Businesses certainly recognize the value of creativity in remaining competitive in a global job market, but they may not realize to what degree such inventiveness is available within the walls of academe.
Rutgers University is involved in a range of research that might well be adaptable to business ventures. The selection of Robert Barchi, director of two science research firms — Covance at 210 Carnegie Center and VWR International in West Chester, Pennsylvania — as Rutgers’ new president is likely a sign that building closer relations between the university and area businesses is in the offing when he begins his tenure on September 1.
Robert M. Goodman, executive dean of environmental and biological sciences at Rutgers, will discuss important research efforts at Rutgers University and how businesses can benefit from it at the Fifth Friday Friars policy luncheon of the Somerset County Business Partnership, Friday, June 29, at noon at Fiddlers Elbow Country Club, 811 Rattlesnake Bridge Road in Bedminster. Cost: $100. To make a reservation or get more information, go to www.scbped.org or call 908-218-4300.
Goodman highlighted several areas of research where Rutgers University is active, and his colleague, Margaret Brennan, associate vice president for economic development, expanded on how businesses can partner with the university:
Business incubators and business assistance. Business incubators are designed to work with small and start-up companies to provide them with the business and technical resources and expertise they need to get their businesses off the ground.
Rutgers hosts two such incubators: the Rutgers EcoComplex (ecocomplex.rutgers.edu), which focuses on energy and environmental technology, and the Food Innovation Center (foodinnovation.rutgers.edu), which focuses on companies large and small in the food industry. Both business incubators have a considerable in-house staff, including PhDs in relevant areas, whose purpose is to work with businesses in the incubator.
The Rutgers EcoComplex, located at the Burlington Landfill, focuses on companies involved in alternative energy research. The complex itself recovers methane from the landfill and uses it as an energy source to drive the microturbines that generate the energy that fuels its large greenhouse. Using this facility, young businesses can grow plants as they get support from the incubator in business planning, marketing, and legal issues.
One company at the incubator creates vertical, living walls of hydroponic plants that provide both aesthetic pleasure and cleaner air. Another company produces basil that it bags and sells in New Jersey supermarkets. A third company, originally from Israel, has a technology for efficient mass production of orchids that are identical to each other. In the past the incubator hosted a company that used aquaponics, a technology that combines hydroponic vegetable production with fish — the fish are fed and excrete waste that produces nitrogen-rich water that in turn provides nutrients to plants.
The complex includes laboratories, a large scale-up space, and a technology verification program. Once a business’s technology is verified as meeting the claims the company makes about it, that business is in a much better position to secure financing from venture capitalists and to take advantage of state and federal programs.
The Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton, which works with small, medium, and very large companies, is unique in the country, says Brennan. It houses a small-scale food-production plant where companies can develop prototype products based on a recipe or an idea.
The center supports consumer taste testing, market research, help with food safety issues, and can actually manufacture products for retail sales in its United States Department of Agriculture-inspected facility. Plans are in place to create an additional center in central Jersey, says Goodman.
One of the center’s success stories involves Schar, Europe’s largest gluten-free bread company, which explored several states in addition to New Jersey when it wanted to enter the United States market three years ago. Brennan says, “It decided to come to New Jersey because of the Food Innovation Center’s capability of helping with all the aspects of having their product suit the U.S. market — sourcing ingredients in the U.S., modifying taste profiles for U.S. consumers, developing new product lines, and compliance with U.S. regulations, such as food and nutrition labeling.”
After two-and-a-half years at the center, Schar was able to produce products and get them into stores and ultimately decided to stay New Jersey. “We helped arrange meetings with the company’s president and EDA [Economic Development Authority] and the lieutenant governor’s office to provide a package of incentives to keep them in New Jersey,” says Brennan. The company’s new 50,000 square foot facility in Gloucester County opened on June 21 and is employing 50 people.
Research and industry. “If a business wants to engage in a research partnership, Rutgers has a wide breadth and depth of research capabilities — everything from genetics and drug discovery to high-performance computing to equine science,” says Brennan.
The Rutgers Energy Institute (ruei.rutgers.edu) integrates research on biofuels from sources like algae and duckweed as well as on solar energy, wind power, green building, and carbon capture and sequestration. At the New Brunswick campus a fairly sizeable effort is devoted to new methods for biological production of hydrogen as a fuel; for catalysis, which converts starch and cell wall materials into ethanol; and for cogeneration, which is the generation of electricity from multiple inputs, including biological waste, wood chips, leaves, restaurant waste, and cooking oil waste.
