A Road Map For New Jersey’s Path To Innovation

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Restoring Collaboration Between Academia, Technology And Industry

If you read the business pages of any significant publication, the mantra for future success, both for businesses and the economy in general, is an unmistakable, if frequently repeated mantra: innovate or expect to decline, and even die.

It is an accurate observation, but there is a follow-up question that crosses our minds when we hear it: “Ok. So, how do we do it?”

I would suggest that we must seed this growth opportunity by bringing together businesses, academia and would-be entrepreneurs who need a boost and a partner that can provide them with a helping hand. And, nowhere is the need for innovation truer than in technology.

Take a moment and look at the top performers in the S&P 500—Amazon, Apple, Google parent Alphabet and Facebook—to confirm an indisputable fact about our modern economy: technological innovation is the key driver of economic growth. 

Policymakers who ignore technology’s impact on markets, industries and jobs do so at their constituents’ peril.  Forward-looking policymakers, industry and higher education leaders must work together to:

  • Develop and execute strategies that will enable innovation;
  • Translate laboratory innovations into startup businesses; and
  • Create a nurturing ecosystem that will to allow these businesses to grow, thrive, and produce jobs and wealth for local economies.

A 2017 report by McKinsey & Co. cited New Jersey’s economic strengths including an advantageous location, highly educated workforce, and leadership in technology and advanced manufacturing industries. Unfortunately, the report also showed that our state lagged in productivity, employment growth and the percentage of startup companies that grow and succeed. The number of New Jersey born startups that grow into business of at least 500 employees before they are 10 years old is only 5 percent. The national average for reaching this milestone is 11 percent. It is these quickly growing startups which create the most jobs in the United States. New Jersey needs to do more.

New Jersey’s innovation economy had previously benefited from the work of the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology. It promoted industry-university collaborations with the goal of accelerating commercialization of new technologies while supporting the emergence of science and technology-based businesses which resulted in economic opportunity and job growth. Unfortunately, several years ago the Commission was defunded due to budget cuts.

We have lost the lift that our economy needs, and I intend to reintroduce the benefits it once promised through Senate Bill 1921, the Edison Innovation Science and Technology Fund, which would restore some of the Commission’s priorities. It would provide funding for individual investigator-initiated grants for proof of concepts that will lead to innovative discoveries. This proposal would also provide funding for academic collaborative groups that are working with an industrial partner to enable their research toward commercialization. This initiative would spur collaboration between academia and industry, while also seeding a new momentum in rebuilding a first-rate innovation economy in the State of New Jersey. 

Now is the time to reaffirm New Jersey’s commitment to the innovation economy, and I believe that this legislation, and others like Assembly Bill 3652/Senate Bill 2329 sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Senator Paul Sarlo and Senator Bob Singer, are important first steps to do that. While our collective focus is on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), these initiatives would also include, but not be limited to: advanced materials, artificial intelligence, health care, life sciences, machine learning, manufacturing technology, mobile communications technology, nanotechnology, renewable energy technology and sustainability innovation.

You can understand why we believe in this legislation. It is a springboard for our immediate needs and a critical building block for our future economic success. As concerned New Jersey residents, we should all look forward to supporting the impact that these investments will make in science, technology and innovation, as they add to the economic vitality of our state and on the lives of fellow New Jersey residents. And that is precisely what this is all about. It is about creating and then following a road map for our future. That’s my take, what’s yours?


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