Entrepreneurs Flock to last month's Rutgers Entrepreneurship Conference

Alan Skontra
@alanskontra on twitter.

On a Monday in mid-November, Rutgers University welcomed an estimated 1500 entrepreneurs, investors, inventors, professors and students to its third annual Entrepreneurship Day conference. The event featured Steve Wozniak, the legendary co-founder of Apple, as its keynote speaker.

This year the conference took inspiration from the Startup America Partnership LLC, an initiative founded by the leaders of Dell Inc., FedEx Corp. and other prominent companies to support small, early-stage firms with seed money, strategic planning, employment recruiting and management advice. The initiative, first presented at the White House earlier this year, includes plans to open chapters in all 50 states. Rutgers is helping to form the New Jersey chapter.

In his keynote, Wozniak gave a detailed account of his childhood, during which he first began experimenting with electronics; his college years; the founding of Apple; the invention of the Apple II personal computer; and the breakthrough success of the company. He also shared anecdotes about his partner, the late Steve Jobs.

Touching on the concept of disruptive innovation, Wozniak said that while most large, successful companies want to protect their market share, making only conservative or cosmetic changes to their products, Apple is an exception. Many recent Apple products, such as iTunes and the iPad, have revolutionized the marketplace. He closed with some advice for the entrepreneurs and students in the audience. As someone who taught himself how to build computers, Wozniak advocated for personal learning and developing an expertise. “You've got to be able to write the book,” he said, suggesting that innovation can happen even when there's no existing manual to guide the way.

Erich Spangenberg, CEO of the IP Navigation Group (Dallas), and Dipanjan Nag, executive director of the Rutgers Office of Technology Commercialization, spoke about the disruptive innovation fund Rutgers is starting, which NJTechWeekly discussed in October. The concept behind disruptive innovation involves finding technologies that change the existing standard. Spangenberg cited as an example the development of digital music, which has come to replace compact discs.

“The goal is to invent something that has never been done before, that completely changes the marketplace,” Dr. Nag explained. Spangenberg said the fund is actively looking for investment opportunities and encouraged audience members to contact him with their ideas. Michael Pazzani, vice president for research and economic development at Rutgers, discussed the $400 million the university receives annually in research funding, citing ongoing wireless communications, genetics and agriculture projects at the university.

The conference also featured a pitch competition sponsored by the international technology law firm SNR Denton. Ten companies were given the chance to present their business ideas to a panel of judges. Among them were PowerFlower Solar, which produces a deployable solar generator usable in combat zones and disaster areas, and New York-based ScanAvert Inc., which has developed a smartphone application providing food ingredient information to consumers with dietary and medical restrictions. The Rutgers Laboratory for Computational Imaging and Bioinformatics, led by Anant Madabhushi, is developing sensor technology to detect breast cancer in women and help prescribe the lowest-risk treatment possible. It won the pitch competition and $2,500 prize.

Entrepreneurship Day closed with a networking session in which more than 60 new firms exhibited posters in a showroom and attendees could discuss their entrepreneurial aspirations with participants.

Alan Skontra (@alanskontra on twitter.)

Alan Skontra writes for New Jersey Tech Weekly, and also contributes to the Hudson Reporter newspaper, hMag Magazine and Patch. Originally from New Jersey, he grew up in Virginia and studied government and international politics, and later nonfiction creative writing as a graduate at George Mason University. He returned to New Jersey in 2009 and now resides in Hoboken. This article originally appeared in New Jersey Tech Weekly in November.


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