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A little help to hatch Incubators play a critical role for startup companies working on limited budgets

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Low costs, and space to bring in potential clients and investors, attracted Net Device Corp. to a Burlington County College incubator in 2003, says Joe Winston.
Low costs, and space to bring in potential clients and investors, attracted Net Device Corp. to a Burlington County College incubator in 2003, says Joe Winston. - ()

Startup companies that have small budgets, but big ideas, have found New Jersey's incubators warm and inviting places to grow their products.

Joe Winston, CEO of Net Device Corp., saw the Incubators at Burlington County College as an opportunity to focus solely on developing his technology.

"From our perspective, we were a young company, we were very lightly capitalized in the early days, so we were looking for space that had a couple of attributes," Winston said, including low costs and room to bring in potential clients and investors.

Winston said even the quality of the utilities were also an important advantage to being in the incubator, such as dependable high-speed Internet. "That seems like an obvious thing today, but when we first went to the incubator, that was not available everywhere," he said.

Incubators — programs that support the development of entrepreneurial companies by providing business support, such as real estate, technology and plan development — are a critical resource for startup companies in New Jersey.

During the company's search for space, the combination of price and quality could not be met elsewhere, which landed Net Device in Mount Laurel in 2003. The company stayed at BCC until March 2011.

The ease of using the incubator allowed Winston to develop the company's technology, NeuroElectric Therapy, in which mild electrical stimulation is used to treat people with drug addictions. The electrical stimulation, delivered through electrodes placed behind the ears, works in the neurotransmitter systems to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

"At the time we were at Burlington County College, we were in a purely research and development mode," Winston said. "We did our software development and went through the regulatory approval process through the incubator. Since then, we've moved on to begin treating people in the United Kingdom and South Africa, and are doing clinical trials in the U.S."

Winston said the results of the clinical work overseas are promising. The company hopes to see regulatory approval soon.

While Winston's device continues on its path toward FDA approval, another New Jersey incubator success story is working with the likes of Kraft Foods and Coca-Cola with technology developed in North Brunswick.

Chromocell launched in 2002, using its Chromovert technology to screen vast amounts of cells for unique cells that can be useful in many different fields of biological research. Cells that have the right genes for the research can be isolated and cultured much more easily than in the past.

The technology can be applied to many avenues, from making food tastier and healthier, to finding drugs that can target specific genes to solve problems like pain and pulmonary issues, said CEO Christian Kopfli.

Kopfli said while the technology came from New York's Rockefeller University, there wasn't much space across the Hudson River for a company to be developed. So Kopfli and his fellow co-founders, Kambiz Shekdar and Gunter Blobel, worked with the Economic Development Authority to land a spot at the Commercial Center for Innovative Technologies, in New Brunswick.

Both the CCIT and the Burlington County College incubators are part of the New Jersey Business Incubator Network, a network of 15 incubators around the state dedicated to promoting the services of incubators to small businesses and startups.

Chromocell was in CCIT from 2002 to 2009, which Kopfli said helped the company to complete its technology transfer without worrying about safety compliance and other permits, which were handled by the EDA.

"We have so much stuff to do, so many big problems, that if you can get relief from those smaller things, that's an enormous advantage," Kopfli said. The company has grown from three employees to 100 in the past 10 years, and built labs and other facilities inside the CCIT before they grew too large for the incubator.

"The biggest milestones for us were the agreements with those large, leading companies — Kraft, Nestle and Coca-Cola — were really the big events in the corporate history so far," Kopfli said. "They brought the business that helped us grow."

Chromocell used the EDA's services again after graduating the incubator, and moved a few buildings down to another facility in the EDA's Technology Centre of New Jersey. The company renovated the entire first floor of one of the older buildings in the business park, and now occupies 27,000 square feet space.

Kopfli said the location of the incubator and the new facility are perfect, as the growing company is hiring new Rutgers University graduates and working on its therapeutic initiatives with the large pharmaceutical companies in the area.

He added that joining an incubator is an excellent idea for any startup firm at a critical growth point. Kopfli said incubators, with their flexibility, allow entrepreneurs to grow at the rate that best suits the company.

"If you're growing, there's a high chance that you can really benefit from them," Kopfli said.

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