BrickCity Meetup Wants to Inspire Newark Startups


Recently founded BrickCity Tech Meetup held its third gathering last Wednesday night, on the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) campus in Newark. About 25 of the 85 registered members attended. Founder Anthony Frasier said he had started the group to foster a tech community in Newark that, is now at best scattered and at worst nonexistent. “We need something like this in Newark,” he said. “There’s no tech scene here.”

A Newark native, Frasier had spent time at the NewME accelerator in San Francisco before returning east and beginning his own startup, Playd, which develops mobile applications for gaming enthusiasts. Frasier said he wants BrickCity to offer the same benefits he got from NewME.

At NewME, “I was exposed to a wealth of information, and I wanted to create that scene here and get young kids to build that kind of community in Newark,” Frasier explained. NJIT is a sponsor of BrickCity, offering the group a venue and encouraging students to join. He said that in addition to gathering tech workers and entrepreneurs around Newark, he’s hoping to create an environment that includes NJIT and its students.

Frasier has found two co-organizers in George Youmans, of Newark-based Radian Labs, and Mack Bonthera, a chemical engineer by background who is working on some early-stage startup projects. “There’s nothing happening in our location,” Bonthera said. “Let’s start something, make opportunities and build up our community.”

“There’s potential to grow, especially with NJIT here,” Frasier noted. “But the students aren’t always exposed enough to entrepreneurship. You have to be around people whom you want to be like,” he said. “We’re running it like a startup,” Frasier said of BrickCity. “It’s been a slow rise, but we expected it. We’re happy with it so far, and hopefully it will grow.”

Frasier said he had attended the more established NJ Tech Meetup, based in Hoboken. He doesn’t see BrickCity as a rival but rather a companion that focuses on Newark. He said he hopes the two groups can eventually partner on various projects.

Michael Ehrlich, an NJIT professor who also runs its small-business incubator program, said he has encouraged BrickCity and believes it will be able to better link the greater Newark tech community. “We’re trying to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Ehrlich said. “All the pieces are here, but making them click doesn’t happen by itself.” The Greater Newark Enterprises Corporation is another sponsor of BrickCity.

The meetup ran from 6 to 8 p.m. Early-arriving guests mingled as others eventually trickled into the conference room. Later Youmans officially opened the meetup and asked all the guests to introduce themselves. Most said they were New Jersey-based, though several had come from the New York metro area. Most were entrepreneurs or investors, and a few had spent time in Silicon Valley.

Steven Royster, a venture capital investor with international conglomerate Alcatel-Lucent, was the featured speaker. Though Royster spoke continuously for several minutes about finding funding, the intimate size of the gathering steered the meetup into a free-flowing forum, with several guests posing questions and exchanging comments. The organizers asked the guests to tell them what they’d like to see at future meetups.

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