Over the past few weeks NJTechWeekly.com approached New Jersey tech community leaders, asking them to consider a question: What is the greatest challenge facing the N.J. technology industry/community in 2013?
We are happy to report there was an overwhelming response. We have decided to present the replies in alphabetical order by responder last name, in an attempt to organize what were very thoughtful, provocative answers. This is Part 1 of this story.
Maxine Ballen, founder, president and CEO of the New Jersey Technology Council (NJTC), which represents some 900 tech companies throughout the state and nearby, says the biggest hurdle is the economic climate tech companies face:
I think the greatest challenge facing our companies is economic uncertainty, on both the federal and the state level. It is very difficult for our companies to do any planning, given the lack of confidence in what they can count on or expect. This has contributed to our companies spending too much time on the sidelines waiting to see what is going to happen. In addition, the impact of Sandy on our local economy will not truly be realized for years to come.
Chris Boraski, a cofounder of Princeton Tech Meetup, says we must bring the parts of our disjointed tech ecosystem together:
From my perspective, the greatest challenge will be tying the dispersed community more tightly together and creating a larger and more broadly integrated N.J. technology ecosystem focused on individuals and businesses. In New York, Philadelphia and other major tech hubs around the country, there is a concentrated collaboration and feedback loop for tech companies, which is harder to duplicate in a more geographically dispersed and suburbanized area like N.J.
The N.J. tech meetups are succeeding at creating relatively small but rapidly growing hubs in their respective areas. I'd like to work toward tying these even more closely together to form something that has a cumulative scale in terms of people, activity and investment, rivaling major metro tech hubs. Physical distance may be the biggest impediment to this. Fortunately, technology is continuing to enable a reduction in frequent face-to-face collaboration, and many people already visit and work with neighboring N.J. tech communities. Therefore, I think we can make substantial progress toward this goal in 2013.
Mario Casabona, founder and CEO of the first N.J. backed tech accelerator, TechLaunch, says the industry needs to gain political clout to obtain more support:
I believe the greatest challenge the N.J. tech community will have to address in 2013 is the ability to generate sufficient political clout to achieve recognition by our legislators. The state government has recognized, as it should, the contribution large business plays in our ecosystem. It is now time to shift some of that focus. I believe they have fallen short.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) has done a terrific job of promoting and maintaining businesses — which would otherwise have fled to neighboring states — in N.J. Programs that facilitate creating small technology companies and provide grants to launch ideas should also come from the governor’s office. What better message to send our science and technology community than the state government passing bills like the Angel Tax Credit and revitalizing and funding the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology?
Both programs would spark the creation of new innovations, create jobs and put us back on track as the “innovation state.” We are sandwiched between two clusters of innovation … New York and Pennsylvania. Both states have made concerted efforts as well as committing significant dollars to make their initiatives a reality. We need to do the same.
New Jersey still has vibrant biotech, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, healthcare and IT industries, which, unless nurtured with innovative small businesses and supported by academic institutions, … will soon leave the Garden State for greener pastures. It has been proven over and over again that most innovation comes from small businesses backed by tireless entrepreneurs.
I challenge our growing N.J. tech meetup community to organize a political action committee for science and technology and drive our legislators to introduce and pass much-needed legislation to revitalize our science and technology community. It doesn’t matter whether your preference is mobile apps, Web tech, social media, healthcare, med tech, pharma or telecom … after all,… it’s all science- and tech-related.
The biggest problem we face in Newark is a lack of makers. The barrier to getting started on a company or project doesn't limit itself to just programmers, and even the resources to learn how to program are free today. So my goals, going into 2013, are to encourage activity around hacking small projects and to get more people to start and create something and be proud that it was made here.
From my perspective as a community/event organizer, the greatest challenge is keeping [up] momentum. I think that same obstacle extends to the rest of the technology scene as well. Nothing worth having comes easy, and you can see the fruition of all the hard work being done across New Jersey as the tech community continues to grow. The key ingredient to keeping [up] momentum is, most importantly, a passion for what you are doing — that along with hard work, staying focused and the help of friends, family and your community.
Bret Morgan, co-organizer of Jersey Shore Tech Meetup and the Asbury Agile Web Conference, talks about New Jersey tech’s identity crisis:
I feel 2012 was a great year for tech in the Garden State. We saw an abundance of new meetups, coworking spaces and communities form as well as the launch of our first state-backed technology accelerator. I believe the greatest challenge the N.J. technology industry/community faces in 2013 is to really discover who we are. It's pretty clear we're not New York or San Francisco or Boston — we're a much different and diverse community, geographically distributed all over the state, and I think it's important to leverage this as we discover who we are and how we'll fit into the larger technology/entrepreneurial ecosystem.