Opinion: Strengthening the New Jersey Tech Entrepreneurial Ecosystem – Together
Photo: James Barrood, President and CEO of the NJ Tech Council Photo Credit: Courtesy NJ Tech Council
James Barrood, President and CEO of the NJ Tech Council | Courtesy NJ Tech Council

[ At the end of 2015, NJTechWeekly.com published two stories about what’s missing in the N.J. Tech ecosystem.  Subsequently, we also published the results of LaunchNJ’s survey on “Starting up in the Garden State.” In this opinion piece, Jim Barrood, President and CEO of the New Jersey Tech Council, talks about his take on these issues and what the Tech Council is doing to help the New Jersey technology startup ecosystem.]

Virtually all early-stage companies share one thing in common: they need resources to grow, and finding those resources can be a difficult challenge. The search for resources can drain precious time and energy that might otherwise be used to build products and find customers. Here in New Jersey, there actually are abundant resources for young entrepreneurs and startups. There's capital. There's expertise. There are networks. Often, the issue is knowing how and where to access them.

This is where the established leaders of the state's technology organizations, universities, communities and governments have a special responsibility. If we want our most promising (and time-strapped) entrepreneurs to succeed, we'll need to work together more closely to make our resources more visible and accessible.

That means strengthening the partnerships we're already engaged in. It may also mean creating entirely new partnerships, engaging groups and individuals that haven't always been natural collaborators.  

We're not talking about creating a new tech ecosystem: New Jersey already has one that's the envy of many regions. We're talking about doing more to ensure that entrepreneurs can quickly get into our ecosystem and navigate to what they need.

At the New Jersey Tech Council, we've prioritized building a cohesive network of tech and life sciences leaders for nearly 20 years. We coordinate 80-plus events annually, including our Innovation Forecasts; our Venture, HealthTech, FinTech and Internet of Things conferences; and our new DroneBot Works. Our peer-network programs connect CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and innovation leaders for intimate discussions of their industry-specific needs. We offer partnering sessions to connect startups with larger companies, roundtables to share best practices, and workshops to help entrepreneurs build the networks they need. We reach 25,000 people through our eblasts, and 17,000 through our monthly TechNews magazine.

But we need to do even more.

We need to reach out to innovators and entrepreneurs we're not yet reaching — especially promising newcomers. We need to build deeper connections with others whose missions overlap or relate to ours. And vice versa. We're all more valuable to each other when we work together — "Jersey Strong," if you will — than when we stay in our own siloes.

That's why we've started actively promoting and collaborating with the great tech community Meetup groups that have emerged throughout the state — including sizable and effective groups like Princeton Tech, NJ Tech, Scarlet Startups, Morris Tech, Google Developer Group (GDG), JuiceTank, Montclair Entrepreneurs and Jersey Shore.  (They're doing great work. If you're new to the New Jersey tech community, we hope you'll reach out to them as well as to us.)

Of course, what startups often need most is thoughtful investment. Looking forward into 2016, this looks just as critical as it was when we began, 20 years ago. That's why in 2001 we cofounded the NJTC Venture Fund, which has helped create hundreds of new jobs through its many investments. In 2002, we added Jumpstart Angel Network, the largest dollar angel investor group in the region between NYC and DC. Jumpstart’s network invests in early-stage companies, allowing them to expand and further develop. The group has already done over 100 rounds of investments, and it collaborates with accelerators throughout our region. Combined, these two have pumped over $100 million into our startup community. And stay tuned for more good news on this front.

We're also prioritizing the promotion of accelerators, coworking spaces and incubators across the state, as well as helping startups connect with Tech Council members who can help them cost-effectively get to the next level.  And we're building closer connections between industry and the state's great universities, showcasing their work through research presentations, highlighting intern research opportunities, and holding large events like our annual Commercialization Conference.

These institutions and relationships model exactly what we need more of: productive interconnections intentionally crafted to deliver resources that help entrepreneurs solve real problems.

If you think of it this way — connected, productive, intentional, entrepreneurial — there's more all of us can do. Whether we've met you before or not, the Council wants to collaborate with you on addressing our region's entrepreneurial challenges. I hope to see you at our February 11 Innovation Forecast in Princeton and at our April 7Venture Conference in MetroPark, or wherever and whenever works best for you.

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