Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Figge Fox was prepared for the August 22,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
From the Ivory Tower, Entrepreneurial Sparks: Part A
Only in the last decade did Princeton University
that some of its professors might possess an entrepreneurial notion,
a spark of an idea that — if carefully fanned — might kindle
the flame of a brand-new high tech business.
As late as 1994 the university was not ready to take an equity stake
in high tech start-ups. Physicist Will Happer struggled to form
Magnetic Imaging Technologies Inc. (MITI) without any university
ownership; instead MITI agreed to pay licensing fees and royalties for
the use of technology cultivated at Princeton.
Just three years later, Princeton had formed policies allowing
it to take equity positions in companies that wanted to license
technologies developed in university labs. The first was Universal
Display Corporation. UDC was working with ideas that had sparked in
the laboratory of Professor Stephen Forrest, and it needed to license
these ideas and move off campus. Since then, Princeton has taken
equity positions in more than a half dozen other companies as partial
payment for licensing rights.
But even as early as the early 1980s, faculty members were lobbying
to establish a center for nourishing collaborations between
and ivory tower scientists. The center for Photonics and
Materials (POEM) was established in 1989, and in 1994 Joseph X.
was appointed director of industrial liaison. "Active outreach
was always the intention," says Montemarano. "We wanted
to know that POEM is a place to come for technical assistance and,
possibly, very valuable technology." Montemarano now proselytizes
in any of the scientific programs at Princeton University, trying
to set up entrepreneurial and corporate opportunities.
To stay current on what scientists are discovering in so many
fields — is a staggering task for Montemarano. Much of it starts
out as "basic research," which can loosely be described as
knowledge obtained for the good of mankind without regard to
opportunities. Yet as scientists pursue the mysteries of light waves,
or microbes, or electrical impulses from the brain, practical
applications do emerge.
How to find opportunities with commercial applications will be
Montemarano’s topic for the U.S. 1 Technology Forum. He will speak on
Thursday, August 30, at 4 p.m. at the Doral Forrestal, on "From
the Ivory Tower: a Princeton Guide to Valuable Technology." The
lecture is part of U.S. 1’s Technology Showcase, held in conjunction
with the Princeton Chamber’s Business Trade Fair, from 11 a.m. to 5
p.m. Admission is free. Call 609-452-7000.
POEM is directed by James Sturm. "At POEM, our organizing
principle is to surround ourselves with a user community," says
"From where we began — in photonic materials and spectroscopy
— we surrounded ourselves with the telecommunications world, and
we started to have people come to us with other real world problems,
such as how to use IR night vision to see in the dark or to do
POEM’s first official industry partner was Sensors Unlimited.
that has turned out to be among our most successful collaborations.
Learning how to work with companies in efficient ways — that was
something that over a 10-year period has grown to be one of our most
successful engagements," says Montemarano. "The measure
only be just dollars. We started with two people on the side of
and as of six months ago they were acquired at a price of something
around $700 million."
Now POEM has broadened its scope to include newer areas, such as
working with miniaturized techniques to make small, sophisticated
devices. "We are out there, talking to potential users, to get
them to challenge us to go beyond where we are." Like researchers
at neighboring Sarnoff Corporation, Princeton University scientists
tap computer and electronics research to come up with these biomedical
applications. But, says Montemarano, "we can be concerned about
long term applications whereas Sarnoff has to be concerned about a
product that can work pretty soon."
Montemarano also works with scientists at the Princeton Materials
Institute, established around the same time as POEM and located in
Bowen Hall, on Prospect Street. Whereas many universities have an
entire department devoted to materials science, PMI is fashioned as
an institute so that everyone — physicists, chemists, or engineers
— can use these top-notch facilities. PMI has some of the world’s
best imaging capabilities, administered by Nan Yao, and Yao points
out that, at least partly because the institute is so new, it has
the very latest equipment.
Compared to POEM, the connection between science and application at
Princeton Materials Institute is less tightly coupled, says
It focuses on fundamental science, though it does progress to
Directed by Anthony Evans, the institute offers facilities and an
administrative staff to help organize proposals, find productive
and manage grants and intellectual properties. It encompasses eight
departments and has faculty appointments that are shared with other
departments. PMI interacts with the Woodrow Wilson School and has
centers for environmental engineering and demilitarization that have
public policy components.
Having degrees in both a life science and computer
might sound like a natural today, but it was a revolutionary idea
in 1975, when Joe Montemarano graduated from Johns Hopkins with a
biology major and computer science minor, and then stayed for his
master’s in computers. This biology/computer mix positioned him well
to explore the paths that researchers are taking in the 21st century.
