Opinion: A Lot for NJ Tech Industry to Like in Kean Collection of Bills to “Foster Innovation”

Photo: Tom Kean Jr. (L) and Marcus Weldon (R) at Bell Labs. Photo Credit: Courtesy NJ Senate GOP
Tom Kean Jr. (L) and Marcus Weldon (R) at Bell Labs. | Courtesy NJ Senate GOP

When NJTechWeekly.com interviewed Marcus Weldon, president of Bell Labs, he told us that he wanted the state government to make Bell Labs an example of what is great about innovation in New Jersey.

Apparently, Garden State Republican leaders were listening.

On Oct. 10, some 16 prominent Republicans, including Tom Kean Jr., toured Bell Labs.

During the visit, Kean unveiled a package of legislation that he said would focus on “fostering innovation, reducing excessive costs, developing New Jersey’s workforce, enhancing tourism and agriculture and improving New Jersey’s economic development policies and programs.”

 “Bell Labs is a tremendously successful asset for New Jersey and its economy, and I am proud to stand with Marcus and have his support as we seek to increase opportunities and create high-paying jobs with this new set of bills to foster innovation,” Kean later said in a press release.

 “This legislation will help expand research and development efforts, as well as create greater avenues for success by linking higher education and business communities. These bills can open doors to help impressive employers like Bell Labs grow here and attract more job creators by showing that New Jersey is devoted to staying a force for innovation,” he added.

Weldon endorsed the package, saying, “This initiative aims to ensure that New Jersey continues to be a leading player on the global stage and that our heritage of invention continues at Bell Labs.”

Kean’s agenda supports at least one of the goals that New Jersey startups have been working towards. The state would authorize its own crowdfunding act, allowing individuals to invest in startups without having to wait for the JOBS Act Title III to be approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). NJTechWeekly.com discussed this bill here.

Contacted for a comment, James Barrood, the new president and CEO of the New Jersey Technology Council said, “Part of the Tech Council’s mission is to nurture the tech, innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems across the state.  Therefore, we applaud and support this legislation, which helps foster entrepreneurship and innovation, provides much-needed funding for start-up companies, supports higher education-business partnerships, promotes tech transfer and will ultimately strengthen New Jersey’s economy.”

Katherine Kish, executive director of Einstein’s Alley, an independent economic development organization in the Princeton area, said, “Since so much of the legislation is still to be introduced, it is difficult to comment in detail.  However, even though the ‘devil is in the details,’ the spirit of these innovation initiatives is right.  It reflects many of the ideas for which the tech community and Einstein’s Alley have advocated.

“It is not clear what level of funding will be available for the research fellowships but if they are substantial enough, they could make companies more comfortable with funded employees taking risks in their research.  The entrepreneurial fellowships could be useful, depending on how they are structured.

“I am particularly pleased about permanent funding for the Commission on Cancer Research, an area where New Jersey is doing excellent work, such as that of Dr. Yibin Kang, and past work done by Dr. Arnie Levine and others at Princeton University.

“Giving the EDA  [N.J. Economic Development Authority] leadership in several of these initiatives is good. The EDA is one agency of the state that, based on past performance, can be trusted to do a noteworthy job.

“And, if there ever were a state where driverless cars could be an improvement, it is New Jersey.  So, I’m all for New Jersey taking a leadership position in ‘driving’ that technology,” she concluded.

Here is a brief review of the legislation associated with the “fostering innovation” initiative discussed at Bell Labs:

  1. Creates a post-doctoral fellowship program for cutting-edge industrial research and development at New Jersey businesses. This bill will support employers engaged in innovation and the development of a workforce pipeline that New Jersey needs to remain competitive. (Senator Kean’s S-2442 – just introduced).
  2. Creates a fellowship program to foster entrepreneurial spirit and support STEM startups. Such fellowships would encourage start-up businesses with new ideas that could drive innovation in New Jersey (to be introduced immediately).
  3. Establishes permanent funding for the New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research. The commission has gone through ups and downs in recent budget cycles, but permanent funding through the underutilized Workforce Development Partnership Fund  would solidify this worthy program and help attract top scientists to New Jersey to seek cures for cancer and improve the innovation economy. (To be introduced immediately).
  4. Establishes a permanent commission on partnerships between business and academia. This commission would encourage such partnerships, foster innovation in the economy; maximize the role of community colleges  in workforce development, establish a higher-education ombudsman to help businesses navigate the academic community, support collaborations such as the joint effort to keep clinical trials in New Jersey and promote technology transfers. (To be introduced immediately).
  5. Creates a technology-transfer assistance program within the EDA.  Getting new ideas and products to market can be a daunting task, and a designated office in the EDA would be a great resource for professors and entrepreneurs alike, and would help stimulate New Jersey’s innovation economy. (To be introduced immediately).
  6. Provides for the designation by the EDA of institutions of higher education or other qualified entities, such as manufacturing and production resource centers, as eligible for support. For example, this program could back manufacturers’ efforts to modernize and become more productive and efficient. (To be introduced immediately).
  7. Allows for crowdfunding investment opportunities to spur entrepreneurship and innovation in New Jersey. Crowdfunding is an easy and convenient way for entrepreneurs and innovators to get their ideas to market via online private investments. This bill breaks down existing barriers in New Jersey. (Senate Republican Joe Kyrillos and Senate Democrat Ray Lesniak are sponsoring this legislation, S-712).
  8. Makes New Jersey a hub for driverless car research, development and production. (Senator Kean’s S-734).

What do you think? What’s missing from this package of bills?

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