Each of the panelists came to the table with different perspectives.
For example, Darlene Gillard, senior adviser and member of the founding team of digitalundivided, which helps black and Latinx women entrepreneurs build startups, said that her job is to focus on her company and the community in order to create a supportive environment for the entrepreneurs whom digitalundivided works with. Digitalundivided is committed to supporting the tech ecosystem in Newark.
During the discussion, she noted that the reason digitalundivided had established its headquarters in Newark was the community: the folks at Rutgers, NJIT and other organizations — like fellow panelist Anthony Frasier, CEO of ABF Creative — who came together to support digitalundivided’s mission in Newark.
“We had done some research about where to go, and Newark was at the top of the list. The proximity to New York was impressive, but the cost of living was much, much lower. So, it worked well for someone who was trying to build a company. You’ve got the Newark airport. There are a lot of plusses here,” she explained.
“The founders we found here are incredible, and they have amazing ideas. They are ready to go! I think Newark can market itself even more. … Newark is diverse and inclusive, and we appreciate that.”
Better than Silicon Valley
Frasier noted that his company offers a podcast network that creates and produces podcasts for corporations, as well as other broad-based content. According to his website, the ABF Creative network gives a voice to the voiceless: “We help bridge the gap between authenticity, storytelling, and marketing.” For example, Frasier just brought out the Through Her Eyes podcast, the company’s first major independent release as a network, which focuses on mothers affected by gun violence. Frasier was also the founder of the first Meetup groups in Newark, Brick City Tech and Startup Newark.
Responding to a question from Medina on how to make Newark a tech mecca, Frasier responded, “I don’t want Newark to be another Silicon Valley because I’ve been in Silicon Valley, and there is a lot wrong with Silicon Valley.
“I think that what Newark is going to build is something that is a lot different and a lot more inclusive. … To me, it’s all about what Newark is already known for. Newark has a big arts community. Newark has a big media presence. How can tech relate to that? That’s how the tech scene will grow here. By attaching ourselves to what is already here.”
Newark Fiber for the Community
Kris Pacunas, founder and CEO of GigXero (Amherst, Mass.), the company behind Newark Fiber, talked about the wiring of office buildings in the city for the high-speed fiber and wireless network.
It’s not enough to have businesses benefit from this high-speed, low-cost resource, he said. “How about the community? What we love about Newark and Newark Fiber, what is so unique about it, and you can have gigabit super-reliable internet at work almost anywhere, but in Newark you also have it in the parks.
“You might go home and have the same internet speeds, reliability and security in your house on Newark Fiber, as if you were at work.” We think we are helping “Newark continue to advance as an entrepreneurial, scholarly, innovator culture that is excellent.”
Pacunas added that CODEIT, a multicultural program begun in Newark that teaches programming, would not have been possible in Newark without Newark Fiber, which is available at =SPACE. The program is a 24-week immersive experience with an emphasis on the python stack. It is a nationally recognized US Department of Labor Apprenticeship program at no cost.
“When Newark Fiber came in, [CODEIT was] able to get 10-gigabits-per-second internet … and then they were able to start coding. Now it’s an award-winning coding program that is creating real-world software, all because a seed was planted using Newark Fiber.”
Medina added that when a CODEIT session is underway, a contingent of 25 to 30 programmers are uploading and downloading at any given time, and “making things happen.”
National Model for Urban Development – Hall
Speaking next, Bernel Hall, president and CEO of Invest Newark, formerly known as the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation said, “We’re building a national model for urban economic development via information technology. … There is only one other city in the United States, Chattanooga, where a government-sponsored internet service provider is offering extraordinarily fast internet service.” Our service is net neutral and is 25 percent cheaper than the ordinary provider, and we use it every day, he said.
He added, “We are using this footprint to balance the scale from an economic diversity point of view. One of the things we are really pushing for is making sure that training programs” proliferate, so as to “get this information technology gene into the community, so during the next 20 years, something good will come about.
“Also, we are using this technology as a way to attract new businesses.” The Newark Fiber and Gateway programs send a message to large corporations thinking about relocating that Newark is offering internet service that is faster and cheaper than they can get elsewhere, he said.
Hall noted that the new Newark Land Bank program, based on a law signed by Governor Phil Murphy this year, will help Newark buy up blighted properties. “With the Land Bank Law, and Mayor Baraka’s commitment to infrastructure development in all the wards, we have an opportunity to demolish antiquated buildings and to redevelop them with the latest fiber optic technology, so we can wire the entire city.”