Montemarano has spent his career looking for innovative research
explaining them to non-scientists, and helping them get funded. His
father was purchasing director at Time Inc. His mother taught piano
in Brooklyn, and from the time he was five years old, he practiced
piano two or three hours a day, and one of his siblings directs a
New York-based opera company.
"At Hopkins, I was introduced to many of the technologies that
are studied today," says Montemarano. Also at Hopkins, he met
his future wife, Regina, who now works at www.concert.com, a joint
venture between British Telecom and AT&T. They have two school-aged
sons and a preschool daughter.
Montemarano stayed in Baltimore to do sickle cell
in the lab of Warner Love and biochemistry research with Enrico Bucci
at the University of Maryland. He worked in the biosensors group at
the Bendix Advanced Technology Center in Columbia.
Moving to Princeton in 1981, Montemarano had a four-year stint with
PA Technology, working on biosensors and machine vision and helping
to start the United States biotechnology consulting practice there.
"Back then, I was working on the technologies that are converging
now," he says. He went to the New Jersey Commission on Science
and Technology in 1986 as associate director for science, and he
to establish the "advance technical center" concept and the
bridge loan program. Since 1994 he has been industrial liaison at
"Princeton University had, for many years, been in an a
position," says Tony Warren, former chief executive of PA
(now PA Consulting Group on Enterprise Drive). "It needed someone
like Joe, who was willing to do the crossover between the technology
and the business world. He is clearly a catalyst for a change that
was long overdue."
"My background facilitates the ability to respond to the direction
that was set for POEM, initially by Steve Forrest and then by Jim
Sturm, and in some sense by what the funding sources are
says Montemarano. "It comes easily to me, because I was working
at the convergence of biology and computer science 20 years ago."
The seed for university licensing was planted in 1980 with the federal
Bayh-Dole Act. Before that legislation, if a researcher came up with
an invention after receiving federal funding then the government owned
the invention. The act made it possible for universities to own
even those developed with government funds. That’s when licensing
offices began to sprout up.
At Princeton’s Office of Technology Licensing and Intellectual
John Ritter is director of patents and licensing. Although the
Institute group is "our biggest source of invention
Ritter says, "we license technology from many other departments,
including computer science, chemistry, molecular biology, and
and chemical engineering." Ritter estimates that the number of
companies licensed to manufacture technology generated by Princeton
researchers is 16 to 25 per year and that more than 40 licenses are
A 1985 ceramic engineering graduate of Rutgers, Ritter has a law
from Rutgers and came to the university in 1996. "Princeton did
technology transfer long before I arrived, but it is fair to
us as being more proactive over the last five years," says Ritter.
One license agreement, going back to 1985, may result in an anticancer
drug being sold by Eli Lilly. That drug, Alimta, started out in Ted
Taylor chemistry’s laboratory and is now in Phase III clinical trials.
"We make sure the research fits the university’s criteria," says
Ritter. "We don’t do product development, and universities must
watch that fine line very carefully."
In 1994 physicist Will Happer (above) was one of the
first to push his own technology across the moat and take it
His firm, Magnetic Imaging Technologies Inc. (MITI), was sold to
Amersham in 1999, a diagnostic imaging leader with an American
at the Carnegie Center and about 8,500 employees world-wide. The
has just entered Phase II clinical trials.
Because his was a pioneering effort at Princeton, says Happer, he
encountered "quite a bit of resistance," he says. Owning
in a new company had not found its place in the university rule book.
"I found it pretty unpleasant. There was an attitude that
people didn’t dirty themselves with commercial applications."
MITI was also one of the first companies to be associated with the
POEM center. "We have built on our telecom expertise and looked
to see how we can apply the technology directly or in a modified way
for medical applications," says Montemarano.
"It was nice to have people who understood how important it was
to get research out and used," says Happer.
How did he prevail? "Like you solve any other problem," says
Happer. "We just made ourselves intolerable until we won. We
private money from our friends and put money in ourselves — there
was no venture capital," he says. It was indeed a risk, he agrees.
"I looked with some nervousness at my wife."
Because the university had not taken an equity position in MITI, it
received no proceeds from the sale. "At the time the university
did not take ownership, so initially I and my partners owned it
says Happer. (Since then, the university has acquired some equity.)
