Google’s Schmidt: Sugar Daddy for New Ideas

When Stuart Essig, CEO of Integra Life Sciences (Princeton, Class of ’83), spoke at a Princeton University Keller Center lecture earlier this month, he told a compelling story about the company’s growth, one that I’d heard before from founder Rich Caruso, but in even more fascinating detail. One big “Aha” was when he admitted that most technology successes are built on the failures of others, that previous versions of Integra had cratered financially, enabling it to be sold for a very low price and resuscitated.

Back in 1987 (yes, U.S. 1 is that old, it celebrates its 25th birthday next month) Richard K. Rein was writing about the travails of American Biomaterials, which somehow morphed down the line through companies like ABS Life Sciences and Collatech into Integra. As Essig said, when companies fail and go bankrupt, the shareholders never get their money out of it.

But then start-ups are always an investment risk. Technical researchers particularly, are generally poorer than penniless. Grants are available. But if you spend your time writing grants you aren’t doing your research and you might not get the grant anyway – a vicious circle.

I can remember the travails my father had, applying for grant monies for an electronic microscope (partially invented, incidentally, by Bob Hillier’s late father). It was a fabulous help for his cancer research. A half-century later grant money is still tight.

That’s why it was such a welcome surprise when Google CEO Eric Schmidt (Princeton, Class of ’76) and his wife donated $25 million – not for a building, not for a professorship – but for special needs of struggling researchers at Princeton University. According to a U.S. 1 article, it’s to be used as seed money for “special” stuff, like equipment they need but can’t afford to buy.

Nowadays, Integra can buy anything it wants, whether it’s a piece of equipment or another company. But like any tech company in its early stages, it sure could have used some help.

Photo: Stuart Essig, right, is pictured with Leonard L. Kaplan, who has a 20 Nassau Street-based firm, Pharmaceutical Quality Associates. He is starting a new venture based on a class of chemicals that affect the immune system. Kaplan confided to me that day that he aims to convert to an S Corp. and float some stock, indeed, starting all over again. It’s never too late to develop a great new idea.

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