A celebration of innovation

Thursday, Nov 8, 2018

Our 10th anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the truly astounding transformation of Princeton’s innovation ecosystem. Through a variety of exciting new programs that engage students, faculty, alumni and the broader community, Princeton is expanding its commitment to innovation, entrepreneurship and economic impact with the goal of making tangible the University’s dedication to the service of humanity.

Princeton has always been a place for innovators. It is where Joseph Henry, in the 1820s, perfected the electromagnet, which forms the basis of electricity generation. It is home to one of the nation’s first schools of electrical engineering, founded in 1889, and to pioneering work in mathematics and computing during the 1930s and ’40s by luminaries such as John von Neumann, Alonzo Church and Alan Turing.

Focus on inventors

In more recent history, we launched the first Celebrate Princeton Invention reception in 2009, featuring six faculty-led research projects that we thought encapsulated the innovative spirit across our science and engineering faculty members. Several of those early projects became the foundations of startup companies and other ventures. For example, the Tunable Acoustic Gradient Index of Refraction (TAG) lens developed by Craig Arnold, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and his team became a company called TAG Optics that develops lenses for materials processing and imaging.

Over the past decade, Princeton has initiated a number of additional programs to foster entrepreneurship and engagement with industry. In 2011, the Office of the Dean for Research set up a new program, the Intellectual Property Accelerator Fund, to fund research on promising new technologies. In 2012, the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, which is devoted to entrepreneurship programming, launched its summer entrepreneurship lab (eLab) program to help student teams develop new ventures.

New programs and initiatives

A major step forward for the campus as a whole came in 2014, when the University convened the Princeton Entrepreneurship Advisory Committee to develop a bold vision for building entrepreneurship, which it defined as “the initiation of transformations through risk-taking actions and value-creating organizations.”

The committee’s recommendations led in 2015 to the opening of the Princeton Entrepreneurial Hub, an off-campus working space for students, faculty and alumni; to the formation of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council as the advisory and coordinating body on entrepreneurship programs at the University; and to new programs for students such as the Keller Center’s certificate program in entrepreneurship.

“Rapid changes to technology and society are making the connections between world-class research and the innovation ecosystem more important than ever. At Princeton, we are eager to see those connections flourish, and our students and faculty are enthusiastically collaborating with both industry and the nonprofit sector to discover and implement ideas that will help address the world’s challenges.”
-Christopher L. Eisgruber, Princeton University President

That year, the Office of Technology Licensing also established a new Executive-in-Residence program to offer professional expertise and advice to faculty, students and staff interested in making their discoveries available for further development. The Office of Technology Licensing enhanced its capacity to support startup activity in 2016 through increased staffing and a new fund to aid with costs related to starting companies.

This enhanced capacity extends to the Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations team, which bolstered its commitment to engaging industry in research collaborations through new staffing and expertise.

Innovation ecosystem

The opening this year of the Princeton Innovation Center BioLabs (see page 15), offering 31,000 square feet of wet and dry lab and office incubator space, signals the expansion of Princeton’s leadership in the New Jersey innovation ecosystem. The new facility welcomes startups formed by Princeton faculty, students, and alumni, as well as by members of the wider New Jersey community.

“Many of today’s top researchers are not content to stay in the lab making groundbreaking discoveries that might someday be used to change people’s lives. Rather, they want to see that change in their lifetimes. They want to participate in creating it. They approach their research with an entrepreneurial spirit, eager to see their discoveries benefit the public.”
-Deborah A. Prentice, Princeton University Provost

Princeton’s entrepreneurship capacity is as endless as the creativity and brilliance of its people. To acknowledge the campus-wide culture of entrepreneurism that has developed over the last decade, this year we changed the name of our annual reception to Celebrate Princeton Innovation. We also moved the event to the Frick Chemistry Laboratory, which was built in 2010 by reinvesting funds earned through licensed research conducted by the late Edward Taylor, a Princeton professor whose fundamental research in chemistry led to a pioneering drug to treat cancer.

With our history of invention, and so much to look forward to, we welcome you to Celebrate Princeton Innovation.