One partner, Gordon Cates, has left Princeton for the University of
Virginia, which has its own medical school, and has a joint
in both departments. The other partners were at Duke, which hosted
the clinical trials, and MITI is now located in North Carolina.
Happer’s idea is to use MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technology
for images of lungs. Unlike an X-ray, an MRI is typically used to
take pictures of tissue, and what it looks for are "spins,"
associated with water or blood. First a magnetic field lines up the
protons and sets them whirling around like little tops, he explains.
These protons give off radio waves, and the MRI tunes into them, maps
them, and reconstructs a picture of the body. But a scan of the chest
or lungs is almost like a blank picture, because lungs are filled
Happer wanted to insert a gas that orients the "spins." He
uses lasers to line up the nuclei in helium. The patient breathes
in the helium and fills the lungs with these nicely ordered nuclei
which "spin around" and give off a frequency that is visible
to the MRI. This gas can be stored for long periods of time and warmed
up for the test, and it stays in the lungs long enough to do the scan.
"It was one of those examples of research initially pursued from
a purely theoretical interest," says Montemarano. "X-rays
don’t provide the same level of detail as this excited (helium) gas.
You can actually see fine capillary structures."
This "hyperpolarization" technology could lead to a new class
of imaging agents for improved views of lung function and other body
organs. The gas is being used many times a week at clinical trials
now being performed at a hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.
seldom do a lung operation there without knowing where to cut,"
says Happer. "People who are used to looking at images of lungs
can hardly believe the resolution. It’s very much better than anything
that’s available now."
Nycomed Amersham is very enthusiastic about this invention
"We are still working with the people at Nycomed Amersham, and
it gets better every year," says Happer. "It hasn’t plateaud
Though he went into physics, Happer’s family roots are in medicine.
He grew up in south India, where both his parents met — they were
medical missionaries. A 1960 alumnus of the University of North
with a PhD from Princeton, Happer is a specialist in laser
optical pumping, radio frequency spectroscopy, and magnetic resonance.
His wife is a school nurse in Hightstown, and they have two
one in Los Angeles and another in Mexico.
Often called on to advise the federal government (he belongs to JASON,
a group of nationally known scientists who counsel government
he was the director of the Office of Energy, U.S. Department of Energy
in the Bush administration from 1991 to 1993. In a public tiff with
the Clinton/Gore energy czar over just how serious the ozone problem
really is, he left that job several months early to return to
Just about then Will Happer had his Eureka moment. He was lying flat
on his back, recovering from a slipped disk in his back, and having
just submitted to an MRI. He read a letter accepting his most recent
paper for publication in a prestigious journal but was infuriated
when someone from that journal declared one of his innovative ideas
to be "dumb."
"That really made us mad," says Happer. "I was lying on
my back with a ruptured disk and had just had an MRI. At that point
we decided to go ahead."
A five-year partnership with Stephen Forrest’s company,
Universal Display Corporation, gave Princeton University its first
large scale commercialization partnership — it received equity
in exchange for the granting of rights. Since then, the university
has done eight or nine other licenses.
Universal Display’s organic light-emitting device (OLED) is a
semiconductor device that emits light when stimulated by an electric
current, whereas liquid crystals reflect light from a back-lit source.
The key to the project’s success, says Montemarano, has been the
between electrical engineers and organic chemists.
"Our particular innovation has been to make functional layered
devices using thin-film technology — and to get color out of
says Forrest. OLEDs are supposed to be lighter in weight, cheaper
to manufacture, robust at various temperature ranges, less
and therefore more portable. And because they are faster, they are
more compatible with full-motion video. In the most advanced
phase, they can be made in high volume with economical roll-to-roll
continuous production, as well as with one-at-a-time batch processing.
This market has been estimated to be $1 billion by 2006.
Forrest is a first-generation American whose parents who placed a
great value on education, which helps keep him focused on teaching.
"It’s so much fun, working with students, coming up with new
and moving ideas to a practical reality that actually may affect
lives in people’s ways." He went to the University of California,
Class of 1972, and received his Ph.D. in physics from the University
of Michigan. He spent six years at Bell Labs where he began research
into light emission, work he continued as a USC professor for seven
years before coming to Princeton in 1992. He has tenure in both his
department and Princeton Materials Institute. Forrest’s laboratory,
a veritable invention machine, also spawned Epitaxx (which was
sold), Greg Olson’s Sensors Unlimited (currently doing well at
Service Center, www.sensorsinc.com), and Pennsylvania-based Global
Photonic Energy Corporation.
