By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
I am talking to Jerry Creighton, executive director of the Enterprise Development Center at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Based in Newark, New Jersey, the center is home to nearly 86 high-tech and life sciences companies. The center’s entrepreneurs have access to the institute’s facilities and can partner with researchers to help grow their business. EDC is also in the heart of Newark’s University Heights Science Park and the Newark Innovation Zone.
Irina: Hi, Jerry. Let’s start briefly with your background.
Jerry: Sure. I’ve been an advocate of small business for quite a while. I got involved in the area of mergers and acquisitions. I started by doing consulting for startup, early-stage expansion companies. Through those contacts, the university figured I’d be a good person to run this center.
Before this, I was an independent consultant. I’ve worked for some larger companies: Deutsche Telekom, AT&T, and Lucent Technologies.
Irina: What is your educational background?
Jerry: Master of Business Administration from Widener University in Pennsylvania.
Irina: What year was the incubator started? What is its status?
Jerry: In 1988. It’s a nonprofit. We’re part of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. I’m part of the R&D department.
Irina: Does the incubator have a particular industry preference?
Jerry: Yes, it does. Because we’re on the campus of NJIT, we’re a technical institution. Our companies are all either technology or life sciences and biosciences.
Irina: What percentage of your entrepreneurs are in software-related businesses?
Jerry: The split is about 50-50 between technology and life sciences in general. The technology, in general, includes software, RFID programs, you name it. We have quite a few different areas.
Irina: Among your technology companies, is there a preference?
Jerry: The focus of what we’re looking for is what we call disruptive technologies, something that’s new and better in the world today.
I’m looking for entrepreneurs who have something new and great and something that they, in fact, have a business plan for, and something that an investor would consider a good investment. We’re not here just to do research. We’re here to develop companies for an early exit, as early as possible. Because of that, we’re trying to position ourselves so that we attract investors or collaborative partners.
Irina: At what stage of development should companies be at when they apply?
Jerry: Most of the companies — in fact all the companies — that apply are pre-revenue. We have everything from seed through to early stage, but typically, our applicants are pre-revenue companies that are looking to commercialize technologies.
They’re all based on intellectual properties of some kind. When they come in, they’re here to get assistance in finalizing their business plans, validating their markets, validating their pricing strategies, completing their proof-of-concept, and building their staff and support groups.
Irina: Should entrepreneurs come in with just an idea, or do they need a working prototype?
Jerry: No. They don’t need prototypes. They need companies. They need businesses. We’ll ask them to have something, an LLC, a C corporation, or whatever. They need business plans for things that they want to build, continue with the proof-of-concept, then build the commercialized concepts. We’re looking for companies that are looking to grow and add value to the tech world and create jobs.
Irina: Would you describe an ideal company that would benefit from your incubation?
Jerry: An ideal company coming into the center would be a founder or two with a good background in a technology [for which] they are looking to get a proof-of-concept done. They develop a patent.
We hope that they will have with them a technical officer of some kind to help with the implementation and/or some ideas for sales and distribution and somebody to work with them on marketing. That would be the ideal scenario. At least they’ll have plans to do all of that.
I often get founders who come in who are just one or two people starting from scratch. Sometimes they’ve already formed advisory teams and maybe boards to help them get started.