NJIT, Rowan thrilled to be part of I-Corps hub collaboration | ROI-NJ

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Officials at New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rowan University said they were thrilled to be among the first five affiliate members of the Northeast hub of the NSF Innovation Corps, a collaboration of regional universities that aims to accelerate the transformation of scientific discoveries by faculty and students into technologies that improve everyday lives.

The hub, one of five announced this week, is supported by a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Princeton University will be the principal institution in the new hub, with Rutgers University and the University of Delaware serving as partner institutions. NJIT and Rowan (along with Lehigh UniversityTemple University and Delaware State University) will serve as affiliate universities. Organizers said they plan to expand by adding additional affiliates each year.

The goal of the program, which will start in January, is to accelerate the economic impact of federally funded research — delivering benefits in health care, energy and the environment, computing, artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced materials and other areas — while building skills and opportunities among researchers from all backgrounds, including those historically underrepresented in entrepreneurship.

Atam Dhawan, senior vice provost for research and executive director of undergraduate research and innovation at NJIT, said the potential impact of the group is enormous — and something NJIT has been working toward for years.

“Translating research and innovation that will benefit society into market successes through the development of entrepreneurial ecosystems has been a long-term priority in NJIT’s strategic planning,” he said. “NJIT’s well-established participation in NSF vehicles such as I-Corps and Research Experiences for Undergraduates, as well as the creation of our own intensive innovation programs, such as the URI seed grant and undergraduate summer research programs, among many others, will make NJIT a vital partner in this hub.

“I look forward to the expanding opportunities to come as an integral part of this prestigious group.”

Tabbetha Dobbins, interim vice president for research at Rowan, agreed.

“This new partnership exactly fits where we want to go as a research university,” she said. “Rowan is already an economic engine in the region, and we’re excited by the possibilities for our innovators.”

With funding from NSF over five years, the hub will provide entrepreneurial training, mentoring and resources to enable researchers to form startup companies that translate laboratory discoveries into breakthrough products and services.

As the lead institution, Princeton will provide overall governance of the hub under the guidance of Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science and a professor of chemical and biological engineering.

Rodney Priestley, Princeton’s vice dean for innovation, and Julius Korley, director of entrepreneurship and strategic partnerships in the College of Engineering at Delaware, will serves as co-directors.

Priestley, co-founder of several startups based on research developed in his laboratory at Princeton, said he is eager to get started.

“The convergence of different disciplines, combined with the diversity of participants will lead to unbound possibilities in U.S. innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said. “Furthermore, the U.S. will only maintain its global competitiveness by harnessing contributions from all members of society.”

NJIT officials said the I-Corps hub will simplify the federal government’s previous structure for academic technology transfer, as compelled by the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2017.

NJIT has long been part of such transfer in the greater Newark area — as a standalone NSF I-Corps site and through the NJIT VentureLink startup incubation arm.

Michael Ehrlich, associate professor of finance in NJIT’s Martin Tuchman School of Management, and an expert on entrepreneurship, said the I-Corps hub serves as validation.

“What it means is the investment that we’ve been making for the last decade is being recognized by the other schools,” he said.

Under the NSF’s previous arrangement, NJIT had approximately $100,000 per year available for NJIT-trained startup companies, but now that figure can substantially increase, Ehrlich said. NJIT will also be able to attract companies from a wider area and can do even more if the university moves to the partner level in a few years, he said.

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