Late last year, when the New Jersey Economic Development Agency announced grants of $65 million to 65 companies as part of its Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer Program for 2013, more than 20 of the recipients were companies in the U.S. 1 circulation area. Of those six came from a single office complex: The Princeton Corporate Plaza on Deer Park Drive.
That’s business as usual for the high tech business incubator, which first opened in the mid-1980s as the dream child of architect and developer Harold Kent, who from the beginning had hoped his lab complex would revolutionize science. According to Kent’s daughter-in-law, Pam, who manages the park, Harold Kent was doing some architecture work for the Rutgers incubator in the 1980s, and wondered if a similar project could work in the private sector. He had the idea to build laboratories where a small startup could rent space for an affordable amount of money and bring their big ideas to life.
“The idea was ‘small space, small commitment,’ ” Pam Kent said. “A lot of companies have been born as a result of that.”
Harold Kent said he started off with offices in mind, but the place became a lab complex after a few pharmaceutical companies moved in. It was also envisioned as an early “green” structure with more efficient mechanical systems than were common at the time.
“I was always enamored with the pharmaceutical business,” the architect said. Harold grew up in Newark, the son of a homemaker mother and an engineer father who owned a lumber company. He studied architecture at Syracuse.
Before building Princeton Corporate Plaza, Harold had an architectural practice, designing Hilton hotels and various buildings in and around New York City. In his 50-year architecture career, he worked on Lincoln Center, the UN Building, and Rockefeller Center.
Kent’s Deer Park Drive project has proved to be sustainable over the three decades of its existence. Many companies have been started at Deer Park, launched products, and outgrown the place. One example is Prolong Pharmaceuticals, which began in a small space at Deer Park and moved to a larger facility in South Plainfield. Others have taken over more space in the park as they have grown, with Insmed going from a 1,500-square-foot lab to a 30,000-square-foot space.
Many noteworthy inventions have come out of the park — for example the explosives used in the Patriot missile.
Part of what sets Deer Park apart from other office parks is that the space is constantly changing to suit the demands of its tenants. Harold Kent still designs custom workspaces, including gas tank farms, specialized ventilation systems, high-voltage power hookups and other facilities that are needed for high-tech research.
“A lot of these companies need a lot of help getting started,” Pam Kent said. “They’re coming out of academia or big pharma, where they are used to having a lot of resources, and now they’ve got their own company. We can help them with synergies like getting gas supply companies coming in, and keeping their laboratories running 24 hours a day. If they are getting a new machine coming in, they need their electric and everything to happen very quickly. They can’t have a $500,000 machine not work. There is a great amount of service that needs to be provided.”
This level of service poses unique challenges. One tenant, an electronics manufacturer, had been outsourcing its manufacturing to an overseas plant but was having quality control problems. They decided to move their production near their labs, which meant Deer Park would have to build an extremely high-tech facility, including a clean room, in just two weeks. “It seemed impossible that we could build it, but we did,” Kent said.
The business park is made up of four buildings, each with large and small tenants occupying from 500 to 28,000 square feet. The Kents’ willingness to design custom space has led to an arrangement of offices that, to someone unfamiliar with the park, can seem like a warren. A floor plan of one of the buildings looks to the untrained eye like the result of a losing game of Tetris.
But to Harold Kent, the man who designed the whole thing, there is an underlying order. “I think it’s very simple,” he says. “We design to meet the tenants’ needs.”
The Kents believe in their tenants so much that they often put up their own money in their ventures, trading space upgrades, special construction, or lowered rent for stakes in various companies. The Kents hold equity in CytoSorbents, among other firms.
Harold Kent said if they did make a profit from one of their tenants making it big, they would likely plow the money right back into the plaza. “We would be distributing the cash to other tenants in the project, so they could keep advancing science,” he says. “We have people working on really interesting things: sepsis, Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer — you go through the whole gamut.”
The foundations for a fifth building were laid in the mid-2000s but never finished. Kent, now 80 and still involved in running the business along with Charlie Bowers, who handles construction, and his daughter-in-law, says negotiations with possible tenants are in progress.
As a for-profit company, Deer Park competes against the nearby New Jersey Commercialization Center, a state-funded nonprofit incubator just up the road, and various academic incubators that offer subsidized space to startups.
