Barry Zhang, president of Princetel stands by a sculpture by Brooklyn, NY based artist John Clement, outside the Princetel facility in Hamilton Township on Wednesday, May 23, 2012. Martin Griff / The Times of Trenton.
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HAMILTON — Only three years removed from Beijing, Barry Zhang had only won an unsuccessful job interview with his new Princeton University Ph.D.
He had immigrated to the United States in 1987, in the years after the Chinese government opened the door to the rest of the world but, after studying at the University of Houston and Princeton, Zhang hadn’t received the job opportunities he was hoping for.
He took the dive and went out on his own, founding Princeton Optics, which made lasers and other optics programs for various contractors. It wasn’t always easy, and wasn’t profitable until he sold the company in 1998, but being self-employed was so addictive he was soon plunged into another venture.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m always a risk-taker. I’m good with my hands. I’m more well-rounded than my peers. This is what I should be doing,’” Zhang said this week.
Zhang is now the founder and president of rapidly-growing fiber optics manufacturer Princetel of Hamilton. Founded in 2000 with a handful of employees, the company had over 31 employees recently. Its product lines are growing, fueled by strong demand and a shortage of producers.
Zhang has also become one of 26 business owners nominated for one of nine inaugural New Jersey Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards this year.
The awards, sponsored by 13 business organizations including the Mid Jersey Chamber of Commerce and Einstein’s Alley, spotlight contributions immigrants have made to the business community.
One such sponsor, the American Jewish Committee of New Jersey, supported the awards because the nominees were living examples of the benefits immigration brings to the economy, communications director Amy Hollander said.
“They’re employing people who are contributing to the gross state product,” Hollander said. “They’re business leaders, community leaders and advocates who are helping to build strong, diverse communities and economies here in the state.”
The awards are divided into nine categories named after different New Jersey immigrant entrepreneurs, including the Albert Einstein Award for Innovation for which Zhang was nominated.
The Einstein award honors recipients who developed their business or launched products using cutting-edge creative thinking.
Princetel, which Zhang founded in 2000, manufacturers fiber optics rotary joints that connect fibers together, allowing light and information to pass through different channels for use in industrial, military and biomedical fields.
Princetel is one of only three companies in the world that makes the rotary joints, which leaves room for annual growth to the tune of 40 to 50 percent, Zhang said. Zhang, a Princeton resident, has his eyes set on a Princetel expansion into Trenton, where he hopes Princetel could be more than just a commercial ratable or employer.
“I’d really like to be an influence in this neighborhood, and I think we could have a very substantial positive influence in a city like Trenton,” Zhang said. “If we, as a manufacturer, can move in and hire local people, hopefully we could be a positive influence and plant a seed there.”
Rider University president Mordechai Rozanski was nominated for the George Perrott Macculloch Award for Leadership, which honors leaders who exemplify commitment, ethical values and integrity.
Rozanski was named the university’s president in 2003 and has overseen its gradual rise in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, fundraising campaigns for new halls and facilities and commitment to a greener campus.
Rozanski was born in Poland and moved with his parents, who survived the Holocaust, to Canada in 1953. In 1968, he immigrated to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, beginning a 35-year academic journey that brought him to Rider.
“The New World meant freedom and opportunity for us and the highest expression of that opportunity was an education for me, a privilege denied my parents,” Rozanski said in his 2004 inaugural address. “Education was part of belonging somewhere, of shaping a future that made our every tomorrow better than our yesterdays. Mine has been a journey connecting countries and institutions, a bridge between the old and new, between despair and joy, and most importantly, between knowledge and opportunity.”
Nominated for the Ida Rosenthal Young Entrepreneur Award was Babu Cherukuri, president of Princeton technology and engineering firm Banc3, which contracts with the Department of Defense on advanced military projects.
The Rosenthal Award honors an immigrant business owner under the age of 30 who owns and operates a business with a three-year track record of success.
For more information, visit NJIEawards.org.
Contact Mike Davis at (609) 989-5708 or firstname.lastname@example.org.