Audible's Katz Favors a Venture-Centric Approach to Making Newark a Tech Hub: NJBIZ

Donald Katz, CEO of Audible, which was acquired by Amazon.com, is frustrated that more companies don’t see the opportunity to build in Newark’s transit-rich downtown at less expense than New York City, a July 8 article  by Joshua Burd on NJBIZ.com said.

Katz believes that Newark can be a tech hub, but “but his methods might be on a different wavelength from what seems like conventional wisdom,” Burd wrote.

Indeed, his methods seem different from the ones articulated by Brad Feld who studied how Boulder, Colo. became a startup hub. Feld, who spoke at a recent NJ Tech Meetup, believes that the startup ecosystem comes from the efforts of the entrepreneurs themselves and can take up to 20 years to develop fully.

In the NJBIZ article, Katz advocates a change in how people and capital are deployed to make a difference in Newark. His is a venture capital-focused approach. Such a venture capital oriented approach worked well in places like Detroit, he said.

The Audible CEO believes that Newark’s corporations “should focus more on direct investment into startup companies and street-level amenities that draw young professionals, rather than nonprofits and incubator facilities,” the business newspaper said.

Lawyers, accountants and other professionals should offer services startups need pro bono, Katz said in the article, a move he believes will create jobs. (Feld would agree that the professional community should act as mentors to the young companies without worrying about compensation.)

A policy luncheon put together by Blerdology for Newark Tech Week in April drew some of Newark’s prominent tech industry officials. The group concluded that Newark possesses some but not enough of the pieces of the puzzle to make it a great tech hub.

At that meeting, covered here, those who wanted to enhance Newark’s startup ecosystem said that the city needs a coworking space and possibly a tech accelerator in addition to the NJIT Enterprise Development Center incubator which is already working toward helping fledgling companies develop and thrive.

Others agreed with Katz, that Newark needs to concentrate on developing the "cool city" amenities that tech workers and others enjoy and become welcoming to artists, chefs, musicians and others who usually co-exist as a tech community begins to develop.

Several of the participants in that luncheon thought that making a push towards branding Newark would help make people aware of its good attributes, such as the transit system Katz speaks of in the NJBIZ article.

Audible had 125 employees when it moved to Newark in 2007 and expects to employ 600 people by the end of the year, the article said.

The company’s staff is socially engaged in Newark as well. According to the article, some 60 students from North Star Academy have interned at Audible with pay, and several have been supported through college.

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