This is Our Story
CBS News Video Featuring FIC
Our story starts with a vision. Back in the late 1990’s Dr. Peggy Brennan-Tonetta sought to discover new ways and business models for the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment (NJAES) to catalyze economic development and community revitalization in New Jersey; particularly in economically depressed areas. Agriculture and food, which have been a core focus for the NJAES for over 125 years, as well as two of New Jersey’s leading industries, were facing significant viability challenges. Thus, the initiative focused on servicing these sectors. Intensive research and a comprehensive assessment were conducted to understand and identify the opportunities and challenges for businesses in these industries. The studies revealed the need for support, guidance and mentoring throughout the entire business development process, from concept to commercialization, especially in the areas of regulatory compliance, food safety, product design and scale up, as well as business strategy and planning.
Once the research, assessment and feasibility studies were completed, the next step was to develop the strategic plan and build the staff, resources, and capabilities needed to launch a new program. Thus, the Food Innovation Center was born! Once the program was proven successful, significant effort went into facility design and construction planning, and raising the capital required to build and operate a unique food business incubator facility that could serve as a model for the country and beyond.
The Food Innovation Center at Rutgers Is Established In 2000
The Food Innovation Center at Rutgers University was established in 2000. In 2001, Lou Cooperhouse, a food industry professional, was hired as the first Executive Director. Together, Peggy and Lou led the strategic planning and implementation for establishing and growing the center. Initially, the Center was located on East Commerce Street in Bridgeton, where office space was rented from Whibco, Inc. and the new program was launched. From 2003-2007 Center management raised $8.0 million to design and build the 23,000 square-foot food business incubator and processing facility. The Food Innovation Center at Rutgers University officially opened the doors to the current facility on October 17, 2008.
Expanding the Capabilities and Reach of the Food Innovation Center
The Food Innovation Center – North began in 1992 as the Food Manufacturing Facility (FMTF), an R&D center funded by the Department of Defense for the Combat Ration Advanced Manufacturing Technology Demonstration (CRAMTD) program. The center at this time was a unit of the Rutgers Center for Advanced Food Technology (CAFT), with the objectives of research, design, and demonstration of automated and flexible thermostabilization processes to manufacture shelf-stable food products. Although the primary food products were military rations for the U.S. Armed Services, the fit out of the facility also had flexibility for production for the civilian market as well. Over time, the center activity transitioned from DOD activity to on-site technical support of private sector food manufacturing clients. In 2015, the FMTF became part of the Food Innovation Center program.
FIC serves as a catalyst for business development in the state and the surrounding region and supports both domestic and international companies. FIC has assisted over 1,900 companies and entrepreneurs to date. It has been recognized globally, nationally, and throughout New Jersey for the effectiveness of its economic development programs.