Also food-related is Rutgers research under its Center for Advanced Food Technology on combat rations for the Department of Defense. The research focuses on readymade meals, packaging, and shelf life of food packaged for use in combat zones by the military.
The Equine Science Center supports the billion-plus dollar equine industry, says Goodman, which includes horse racing, pleasure riding, production of hay, manure management, and the conversion of solid waste to energy. Applied research also looks at horse respiration, horse injury, and equine health for different horse breeds used in both pleasure riding and racing.
Rutgers’ school of oceanography supports the fishing industry. Rutgers has a large program in shellfish, in particular in breeding disease-resistant oysters. Brennan says, “The oysters developed here play an essential role in revitalizing the Delaware Bay, not only in terms of the environmental quality of the bay but also the oyster industry.”
If a company is interested in partnering with Rutgers on a research project or has a research issue it wants addressed, the appropriate contact is Rutgers’ Office of Research Alliances (ora.rutgers.edu). This office was created because in the past businesses did not know whom to call to make a research connection with the university. Thomas Richardson, the office’s director, is aware of the range of research at the university and also has information on specialized scientific equipment at the university that is available for businesses to use.
Technology transfer. Rutgers has developed more than 200 technologies that are available for licensing and commercialization. Solidia (www.solidiatech.com), a new company in Piscataway, uses a technology developed by Ric Riman to create a new patented composite material that can be used for everything from road surfaces to bone replacement. Because the process of making this material uses carbon, it can also be used for carbon sequestration. The company has been in business six months and already employs over 30 people.
Rutgers also has plant-breeding programs in cranberries, turf grass, dogwoods, and asparagus, and it has licensed out these plant varieties to businesses all over the world. The cranberries are disease resistant and the highest yielding on the market, and almost all cranberries grown in New Jersey are the Rutgers variety.
Further, 80 percent of turf grass grown anywhere is Rutgers turf grass. The dogwoods are started on the Rutgers campus, then sold to nurseries in Tennessee, which has the best climate for dogwoods, and these nurseries sell them to nurseries all over.
These programs are winners for everyone involved. The money brought in by sales of these plant products funds the breeding programs. At the same time the companies that license the plants all generate revenue because they are selling the best varieties available, and the farmers who buy the seeds are able to make more money because the plants have higher yields.
Businesses interested in technologies created at Rutgers can contact the office of technology commercialization (otc.rutgers.edu).
Continuing education and recruitment of students, interns, and employees. Companies particularly like to work with Rutgers to identify top students to be employees or interns. To do so, they can contact the career center at Rutgers (careerservices.rutgers.edu) to link up with students in the right department and with the type of expertise the company is looking for.
Rutgers also offers continuing education, with a host of credit and noncredit courses open to industry, from business to extremely technical and scientific-type courses (see continuingstudies.rutgers.edu).
Rutgers also does workforce development programs that are supported in part by the New Jersey Department of Labor.
Goodman is a native of Ithaca, New York, where his father was an agricultural engineer and his mother a dietitian. After graduating from a small rural high school on the Finger Lakes, he moved to Cornell University, his parents’ alma mater. His undergraduate degree was in plant science and his doctorate in plant biology, specifically the study of plant viruses.
An expert on soil microorganisms and plant disease, Goodman began teaching at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1974 and left as a full professor in 1982 to become executive vice president of research and development at Calgene in Davis, California. He served for a year as senior scholar-in-residence at the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences, and then became a professor of plant and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He assumed the position of executive dean at Rutgers in 2005.
Brennan grew up in Brooklyn, where her father was a plumber and her mother a housewife. The first one in her family to graduate from college, she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Rutgers in economics and, a few years ago, a PhD in public policy.
At Rutgers she began her career as a research economist in the agricultural economics department. Before becoming associate vice president for economic development, she served as assistant director for new programs at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, director of the Food Innovation Center, and director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.
Currently Brennan is developing a research park on the Livingston campus called the Innovation Park at Rutgers. “The point of the park is to create a place where business and university can intersect and collaborate,” she says. “We will have space for companies and will house all industry-related programs in the park — the Advanced Manufacturing Institute; the Wireless Network Laboratory; the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute, which is an advanced computing center; continuing education; and the Offices of Research Alliances and Technology Commercialization.”