NJ Tech Meetup Features Startups and Fireside Chat with Gerard Adams of Fownders
Photo: Aaron Price interviews Gerard Adams at the NJ Tech Meetup Photo Credit: GNEC via Twitter
Aaron Price interviews Gerard Adams at the NJ Tech Meetup | GNEC via Twitter

Photo: Lee Alston, representing Synapbox, hold the audience choice award. Photo Credit: Courtesy Synapbox via Twitter
Lee Alston, representing Synapbox, hold the audience choice award. | Courtesy Synapbox via Twitter

The July 12 NJ Tech Meetup was held in downtown Newark at Newark Venture Partners (NVP), a VC organization that partners with Amazon and Audible. Several hundred people were present.

Tom Wisniewski, one of the managing partners at NVP, explained that the organization is running a strategically located accelerator/incubator, sitting atop a great communications network, and has partnered with many investors who have lots of resources, including venture capital and technical know-how.

He said that the NVP offices were a very appropriate place for the startups of NJ Tech Meetup to showcase their products. Representatives of NVP were on hand for those who wanted to apply for funding.

NVP is looking for authentic entrepreneurs who are solving problems, said Wisniewski. A product or service should be relevant and make sense to the marketplace. For that reason, having a prototype is mandatory for consideration. The amount of revenue anticipated should not be the main concern, however. Individuals must be dedicated and willing to work full-time on their businesses to be considered.

Following NVP's introduction, three startups presented their products and services. Qplum (Jersey City) presented its investment service, WrkBench (Newark) its mobile whiteboard technology, and Synapbox (New York, N.Y.) its API for reading customer reactions. 

Qplum

Mansi Singhal presented the qplum API, which enables users to develop successful investment strategies. Singhal briefly discussed the necessity of investing. She asked, “What do people want when they say they want money? Is it really money that they want? Or, is it the power, freedom and ability to be alive?” She then pointed out that, while the Standard & Poors index has been growing, salaries have remained flat. Investment is a necessity for the accumulation of wealth. She then asked, “How does one go about investing successfully?”

Singhal explained that banks and hedge funds are not very good options for the average person. Banks require investors to have a high net worth. They do not cater to the little guy. Hedge funds have a high cost, and so are also not for the little guy. But qplum provides customized investment plans for big and small investors.

Qplum uses algorithms based on data versus machine learning to develop investment strategies for individual needs. High or low risk is configured according to the customer's wishes. Different investment seasons—such as bull or bear markets—will require different strategies. Qplum analyzes past performance data to decide on the algorithm execution. It reviews algorithms through back testing, and the results of the back testing are published on qplum's website.

Singhal addressed the question, “If your investment strategies are so good, why don't you just invest your own money?” She said that for many years she had managed a $100 million portfolio for a bank, and now feels that she can make more money by providing a service with qplum as the behind-the-scenes asset manager.

WrkBench

Arjun Rai presented his company’s whiteboard software, “WrkBench,” a mobile collaboration platform for all types of files (doc, pdf, audio, video, etc.). This platform is unique because it’s designed for mobile, said Rai. Before WrkBench, there was no collaboration software that worked for touch screens, as Trello, InVision and Google don’t offer this option. “With Wrkbench, you can do more than annotate. You can really collaborate!” he said.

WrkBench works with real-time connectivity anywhere for groups of up to eight people. It uses Wi-Fi connectivity, so users do not have to be in the same office space or on the same network to connect with other uses. And larger groups can still collaborate via email.

Rai predicted that advertising would be the field most eager to use a mobile-capable collaboration platform. But he noted that fashion, event planning and education need the system even more because these fields are struggling the most to keep up with new technology.

WrkBench operates out of the NJIT Enterprise Development Center.

Synapbox

Synapbox’s name is a cute portmanteau word that combines “synapse” and “box.” It conjures up the idea of brains, snapshots and viewbox. That may not have been the founders’ intention, but the description fits. Synapbox is an app that gathers consumer intelligence, using eye tracking, biometrics and emotional facial coding to gauge “the emotional and visual real-time responses” of viewers to “your images, videos, Web pages and mobile apps,” according to presenter Lee Alston.

Intended for app publishers and Web developers who want to evaluate app usage, Synapbox does cross-channel analytics and records what content the users are reading. Big data will not tell you this, said Alston. Synapbox can serve as an adjunct to A/B testing and competitive analysis, she noted, because it provides insights into why a product is not purchased. And Synapbox integrates with Google Analytics.

Other companies doing similar analysis as Synapbox will produce 30-page reports that don’t really answer the question, and they’re too expensive for small developers, she added. But Synapbox is low-cost and easily scalable.

The Synapbox app is placed in a website’s panel or banner, and uses each computer’s webcam. The traditional six emotions measured in academic research are also the basis for Synapbox’s analysis: happiness, surprise, anger, disgust, fear and sadness. The company guarantees full disclosure to the person being tested, and it records the agreement with each person who becomes a test subject. The test subjects know that they’re being recorded during the tests, and the videos are thrown away after the information is used. Test subjects can be paid or receive a free product from the tester. Although certain products may require a specific user panel for particular types of market research, Synapbox works with a broad range of users, and already boasts large clients such as Coca Cola., Amazon and Walmart.

Synapbox’s headquarters are in Mexico City. It’s funded mainly by Mexican concerns and has technology partners in California. Currently, the company is raising $1 million in venture capital.

Fireside Chat with Aaron Price and Gerard Adams

Each NJ Tech Meetup features a “fireside chat” interview between organizer Aaron Price and the event’s main guest. This time, the interview was with Gerard Adams, a Newark native who cofounded EliteDaily.com and made a $50 million exit.

Energetic and animated, Adams spoke at length about his entrepreneurial endeavors. This millennial has already created, built and sold several companies; and he’s worked hard to promote himself and those companies. His first website provided content for stock investments, but he’s best known for Elite Daily, a site exclusively aimed at millennials. Here are some of the highlights of his story.

Adams said that he dropped out of college because he felt it wasn’t working for him; it wasn’t teaching him how to do business. When the market crashed, the economy contracted, and all of his friends who had graduated from college couldn’t get jobs, he felt vindicated. At that time, he wondered why millennials were “more interested in the Kardashians than the economy?”

Adams himself was more interested in the economy. It’s possible that because he’s the product of hardworking parents and immigrant grandparents, his views on life aren’t the same as those of other millennials.

He then told the audience an interesting story. Adams was bummed out after one of his $5 million companies crashed. He lost everything that he had built up. When he told this to his mother, she recalled that her home had burned down when she was in high school, and she was literally left with just the clothes on her back. She went to work to support her family, finishing high school at night. If she could pick up and go on, she said, he could go out there and do the same. He did.

Having been brought up with values like these, it is not surprising that the first thing Adams did when he “made it” was to give back to his family: he paid off his father's mortgage. As Adams came to realize, it is not all about the money.

Like many others, he feels that school does not teach many traits that are necessary for business success: hard work, humility, courage, work ethic, perseverance, resilience, adaptability, commitment, discipline, self-awareness, emotional literacy, business sense, and skills such as storytelling and how to pitch to investors.

He is currently running an incubator, Fownders, which is granting up to $10,000 for Newark start-up businesses. Pronounced like “founders,” the name is intentionally spelled with the word “own” embedded in it, to make it clear that community ownership is the goal. Applicants should be offering a business that contributes to the Newark community. Adams can be reached at gerard@fownders.com.

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