At a rousing event that took place at the Prudential Center Arena on June 27, Newark Venture Partners Labs presented its current cohort of 11 startups, all of which are being launched in Newark. “NVP Labs Demo Day,” was packed, drawing about 500 members of the tri-state tech startup ecosystem including numerous investors.
Mayor Ras Baraka kicked off the day’s activities by thanking Don Katz, CEO of Audible and founder of Newark Venture Partners, whom he called “a visionary here in Newark.” Baraka added, “We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him, and all of the investors.” He then noted even more investors were needed “to be part of what we are doing here in Newark.”
“Newark is a story that most people don’t know about. I think Newark Venture Partners tells that story well.” He then told the attendees that they were going to learn about companies that were doing some “incredible, imaginative and creative” things in Newark. “We are going to be the next Silicon Valley of the East Coast,” he predicted, with the dark fiber under Newark’s streets making the city more attractive to tech and tech-enabled companies.
Newark was just voted one of the top 10 cities for bustling arts communities, said Baraka. And “art and tech together will go very, very far in the City of Newark.”
Later, Katz spoke to the crowd, noting that striving for the “possible” actually creates more happiness than the pursuit of pleasure. “I think about this as I look at this amazing reality. ... This is one of those things that has exceeded my expectations.” He then said that all of the 27 companies in the NVP portfolio were worthy of investment, and that he had already personally invested in some of them.
NVP is about “spawning incredible companies,” according to Katz, but it’s also “about equality, which is not a very controversial concept if you are an American.” To the investors in the audience, he said, “If anyone wants to be part of a great economic upside and social outcome experiment,” they are welcome.
Dan Borok, NVP managing partner, explained the company’s philosophy of “place-based” venture capital. “We are finding great companies that are based anywhere, and we are bringing them here to Newark to build their business. It’s predicated on the idea that venture capital done right and economic development are not mutually exclusive. In fact, when you apply market principles, they go together well to create great outcomes” and economic progress.
The ultimate goal is to create a whole ecosystem, Katz noted. Rigorous economic studies have shown that, for every engineering job in a changing neighborhood, you get five entry-level service jobs and two professional jobs, he noted. “It’s really about connecting with the great entrepreneurial resurgence in Newark in general.” NVP’s particular brand of this socially conscious approach to investing has resulted in prestigious speaking engagements for Katz, as interest in the concept is growing all over the country.
To date, NVP has invested $5 million in companies that are moving to Newark, Borok said. NVP has had more than 1,200 applicants for its accelerator classes, “which is pretty great for a brand that didn’t exist a year and a half ago.” Of the 27 startups in NVP’s portfolio, 20 are from the accelerator and the rest are seed and Series A investments.
“We’ve had 4,000 new visitors to Newark who are focused on the technology ecosystem, coming here for company meetings and events like this, so we are driving change.”
The NVP portfolio companies are doing well, said Borok. Two-thirds of the companies that graduated from the first cohort have already raised a seed round of financing, and “we believe that number will get higher in the months to come.”