Opportunities and Challenges of Driving Impact In Innovation — A Princeton Panel Discussion

Rita McGrath
5 min readOct 16, 2023

A dazzling array of speakers opened a day of hearing from entrepreneurs, researchers, businesspeople, and others convened for Princeton’s Keller Center’s Innovation Forum. I was delighted to be part of a panel, each person discussing a slightly different aspect of the current innovation system.

The Keller Center at Princeton and the vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in … central Jersey?

You may have heard that the Princeton area and the towns and counties around it have finally received its own designation as “Central New Jersey.” With a sweep of a pen, Governor Phil Murphy definitively said that “Central Jersey exists,” setline a longstanding debate and giving the residents of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset a clear way of describing their home. It was exciting to be part of a panel, moderated by Nena Golubovic, the Director of Design for Innovation Program in Sciences and Engineering, looking at creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem around the substantial resources of the university and the area around it.

Don’t get me wrong — New Jersey has always been a home to innovators and entrepreneurs, from Thomas Edison to the many innovations coming out of Bell Labs. But Princeton hasn’t been as eager to talk up the area’s accomplishments as some other schools might. I get the impression that that is about to change and the Keller Center will be at the center of those changes.

Michael Nowak, General Partner of Rainmakers Private Equity

Nowak described the evolution of the venture capital business since the end of the “tail end” of Bell-Labs style big corporate R&D budgets. Venture capital initially was about seeding and growing companies from an early stage — now, he observed, VC and Private Equity are starting to look more like one another with large mega funds coming in far later in the evolution of a venture (and for a lot more money) than those of a previous generation. He observes that having too little money is obviously a problem — but actually having too much, too early, is a curse as well. He reminds us that venture money is probably the most expensive money an entrepreneur will ever raise.

--

--

Rita McGrath

Columbia Business School Professor. Thinkers50 top 10 & #1 in strategy. Bestselling author of The End of Competitive Advantage & Seeing Around Corners.