Central New Jersey can become a technology hub unrivaled in translating deep, long-range research into products and organizations that truly benefit humanity, said Andrea Goldsmith, dean of Princeton Engineering, at a recent online conference bringing together hundreds of technologists, business leaders and academics.
“We are a very strong liberal arts university with a very strong set of values, geared towards benefiting humanity. That is the tech hub I would like to create. Nobody else has a tech hub like that,” Goldsmith said, speaking at Engage2020, a three-day online conference hosted by Princeton University.
Aiming for public good through entrepreneurship and innovation “doesn’t mean you don’t make money,” said Goldsmith, who became dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science September 1 after more than 20 years as a faculty member at Stanford University, where she also founded two successful companies around her research in wireless communications. “But the technology that you’re creating is to benefit people.”
Naveen Verma, director of Princeton’s Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, introduced Goldsmith at the event and noted Goldsmith’s own history as not only a pioneer in the field of wireless communications theory but also as an entrepreneur who built successful businesses based on her research. He said both roles are essential to Princeton Engineering creating positive change through technological innovation.
“Dean Goldsmith exemplifies for me how the impacts of both real-world innovation and academic scholarship are not just amplified but frankly, driven to completely new places when these two are brought together,” Verma said.
Goldsmith’s talk and the Engage conference come at a time of growing focus at Princeton on entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship and industry partnerships to move discoveries and problem solving approaches from labs to society. The University recently announced its participation in a state-wide technology hub being created in New Brunswick, which complements earlier initiatives such as the appointment of Professor Rodney Priestley as inaugural vice dean for innovation and the creation of Princeton Innovation Center Biolabs and a partnership with Google to create a Google AI lab in Princeton.
Recent startups created from Princeton Engineering research include Optimeos, which makes nano-scale particles that improve the effectiveness and reduce the side effects of medicines; Nereid, which is using insights into the fundamental workings of cells to generate a range of medicines and therapies; Andluca, which recently won the Edison Award from the Research & Developent Council of New Jersey for commercializing the invention at Princeton of transparent solar cells that can be added to windows to lower energy use for heating and cooling; Neutigers, which brings artificial intelligence computing to the edges of communications networks to allow for technologies such as a smart watch that detects COVID-19; and Tendo Technologies, which is commercializing an innovative valve that can significantly improve efficiency and reduce expenses for heating and air conditioning and a range of industrial processes.
Goldsmith said that a diversity of intellectual and personal backgrounds and a collaborative culture at Princeton are keys to the New Jersey region’s advantages as a tech hub.
“I believe that having engineering grow within a liberal arts institution, will allow Princeton Engineering to have a broader perspective on the technology that it develops and on the applications of that technology,” she said.
She said she also is committed to broadening inclusion in engineering to bring more diverse ideas and voices to bear on the development of new technology. “In my companies and universities, and in all the organizations that I’ve been a part of, having diverse ideas around the table leads to better outcomes, and that’s certainly true in engineering,” she said. Diversity and inclusivity also help to mitigate negative impacts of technology, because people with diverse perspectives are more likely to identify both advantages and disadvantages, including unintended consequences, of the technology ideas, she said.
In her talk, Goldsmith discussed her own trajectories both as a research and entrepreneur.
A member of the National Academy of Engineering, one of the highest honors in the profession, Goldsmith developed foundational mathematical approaches for increasing the capacity, speed and range of wireless systems, including techniques widely used today in cellphone networks and Wi-Fi. She built on her research to co-found Quantenna Communications, which produces chips for high-speed, reliable Wi-Fi, and which became a publicly traded company. She then co-founded Plume WiFi, which sells in-home Wi-Fi mesh networks. Goldsmith also serves on the board of directors of the medical device maker Medtronic and the communications infrastructure company Crown Castle.
“After 20 years of developing lots of theory around how do we get very robust and high-speed wireless communication, I wanted to see if that theory mattered in actually building a product,” she said. In addition to finding the answer was “yes,” she said, “building those products, brought a broad set of new perspectives to my research and teaching when I returned to Stanford as a faculty member.
“So the thing that I’m convinced of based on my own experience as an entrepreneur is that when you go and start a company as a professor, all of the experience that you get in taking your research ideas and turning them into products and technology really enhances your research and your teaching,” she said.
Goldsmith said that building a regional technology hub goes hand-in-hand with Princeton University’s push to grow the engineering faculty, build new buildings, and invest particularly in bioengineering, data science, robotics, smart cities, and quantum computing. She said these are all part of an effort to “step on the gas hard to increase entrepreneurship and innovation at Princeton and beyond Princeton.” These efforts will, she said, help Princeton advance its goals expressed in its motto of being “in the nation’s service and the service of all humanity.”