From GNEC’s Point of View: Supporting the Underserved Newark Tech Ecosystem with Entrepreneurial Education and Strategic Debt Financing

Photo: Steven Gomez is the executive director at Greater Newark Enterprises Photo Credit: DreamPlay Media

Steven Gomez is the executive director at Greater Newark Enterprises | DreamPlay Media

[Steven Gomez is currently the executive director at Greater Newark Enterprises. Gomez holds an MBA from Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business, an M.A. from Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations, and undergraduate degrees in both international business and computer science from Caldwell University. He is also a graduate of the Prudential Foundation Nonprofit Executive Fellows Program and the Ethical Leadership Certificate program from the Institute for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers University Business School. Gomez is the advisory board chair for the Seton Hall University Stillman School of Business Market Research Center, a board member for the Business Outreach Center Network/BOC Capital in New York City and an advisory board member for several organizations.]

Success for GNEC in supporting the local tech ecosystem in Newark is not just the success of the businesses being developed, but the financial growth and well-being of the local residents that live in the Newark community.”

The Greater Newark Enterprises Corporation (GNEC) is a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) whose mission is to help entrepreneurs and small businesses, identified as underserved populations and marginalized communities across the Greater Newark area, learn about and connect to capital sources to help start and grow businesses in ways that match their financial capacity.

We do this primarily through education in classes, workshops, one-on-one counseling and direct financing though our loan programs and those programs of our financial collaborative partners. This has traditionally focused on Main Street-type businesses that are more aligned with debt type financing to support their growing needs.

In the past few years, the role of technology and the market value and accessibility of technology-based products and businesses has grown. However, the finance community has not yet adapted to support it. Given GNEC’s role in connecting local businesses to capital resources, we see it as our responsibility to do just that in support of this growing community. As such, we launched the Technology Business Support Initiative (TBSI) to help provide relevant workshops and education to help technology entrepreneurs and businesses make informed decisions about their finance needs.

Furthermore, in the beginning of 2016, GNEC moved our office to the Enterprise Development Center (EDC), a tech-focused small business incubator located on the campus of NJIT—located in the heart of the growing tech sector in Newark. Many tech entrepreneurs know much about their ideas and technology, but do not know how to talk about their business from a financial perspective. This presents a challenge when looking for investment, access to accelerators or other types of partnerships.

By helping the community entrepreneurs form a better knowledge base of capital development and the financial realities of business, they have a better chance of securing financial investments more appropriate to the tech business model. Success for GNEC in supporting the local tech ecosystem in Newark is not just the success of the businesses being developed, but the financial growth and well-being of the local residents that live in the Newark community.

From GNEC’s perspective, what has been most exciting to come to the tech scene in Newark in 2016 has been the growing collaboration among service providers, entrepreneurs and anchor institutions. We have seen significant growth in programs, venues and opportunities to help showcase existing and emerging tech talent and businesses born of the Newark community. We are now seeing local leader entrepreneurs emerge and more of a regional and national spotlight on the initiatives taking place.

In the end, the validation of the Newark tech scene in 2016 has helped us all gain the audiences we have been looking for to confirm the great things happening in our local community. No longer do people discount off-hand the growing Newark technology community. However, they still question the perception of what Newark is. What we have seen is more and more folks from the tech and financing of tech industries (angels, VC’s, social impact investment) coming to Newark and seeing that their perceptions of Newark is mistaken.

What makes me most excited is seeing how tech entrepreneurs are taking the reins to start and grow programs to support themselves and their fellow entrepreneurs (i.e. Equal Space, Fownders, Code for Newark, etc.) It is through their energy and work that we all benefit and allows organizations such as GNEC to focus on what we do best, which is try to identify financial products and different ways to support these new business models.

Most tech entrepreneurs, especially millennial entrepreneurs, think that debt financing has no place or relevance in the development of their businesses. However, we are working to show how strategic use of credit, financial education, and all types of financing products can help move a business idea forward ultimately attracting the investment capital they are all looking for.

We are helping to break perceptions of what an alternative financing organization can do and how we can help provide entrepreneurial basics and educate emerging entrepreneurs on the fundamentals of wealth management and capital development strategies.  Regardless of what you are building, themes like credit, cash flow and financial projections play an important role, and we see that GNEC has an obligation to support the education and access to resources to fill this gap. GNEC will continue to work to support fundamentals while working to identify new financial products and underwriting methods to support this growing business model.

What we are most excited for in 2017 is further validation of the talent and infrastructure here in Newark to support a growing tech sector. New Jersey has significant industries that could greatly benefit from local tech talent, business and solutions. We look forward to increased collaboration with our anchor institutions, the attraction of more technology businesses and the development and launch of new spaces, venues, programs and initiatives to support and encourage the growing tech businesses and talent coming to and born from the Newark community.

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