The company presidents and CEOs who spoke at the New Jersey Tech Council’s Annual Meeting on July 12 had a lot to say, both positive and negative, about the New Jersey tech ecosystem as it stands today.
They were members of a panel called “Strengthening our Ecosystem,” moderated by Ronald Gaboury, CEO of Yorktel (Eatontown) and chairman of the New Jersey Tech Council.
Navneet Puri, CEO of Nevakar (Bridgewater), a specialty pharmaceutical company, spoke about how to strengthen the pharmaceutical industry in New Jersey. “For us to compete effectively with places like Boston and San Diego … we need to create pockets of incubation centers where new entrepreneurs who are coming into [New Jersey] are able to find a home and kickstart their products,” he said. “Nobody starting a company in the pharmaceutical research area is going to be able to do it with just the paper side. They need to be able to find labs, and we cannot afford to spend time and money to establish those labs.”
A well-trained workforce would make it easier for growing tech companies to scale here, said Ronald Kasner, the operational CFO at the recruiting software company iCIMS ( Matawan), who will be taking over as president and COO in September. His company needs a workforce that can step right in and be ready to go. Young people coming out of school don’t have the skills required to step into positions at iCIMs, he said. They should be taught NetSuite or Salesforce or Atlassian, programs commonly used by enterprises.
“We have to spend the first six to nine months of their time with our company getting them trained on what is the sales process, how do you use the [customer-relationship-management] system, how do you actually book entries into this general ledger system. Why? These are standard applications that are all out of the box that almost every company uses in a very similar fashion.”
The panelists had some good things to say about the programs and incentives offered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA). Kasner talked about the Grow NJ Assistance Program.
“I can tell you that’s a really positive incentive and something that was important to us and made the move to Bell Works (Holmdel) … possible.” He had two suggestions for strengthening the program. “One, simplify the program a little bit. Two, it’s very much tied to the property. And for a fast-growing company, you are going to move out of your property in too short of a period of time.” The incentive should not be tied to the property, he said, but to the employees you hire and the capital you are investing.
“I think we have a beautiful thing in terms of the Angle Tax Credit,” said Inderpal Singh Mumick, founder, chairman and CEO of Kirusa (New Providence), a company providing telecom and social media solutions using voice and SMS technologies. “All the investors who invest in technology companies in the state of New Jersey get 10 percent back in terms of a credit, which is wonderful. It does incentivize quite a few investors.”
On the other hand, Rita Gurevich, founder and president of SPHERE Technology Solutions (Jersey City), a cybersecurity firm that protects companies against internal threats, said that the state has to do a better job of reaching out to tech companies in order to put the state incentives “front and center.”
She added, “That needs to be thrown in our faces. We need representatives calling our offices. You know, entrepreneurs are busy. And we need that education, but we can’t go out looking for it. It has to be simple for us. If they want entrepreneurs to stay here and grow successful businesses, hire millennials, keep millennials here and keep the cycle going. They have to do more for us to make that happen.”
Asked about the opportunities that companies have to attract talent to New Jersey, Gurevich, responded, “I’m in Jersey City,” which is known as the “Gold Coast.” People assume “that if you are in Jersey City it’s easy to attract talent. In some ways, it might be easier to attract that millennial talent than in suburban New Jersey, but we still have challenges. Smart NYU grads want to stay in New York because of the ZIP Code.”
In Jersey City, Mack-Cali is doing a great job of developing huge beer gardens, big concert areas and movie theaters, which make Jersey City more of an experience, Gurevich said. She added that in the last few years it’s been easier to get millennials to come from New York for job interviews. They take the ferry and just walk a block, and they see street performers and the beautiful views of New York.
Mumick noted that to attract talent, the state should provide a really strong program to promote several smart cities and a really smart state as a whole. “A lot of investment goes along with the infrastructure, internet of things, energy, risk management, electricity, light water and water quality, which will pay dividends” to the state over time. “But that requires a strong technology mindset” and a lot of innovation.
Kasner said that too many New Jersey high school graduates go to college out of state and don’t return. “This is something the state must be thinking about. What can we do to keep them in New Jersey? How do we incentivize these kids out of high school, who may be already planning their life, to say I’m planning to stay in New Jersey or I’m planning to come back to New Jersey?”
For pharmaceutical companies, New Jersey is a good fit, said Puri. He spent some time in California, and “California is a beautiful place, but I was a biotech company and I realized my career growth was in pharmaceuticals. And California was not the place that was going to be able to nurture me in that career path. I know I had to come back to New Jersey for that. I did come back and I owe the state a lot in terms of how rewarding this professional career has been.”