NJTechWeekly.com saw a lot of life pumped into the tech and entrepreneurial community in 2014, as enthusiasm for the tech scene here continued to grow. Here are some comments from tech community and organization leaders on what has happened in 2014 in the Garden State, and on their goals and expectations for 2015.
1. Carlos Abad moved the New Jersey entrepreneurial and tech ecosystem forward by inspiring others to start meetups and teach newcomers about entrepreneurship. As a co-organizer of the LaunchNJ entrepreneurial meetup, Abad managed everything from cofounder date nights to deep dives into how serial entrepreneurs approached their businesses.
“For New Jersey, 2014 was a BIG year. The Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship, at Montclair State University, made a big splash by hosting many great events and working closely with the community. GDG North Jersey Meetup was the star on the developer side, bringing in Google I/O, Solve for X and many other top-notch events. In regards to our entrepreneurial ecosystem, LaunchNJ proved that community can be proactively created by helping with the formation of several special-interest groups (i.e., life sciences, women entrepreneurs).
“The LaunchNJ community has grown to over 1,600 in little over a year. In 2015, we plan to proactively grow the community to over 5,000 and start a series of entrepreneurial educational programs.”
2. James Barrood is the new president and CEO of the New Jersey Tech Council, and an influential force in the tech community. The NJTC represents just under 1,000 tech companies in New Jersey.
“With continued growth and an increased demand for office space, 2014 was a good year for tech companies both large and small. The past year saw a rise in tech- and entrepreneurship-related events and university programs across the region; thus, the ecosystem’s vibrancy and energy has largely been sustained. The goal for 2015 is to keep the momentum going and strengthen the tech and life science communities. The increasing demand for talent may constrain growth in the region and country if sufficient supply does not come on line faster. The New Jersey Tech Council will be working to support the pipeline of talent and nurture closer collaboration between academia and industry, to ensure a better-prepared workforce.”
3. Dennis Bone, who heads the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State University and co-organizes Montclair Entrepreneurs Meetup, is an important figure in the New Jersey entrepreneurship ecosystem.
“In 2014, amazing tech speakers came to Montclair State, including Chris Welty, of Google; 3-D printer expert Marc de Vinck; Jeff Wald, of Work Market; and four experts on big data. We also held two digital workshops on how to build a website and social media campaign, geared toward entrepreneurs with limited tech skills.
“The Feliciano Center also partnered with Todd Nakamura, founder of the GDG North Jersey meetup group. Through Todd’s tireless efforts and great contacts at Google, Montclair State became the site of Google I/O Extended and a of preliminary round of Solve for X.
“In the classroom, we have non-tech students working with coders on innovative ideas, like a fitness challenge app. Our 2015 goal is to continue to connect the campus with the state’s tech community.”
“I think action has been the best area of progress [in Newark during 2014]. There are more entrepreneurs in Newark today trying new things out and putting in great effort. In 2015, I expect to see more collaboration in the city with tech and even with other areas, such as art. My goal is to make those collaborations happen and be as seamless as possible.”
5. Another leader, fresh on the scene in 2014, is Sam Kongsamut, who heads the Launch NJ: Life Sciences Hub. Kongsamut’s group is growing more slowly, but it has attracted a lot of attention because life sciences and pharma are so important to the New Jersey economy.
“Launch NJ Life: Sciences Hub was founded in 2014, and we have regular monthly meetings covering a range of topics. In 2014, the tech/entrepreneur community grew busier, with multiple conflicting events (a good thing). Various stakeholders (BioNJ, New Jersey EDA, Kim Guadagno, Cory Booker, Rodney Freylinghuysen, among others) have paid attention to us. In 2015, the Life Sciences Hub goals are to increase membership from universities, as well as mentors, and to make the group more active in company creation through workshops.”
“I’ve seen an explosion of activity and meetup groups in 2014. This level of interest and support has helped to create many first-time opportunities in the state (Google’s Solve For X being just one of them). We’ve also heard about FUSAR coming out of Techlaunch with $500k in funding (I think that’s the correct number), proving that more investors are keeping their eyes out for New Jersey companies.
“For 2015, I see a little more consolidation of the large assortment of groups that popped up during 2014. A more concentrated support system will help to cultivate the right talent in the right places, making New Jersey a well-oiled machine.”
“I think 2014 was a year of continued growth: we’ve seen dozens of new meetups pop up in the ecosystem, and I think this is a reflection of the growing interest in startup/tech here in New Jersey.
“For 2015 we are planning a bit of expansion here at Cowerks. We plan on offering additional space to accommodate our growing membership and to continue to expand our reach into the education space.”
8. One of the newer tech community leaders is Todd Nakamura, who came on the scene in June, when he started GDG North Jersey Meetup, a Google Developer group.
“I believe that this was a year of healthy collaboration between different prominent tech groups in New Jersey. There’s a strong trend toward cross-promotion of large events, and attendance at these events is increasing sharply. Recent events at Montclair State, for example, have been attended by hundreds of students, entrepreneurs, techies and faculty; and there’s a palpable buzz emerging from this nucleus that extends into local media, social sites, and into conversations in the community.
“My goals for 2015 include kicking off the year on Feb. 2 with a (hopefully) game-changing Solve for X event that will help shine a bright spotlight on the talent that’s present in New Jersey, as well as in the surrounding region. We’d love to establish it as a yearly event, in addition to Google I/O Extended. We hope that some of our activities can help to put New Jersey into the national conversation as a fertile region for innovation and job creation, on par with the likes of Boston, New York and Silicon Valley.”
9. Sharon Waters, who is program manager at the Feliciano Center and who ran Women Entrepreneurship Week at Montclair State, says that the Feliciano Center will continue to nurture women entrepreneurs.
“In 2015, we will continue with one of our main goals: nurturing and encouraging women entrepreneurs, especially in the tech and STEM areas.
“This year, we moved the needle forward during our first annual Women Entrepreneurship Week. We had an event discussing innovative ways to increase the number of women in STEM fields. The panel featured Judith Sheft, of the New Jersey Institute of Technology; Lauren Gula, of United Nations Global Compact; an NJIT student; and women professors in the sciences at Montclair State. During our daylong WEW conference, we heard from techy entrepreneurs like Rachel Braun Scherl, of SPARK; Amanda Barbara, of Pubslush; and from funders in this space, including Kathleen Coviello, of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, and Fran Hauser, of Rothenberg Ventures.”