Some 150 tech entrepreneurs, developers, investors and industry supporters got together at the 21st NJ Tech Meetup last week to network and listen to an inspiring presentation. Serial entrepreneur Andrew Weinreich discussed how businesspeople should take big risks, look for the outrageous idea ahead of its time and then make that big idea happen.
NJ Tech Meetup events take place at Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken) each month, and at more than 1,590 members, the community is growing quickly. Hoboken-based Townery made the evening’s first pitch. Founder Alicia Mickelsen discussed her hyperlocal startup, now live online for users in Hoboken, Brooklyn and Washington, which takes local venues’ band and entertainment schedules, categorizes them and puts the info on a website.
The site also lists family-friendly events. For North Jersey users, Townery will be more convenient than many other sites because when Hoboken residents enter their ZIP code on traditional sites to find events, results usually include events in New York and as far away as Philadelphia, she said. Mickelsen believes the site can be replicated around the country.
A Stevens senior, business student Zach Freedman, presented his Optigon cyborg project, a wearable “heads up” display technology prototype that connects to a smartphone. His project and presentation won the audience’s admiration and the evening’s audience choice award. Freedman built the technology himself from readily available, inexpensive parts. “Optigon lets you access your technology without taking your eyes off the real world,” he said.
Other pitches came from two New York-based startups. onWander.comis a very early-stage company creating a website about places. “We see onWander as part of the decision funnel. Places don’t have to be places you plan to go; they can be places you dream about, places you grew up,” Keenan Cummings, a cofounder, said. “We believe people are trying to express themselves through places and onWander is going to be the platform to do that on.”
Qrious, a company farther along in the process, that connects event attendees with similar interests at meetings while providing incentives for conference organizers, also pitched. The service makes attending events more productive for all participants. NJTechWeekly.com had listened to Qrious’s John Federico at the recent Startupalooza event, where the company’s software impressed judges and Federico’s pitch was a winner.
In an inspiring talk, Weinreich, who famously founded one of the first social networks, SixDegrees.com, spoke about the role of failure and risk in an entrepreneur’s life and emphasized the need for entrepreneurs to look for the big idea that makes people think you are crazy. “Be crazy,” he said, “and be prepared for other people to call you crazy. It’s something you should wear as a badge of honor.” Weinreich urged startup entrepreneurs to stick to their vision. He said they should find ideas they are willing to leave their job for, then take that leap.
Weinreich extolled the virtues of tenacity and perseverance. He said that while seeking funding is an exercise in rejection, and what distinguishes one entrepreneur from another might be the idea, what usually gets a company funding is the entrepreneur’s ability to deal with rejection and keep going. Entrepreneurs may need to have 200 meetings before they get funding, but it only takes one VC or angel to say “yes,” he said.
The ability to take leaps of faith also distinguishes startup entrepreneurs. Weinreich said his favorite quote is from Goethe: “At the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you.” He noted when he quit his job to start SixDegrees.com, one person gave him an extra desk and another provided him access to computers. As you move forward, people will move forward with you, he told the audience. Your tenacity can be contagious.However,” he added, “your timidity is radioactive.”
Early in the evening, attendees were allowed an open mike to ask for services they needed. Several attendees asked for programmers and developers they wanted to hire for sweat equity, and others announced conferences or events they wanted to entice attendees to attend. N.J. angel investor Stephen Halasnik asked for B2B startups to contact him, since he is looking for companies for investment and mentoring. Mario Casabona explained the N.J. public/private tech accelerator TechLaunch, with its LaunchPad boot camp, which is looking for its first class of 12 startups. NY Tech Day cofounder John Peterson pumped his April 19 event, urging N.J. startups to cross the river and participate. Ramon Ray pitched the 2012 Small Business Summit, taking place March 6 in New York.