Rutgers Gets $500K Grant to Continue Planning “Innovation Park@Rutgers”


Photo: Jay Williams, assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, announced the Rutgers grant. Photo Credit: Esther Surden

Jay Williams, assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, announced the Rutgers grant. | Esther Surden

On May 22, Rutgers received a federal grant of nearly $500,000 to continue planning an innovation park at the university’s Livingston Campus, in Piscataway. The idea for “Innovation Park@Rutgers” had been in the works for some time, as Michael Pazzani, outgoing VP for research and economic development, told us in 2012.

Referring to the biggest incomplete project he was leaving behind, Pazzani said that he hadn’t had the opportunity to finish establishing a technology park at the school. The university had set aside some land for Innovation Park@Rutgers so that companies could move their offices or labs onto the Livingston Campus and work more closely with faculty, he noted.

“The way N.J. is so decentralized and spread out, there really aren’t large ecosystems and lots of companies working together and with the university. Rutgers is probably the largest public university without a technology park, and it’s probably time for it to establish one,” he said.

Jay Williams, assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, at the U.S. Department of Commerce, shared the news of the grant with a roomful of Rutgers dignitaries and interested community partners. The grant was provided through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies Program, which supports science- and research-park development and similar initiatives.

Williams said that the EDA was proud to support Rutgers, which had supplied technological support and applied research to various industries to help increase productivity, spur innovation and foster entrepreneurship. “This, in turn, increases the long-term regional competitiveness and economic diversification of the state, and indeed the nation,” he said in his remarks.

Of course, innovation is “a central driver of our nation’s prosperity,” he pointed out.

Timothy Lizura, president of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority discussed programs from the state that support economic growth. State grants, he said, support entrepreneurs along a continuum: from idea formation, “when they scratch an idea on the back of a napkin, to the proof of concept stage, through early-stage funding and company formation, ultimately on to commercialization, scaling and full-scale production, which creates the jobs that benefit our community.”

Photo: Margaret Brennan-Tonetta, associate vice president for economic development at Rutgers, headed the team that developed the successful grant proposal. Photo Credit: Esther Surden

Margaret Brennan-Tonetta, associate vice president for economic development at Rutgers, headed the team that developed the successful grant proposal. | Esther Surden

Speaking at the event, Margaret Brennan-Tonetta, associate vice president for economic development at Rutgers, and head of the team that wrote the grant-winning proposal, said that the park is part of a broader Rutgers redevelopment effort already underway. And she noted that Innovation Park@Rutgers fits into an overall trend of universities becoming economic drivers for their communities.

During a working session that followed the announcement, several stakeholders discussed plans to make the Innovation Park@Rutgers a place where the local community could also come to get excited about technology, not just once or twice a year, but on a continual basis.

Photo: A working group discussed the larger implications of Innovation Park@Rutgers. Photo Credit: Esther Surden

A working group discussed the larger implications of Innovation Park@Rutgers. | Esther Surden

Many stakeholders were excited about the idea of entrepreneurship at Rutgers, which will be facilitated by these plans.

Entrepreneurship will be a big part of the park, according to Ted Baker, a former tech entrepreneur with a specialty in entrepreneurship in resource-constrained environments, who now leads entrepreneurship efforts at Rutgers Business School – Newark & New Brunswick. Baker said that, although he was relatively new to Rutgers, he saw that there was great support and demand for entrepreneurship, “more here than in any university in the U.S.”

NJTechWeekly.com spoke to some of the folks behind the tech park, and learned about the park’s technology core, which will include the most advanced supercomputer in the state, an IBM Blue Gene/P.  

Manish Parashar, director of the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute, told us that once the tech park is completed, the computer will move out of its current location, in a 30- or 40-year-old basement, into a new greener, more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient facility that will be able to accommodate new technology.

“We not only want to have technology as infrastructure in the park, we also want to integrate innovation in technology,” said Parashar. The businesses locating in the park will have new ideas coming along with them, he added. “It’s not just ‘here’s technology, now use it.’ It’s interacting and leveraging the technology so we can learn from each other.”

Innovation Park@Rutgers will be located on 30 acres at the Livingston Campus that is bordered by Avenue E to the north and by the Route 18 exit ramp to the west. This land is now vacant except for an electrical substation, Rutgers said.

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