Research Asset Database will be a publicly available and searchable database that will allow researchers and industry to discover the research interests of faculty at New Jersey’s participating institutions. The NJRAD is modeled after similar tools available in other states and is being developed under the auspices of the NJ Secretary of Higher Education and the EDA, along with the participation of many of the state’s innovation organizations. Princeton is one of five institutions participating in the pilot program. Continued state funding and high-level support of this project are vital.

STEM and Workforce Development

Turning to the topic of workforce development, we would like to highlight a few programs that are already in small-scale operation and provide examples of the kind of government support that can help specifically feed the talent pipeline of researchers.

The Governor’s STEM Scholars program is an example of state government and a business organization, in this case the Research and Development Council of New Jersey, partnering to cultivate the NJ talent pipeline into STEM careers.

The New Jersey Innovation and Research Fellowship Program, which provides for at least 20 fellowships for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers in New Jersey companies with projects that are technology and research based. This program may provide a good model for the creation of similar programs focused on other industries, such as life sciences.  

Additionally, a program through The New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research (NJCCR) promotes significant and original research into cancer in a number of ways, including by providing pre- and post-doctoral fellowship support for study and research at universities or research centers in the state. The NJCCR program provides $50,000 over two years for pre-doctoral researchers and $100,000 over two years for post-doctoral researchers. This amount of money can allow researchers to validate their work and move to the next tier of funding. These funds have been used to attract and retain researchers and help New Jersey institutions compete for talent with research institutions in states such as Texas and Massachusetts where state resources to support cancer research are more abundant.

It is also worth noting that NJCCR funds are typically used to leverage federal funding, corporate contributions and private donations at a rate of roughly $10 for every $1 awarded by NJCCR.  

This program could be used as a model to expand to other areas of research beyond cancer and in fact beyond the life sciences.

Entrepreneurship and Start-Ups

Regarding entrepreneurship and start-ups...

In January, Princeton opened an incubator on Route 1 in Plainsboro. I’d like to briefly share with you the story of LabCentral, a Boston-area incubator which is tied to MIT and managed by Biolabs, the same company we have hired to manage ours. In 2013, LabCentral was founded with an initial investment of $5 million from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; the facility was later expanded through an additional $5 million from state.

According to Biolabs’s 2016 annual report:

  • LabCentral has 25 resident companies, and 24 companies that have graduated from their incubator. These 49 companies have raised a total of $1.1B in funding.
  • 717 jobs have been created by LabCentral companies since it opened.
  •  93 percent of the graduating companies have stayed within four miles of LabCentral in Boston

So, a relatively small investment by Massachusetts into an incubator had an outsized impact on the creation of innovation in the Boston area. We hope and expect that Princeton’s investment will have a similar impact. And we encourage the State to consider making investments in incubators and accelerators in New Jersey, and in organizations that work to coordinate efforts among the many incubators in the State.

Also, the incentive programs that are administered by the EDA to help support small companies are beneficial. This includes programs such as the Angel Investor Tax Credit, the Founders & Funders program, the NOL program and the Edison Innovation Fund.

Additionally, creating a seed fund which invests in technology in the so-called ‘Valley of Death” funding stage helps to bridge the gap to more traditional venture funding. This seed fund could support promising technologies being spun out of New Jersey’s academic centers.  

All of the programs and recommendations that we have cited require state dollars which we realize are limited. However, at this moment we are witnessing a desire from the business community, academic institutions and government to work together; thus we have the opportunity to leverage our resources to foster the innovation ecosystem. Princeton is eager to contribute and we look forward to working with all of you.