Nevertheless, Deer Park has survived to become a multi-generation family business. Pam Kent first met Harold’s son, Ives (also involved in the construction part of the business), when both were students at Tulane and shared a passion for skydiving. Pam majored in business in college and took a corporate job in New York. Then she realized she could have a greater impact on the Kent family business, and in turn became interested in science in a big way. She now reads about science constantly and wishes she had studied it in college. Pam’s daughter, Jessie, works there, as well.
“After getting involved early on, I began to think small technology companies are the future of medicine and science,” Pam says. “It’s the small companies that are going to create the next big thing.”
Princeton Corporate Plaza, 7 Deer Park Drive, Suite A-1, Monmouth Junction 08852; 732-329-3655. Harold Kent AIA, owner. www.princetoncorporateplaza.com.
Among the notable businesses operating out of Princeton Corporate Plaza at Deer Park Drive in Monmouth Junction 08852:
United Silicon Carbide, 7 Deer Park Drive, Suite E, 732-565-9500; fax, 732-565-9502. Chris Dries, CEO. www.unitedsic.com.
Founded in 1998, United Silicon Carbide makes electronics components out of efficient, lightweight silicon carbide, primilary for use in high voltage systems. Their products can be found in trains, electric cars, solar and wind power generation, computer power supplies, and military electronics.
USCI says its silicon carbide systems are an alternative to traditional silicon electronic components. The compound, also known as carborundum, has only recently been used as a semiconductor.
United Silicon Carbide is led by CEO J. Christopher Dries, who was previously head of product development at Route 1-based Sensors Unlimited.
Liquid Light, 11 Deer Park Drive, Suite 121; 732-274-2215. Kyle Teamey, CEO. www.liquidlightinc.com.
Liquid Light is in the business of developing methods of turning carbon dioxide into other useful products. Founded in 2008, Liquid Light, with its staff of 20, is researching and developing its product.
The goal of the company is to develop chemical processes that take carbon dioxide emitted by industrial activity and combine it with other industrial byproducts such as wastewater or gas from shale oil operations, and turn it into industrial chemicals like glycol, alcohols, and organic acids.
The company’s founder and CEO, Kyle Teamey, is a materials scientist, tech entrepreneur, and former Army officer.
Rive Technology, 1 Deer Park Drive, Suite A; 732-329-4441; fax, 732-329-4464. David C. Aldous, CEO. www.rivetechnology.com.
Founded in 2006, Rive is developing a catalytic separation method it calls “Molecular Highway Technology.” The company says its technology could help oil refining, biofuel production, and water and air purification become more efficient and economical.
Rive has gone into business with W.R. Grace to commercialize its technology. The firm employs 30 at Deer Park, which serves as the research and development arm. Rive’s sales office is in Boston.
Rive’s co-founder and chairman is Larry Evans, a former MIT chemistry professor who was founder and CEO of software company Aspen Technology. Its other founder and inventor of the Molecular Highway Technology is Javier Garcia Martinez, a former MIT professor who now teaches at the University of Alciente in Spain.
TyRx Pharma Inc., 1 Deer Park Drive, Suite G; 732-246-8676; fax, 732-246-8677. Robert White, CEO. www.TyrxPharma.com.
TyRx, formerly known as Advanced Materials Design, was founded in 1998 to make implantable medical-pharmaceutical devices for surgeons. Its first commercially available product is an antibacterial pouch for pacemakers and defibrilators.
TyRx’s devices are made of biodegradable plastics that release antibiotics or other drugs as they degrade and are absorbed into the body. The are intended to help prevent infections at surgical sites where machines are implanted within a patient’s body. The technology is licensed from Rutgers.
TyRx CEO Robert White is a former president of Medtronic Kyphon among other medical device companies.
PharmaSeq Inc., 11 Deer Park Drive, Suite 104; 732-355-0100; fax, 732-355-0102. Wlodek Mandecki, president. www.pharmaseq.com.
PharmaSeq makes micro-transponders — radio transmitters so small that they can be attached to an ant’s abdomen. Each device, or “P-Chip,” has a unique ID number that it can transmit when hit with a laser from a reader.
The company sells its product to scientists, who can attach the tags to insects or mice to study their movements. They also plan commercial applications, such as embedding the chips in objects so that companies can track how they are used after being sold.
PharmaSeq was founded in 1999 by Wlodek Mandecki, the inventor of the light-activated micro-transponder. The company employs 15 people and began selling its product in late 2011.