Other notable collaborations in this area involved Hopewell-based
PD-LD (with Vladimir Ban, www.pd-ld.com) and Princeton Optronics (with
Chuni Ghosh, who has just moved to Base 10’s former headquarters and
announced $25 million in second round funding,
These companies have used the fabrication labs and the clean room
on the fourth floor of the Engineering Quad’s J wing for
imaging applications; it costs $1 million a year to maintain and has
more than 100 users, including at least 20 visiting scientists and
engineers from industry. Just two engineering technicians have the
responsibility for keeping the lab going. Use of the lab is included
in POEM membership, which costs $20,000 to $50,000 a year, but
working in sponsored research collaborations.
The lab is especially strong in infrared for night vision and cameras.
"One of the first infrared cameras that Sensors developed was
developed with us," says Montemarano, noting that all the
in telecom are infrared. In contrast to Sensors Unlimited, which
a blending of resources, all of the technology for Universal Display
was developed at the E-Quad.
Ultra Fast Optical Systems, yet another spinout, has gone so far as
to acquire a CEO (Tom Curtis), a chief technical officer, Larry
and a faculty liaison, Ivan Glesk. (Ultra Fast’s article will be part
of the Princeton University coverage next week).
The latest spinout, formed over a year ago, is Applications Specific
Integrated Photonics (www.asipinc.com), based in Somerset. Forrest
is acting CEO and Yassi Moghaddam is in charge of marketing. Milind
Gokhale, a former postdoctoral student, is chief technical officer.
The company supplies advanced photonic components — very low cost,
high bandwidth integrated transmitters and receivers — for
fiber optic networks, "dense wavelength division multiplexed"
or DWDM networks.
As for UDC, investor Sherwin Seligsohn funded the research,
the technology into UDC, and took the company public, raising $6
on top of private funding of about $2.5 million. The university still
owns some of the stock, now trading on the Nasdaq SmallCap Market
(PANL) and the Philadelphia Exchange (PNL) at about $13. By the end
of this year UDC will nearly double its space on Phillips Boulevard
in Ewing, going from 11,000 to 21,000 square feet
"The technology and the intellectual property accumulated puts
UDC in an extremely good position to have a profitable company in
OLEDs," says Forrest. "It has a very close partnership with
Princeton and with USC; it is an innovative and well-managed company
taking advantage of its resources. It still collaborates very closely
For Forrest, staying in academe while others take his
findings to market is the best of both worlds. Professors can maintain
their focus on research and teaching; entrepreneurs can turn that
research into a viable product, and manufacturers can then take it
to the mass market. "One of the things I get at the university
is freedom," he says. "I can pursue an idea that may not have
immediate commercial impact, whereas in a company I’d have to commit
myself to perfecting one product. It’s a very different set of skills
and missions, and I’m much more suited to the university side."
"For students to know that their work will help develop technology
is extremely important and motivating. Meeting performance criteria
focuses their learning and, for engineering students, that’s a
experience," says Forrest.
"Our job is to create information and to create knowledge.
we work hard to make sure people use that knowledge. I have tended
to work closely with companies because I think that one of the values
of the work we do is to create new technologies that actually get
"Sometimes the passive method works, but sometimes it is better
to actively help people use the technologies. They share a perspective
that is useful. They tell you what is helpful and what is not, and
that gives you focus."
If professors concentrate too much on profit rather than basic
it will indeed affect their career. "Absolutely, your career will
suffer," says Forrest, "because you are not fulfilling the
mission you are hired to do. If you have an idea you feel you must
see the way to a profitable enterprise, then teaching and other duties
of being a professor and even broad research would become a
Princeton University now has an equity position in
Imaging Technologies (MITI) and in three of Forrest’s companies,
Display Corporation (UDC), ASIP, and Ultra Fast Optical Systems, as
described above. Other companies in which it has an equity stake are
Global Photonic Energy Corporation (from Forrest’s laboratory),
Genomics Inc. (derived from the work of a chemist who has left the
university), and Quorex Pharmaceuticals, based on the work of Bonnie
Bassler, an associate professor of molecular biology at Princeton,
and a scientist at the University of Calgary. It is trying to develop
a new class of broad-spectrum anti-infective drugs.
Bassler and her cohorts discovered that some bacteria communicate
via a universal "language" and can sense when they have
a threshold population density (a "quorum") needed to initiate
a successful infection in the host. Quorex drugs are intended to
a "bad" bacteria’s ability to survive in a host by destroying
its ability to communicate, obtain nutrients, and to battle the
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