Working from his basement, Miguel Perez struggled to start Morpholytics. He wanted to connect companies with analytical problems with people who could solve them. To get Morpholytics moving, Perez needed help. "You need resources," he says. So he offered a summer of unpaid experience to a recent graduate from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). When the apprentice used that experience to get a job, he suggested that Perez talk to NJIT's Enterprise Development Center (EDC). "I had no idea there was anything like that," Perez says, but the EDC soon set off a reaction that moved Perez from his basement to a 1,000-sq. ft. office.
The EDC, the oldest and largest incubator in New Jersey, started in 1988 and now hosts more than 80 companies. "We bring together university resources and a critical mass of entrepreneurs who can work together," says Michel Bitritto, codirector of the EDC. The companies work in diverse technology fields, including life science and software development. "Sometimes the life science companies really need those software developers," says Bitritto. "It's a great melting pot."
As a synthetic organic chemist with 27 years in industry, about half working in R&D and the other half in marketing, Bitritto knows what new companies need. He spent two years working on science policy for the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, where he also reviewed the state's incubator system in 2004. He provides yet another skill to EDC companies: "I love bringing people together, seeing how they might have connections that they didn't even realize," he says.
The EDC receives nearly $400,000 annually in state funding as well as support from NJIT. Consequently, a company moving into the incubator pays rent only for space, which ranges from an office cubicle to complete lab space. Companies also get access to university resources such as libraries, professors, and students. The EDC even brings in consultants to help new companies hone their business plans or prepare to speak with angel investors. In addition the organization runs a seed fund to help companies get started, but usually with only $5,000 or so of funding.
To get into the incubator, says Bitritto, "a company needs to be IP based. You must have the opportunity to get patents." In addition it accepts only companies that are less than four-years-old, or maybe an older company going in a new direction. Once a company is admitted, the EDC usually helps them for three to five years, but some stay longer. "We consider some companies 'graduate' companies," says Bitritto. "So our incubator includes a commercialization center."
For Morpholytics, the EDC helped Perez build his IT system, where a company can pose an analytical problem and people can bid on solving it. Although Perez started at the EDC in a cubicle, he had big dreams. "I didn't want a corner bodega. I want to build a Wal-Mart." Beyond getting all of the EDC's direct benefits, he appreciates the support network with other incubator companies. "Sometimes just knowing that other people have your problems can lift you up when you're down," he says. "That has real value."