Simon Nynens, the much-respected former chairman and CEO of Wayside Technology Group (Eatontown), has taken on a new task.
Now vice president of business incubation and executive director of commercialization at NJIT (Newark), he is charged with looking at all the commercialization and entrepreneurship efforts at the university and developing a plan to improve and modernize them.
NJTechWeekly.com caught up with Nynens in October, a little over a month after he joined NJIT, and he spoke to us about what he’d done so far and what he plans to do.
Nynens said that he had taken the job at NJIT because of the school’s and Dr. Joel Bloom’s reputations. Bloom is the president of NJIT, and Nynens now reports to him and works out of the executive offices. He and Bloom had served on the New Jersey Tech Council board together, so they knew each other and were comfortable with each other.
NJIT is one of New Jersey’s most entrepreneurial universities. A polytechnic institution with about 12,000 students, a budget of around $540 million per year and a full-time staff and faculty of about 1,500, the university was established in the late 19th century to help local industry.
“For me, the most important thing is that NJIT is number one in terms of economic mobility. That really attracted me,” Nynens said. “I came from a poor mining town in the Netherlands. I know first-hand how important it is to support the students who want to grow, work and contribute. I know how difficult it is to execute that mission as a university, to actually reach out to this group of students. … I’m here because I can relate to the students on their journey.”
Nynens said that his first order of business was to meet all the stakeholders, including students and faculty, to figure out the cycle of entrepreneurship within the university. “Besides studying and teaching, NJIT has some great initiatives that foster entrepreneurship.” Unfortunately, what happens at most universities is that students win a competition or a prize, and that’s the end of the interaction.
“We want to go back to the original mission of NJIT and say, ‘now that you’ve won this competition, how would you like to get space with three months free, get mentoring resources within an incubator? And, by the way, we will connect you with resources we think you’ll need to give you a higher chance of making this a success.’”
Nynens is also in charge of the Enterprise Development Center, located on NJIT’s campus and home to about 90 companies, many of them startups. The EDC will be updated under his leadership, including a new name.
Despite the conventional wisdom that change at universities comes at a snail’s pace, Nynens said he has been welcomed at NJIT, and has already been able to have an impact. For example, he worked with Andrew P. Christ, vice president for real estate development and capital operations, to find an architect who will redesign the first floor of the EDC to include a business collaboration space.
“I’m allowed to go fast. I want to move things faster than people expect, but NJIT is open for business and welcoming to that change.”
He noted that the EDC currently has about 11,000 square feet of space that can be used by companies, and “we want to market that. We specifically want to look at companies we would like to have in there. We are not just going to take everybody. We will look at companies that can specifically work with the students and the faculty.
“Besides being an incubator, the EDC is going to be a connector, a collaboration space, and a place where larger companies on the cutting edge of technology can come and have the students work with them right there.“ Companies and founders will be able to rent desks and cubicles in the new space and work in an invigorating environment at a great university, he added.
Nynens said that he is also looking at the university’s patent portfolio and any other commercialization efforts. For example, “I’m also looking at executive education to determine what kind of programs we should offer.”
NJIT has more than 200 patents, and “we need to find the diamonds in the rough,” he noted. “We have to explore our great assets.” Right now, anyone can go to the website and click on “Available Technology” and research the patents that the university has, he noted. “There is some pretty cool stuff there and we want to figure out how to commercialize it.”