For Professor Bob Prud’homme, science and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. “As engineers, we want to take the newest advances in science and develop something useful based on those discoveries,” Prud’homme said. “My lab’s work on using polymers for biomedical applications stems from my underlying drive as an engineer to do something for society.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that the startup Prud’homme advises also aims to make a difference. The company, Optimeos, develops nanoparticle-enabled technologies, which improve scientists’ abilities to understand diseases and advance patient care through more effective diagnostics and therapeutics.
The entrepreneurial spirit embodied in Prud’homme’s lab and startup is just one example of a paradigm shift in Princeton’s culture. According to Prud’homme, this shift began nearly twenty years ago with the work of two faculty members, the first being Professor Stephen Forrest, who made important breakthroughs in organic light emitting thin films. Forrest also founded Universal Display Corporation. “At first, there was some suspicion about corporate involvement with the university, especially as it pertained to entrepreneurship,” Prud’homme remarked. “Steve helped break the mold and proved that you can do great science and make an impact on the world.”
Prud’homme cited Professor Edward Taylor’s groundbreaking research as another catalyst in this shift. “Not only did Taylor’s research lead to the development of the drug Alimta, which is used to treat lung cancer, but it also brought revenue to the university that enabled the construction of the new Chemistry building,” Prud’homme said. “This again proved that good things can arise from entrepreneurship and corporate engagement on campus.”
Today, Prud’homme believes entrepreneurship at Princeton is poised for success. “We have Coleen Burress’s Corporate Engagement group, the seed funding initiatives from Pablo Debenedetti’s office of the Dean for Research, and the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council. All of these groups are receiving support from the highest levels of the administration and the Trustees.”
In November, President Eisgruber ’83 and Provost Lee *99 announced the opening of the Princeton Innovation Center, a 30,000 square foot incubator with wet labs, dry labs, and desk coworking space for both Princeton University startups and non-university startups in the local innovation ecosystem. The Innovation Center, scheduled to open Fall 2017, will give entrepreneurs space and support for their ideas to take root and become companies.
As Prud’homme pointed out, this space is critical for entrepreneurship at Princeton. “Unlike Boston, which has an established infrastructure of laboratories, entrepreneurs and VCs, Princeton is relatively new to the entrepreneurship game. Just like you have to invest in a new library or academic building, you have to invest in entrepreneurial infrastructure.” Prud’homme believes the University’s timely investment in the Innovation Center is “a necessary step” that will ultimately allow entrepreneurs’ ideas to make an impact “in the Nation’s service and the service of humanity”