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Tech sector hopes Princeton president's replacement continues to partner with business

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Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman will step down in June after an 11-year tenure. (Princeton University)
Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman will step down in June after an 11-year tenure. (Princeton University)

With Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman announcing plans to step down at the end of the academic year, leaders in New Jersey's technology sector are hopeful her successor will build on her emphasis of science innovation and research in partnership with the private sector.

Katherine Kish, executive director of Einstein's Alley, a nonprofit economic development agency working to advance Central Jersey's tech sector, said under Tilghman's tenure, Princeton has been "kind of a different animal compared to other universities in different tech zones across the country," since the university does not have a business school, and has only a small entrepreneurship program housed in its engineering school. But Kish said the university's growing emphasis on innovation — solidified by the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and the chemistry department's Frick Laboratory, both built under Tilghman — has been "instrumental in encouraging the development of new companies focused around tech in the area."

"Dr. Tilghman being a scientist has had a very positive impact on the industry. She knows the Princeton culture is unique and not the same as MIT or Stanford, but there is still certainly a proud tradition of research at Princeton, and what it does is very important," Kish said. "The school certainly has lots of tentacles out there, and its graduates are doing great things in science."

Babu Cherukuri, president of Princeton-based defense and engineering company Banc 3 Inc., said Tilghman's presence in the area has resulted in "the corridor gaining a lot of prestige and perception as a high-tech corridor," which has helped his business grow since its founding, a year before Tilghman took the school's reins.

"Whenever we're talking to potential customers, they say, 'This company must have the capacity and ability to reach our contract needs, because it's located in Princeton,' " Cherukuri said. "Dr. Tilghman really put the university and the whole area on the map."

While Kish appreciates Tilghman's contributions to the sector's growth, she said she still "would love to see Princeton become even more of an integral player in the growth of life science and tech companies," which she hopes Tilghman's successor will accomplish.

"Because higher education has proven to be invaluable to the development of technology and the economy as a whole, it's very important for there to be communication and collaboration between public and private research partners — and Princeton just isn't quite there yet," Kish said. "It would be a wonderful thing if the university became a proactive partner of private enterprise under the next president."

But Cherukuri said a direct public-private partnership could happen before Tilghman retires in June, as he's hoping to engage the university in forming a research partnership to help Banc 3 fulfill a five-year contract it was recently awarded by the night vision division of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

"This is a contract in need of a lot of ongoing high-tech help, so it gives us a lot of opportunities to directly collaborate with Princeton University, like some companies in Boston are doing with MIT," Cherukuri said. "Having cutting-edge research support at a university nearby really helps out, and I think the collaboration with tech companies Dr. Tilghman has worked to build will be there from now on."

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