N.J.’s “app economy” was front and center at an event hosted by Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken) on April 11, 2012. The conference highlighted new legislation to be introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg and an apps challenge open to Rutgers, Stevens and NJIT students, faculty and alumni. Along the way, a discussion took place about developing Hoboken into a technology hub. The key points:
- Next week Lautenberg will be introducing the America Innovates Act to spur the growth of high-tech jobs, approaching innovation as a combination of technology and business. The bill will establish the American Innovation Bank, to “provide universities, researchers and companies with the capital necessary to turn discoveries into marketable products,” Lautenberg told those assembled for the event.
- Another of the bill’s features expands existing fellowship programs so students can perform research at local companies. This provides federally supported grad students practical, industry-related training. For example, they can learn business-development concepts, such as the importance of patenting and commercializing discoveries.
- The N.J. Apps Challenge, introduced by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and aimed at showcasing the next generation of innovators, will accept built-from-scratch mobile apps though Dec. 31, 2012. A panel of judges will evaluate entries based on several metrics, including overall utility and potential commercial success. The winners from each college get to meet with their university presidents. The selected winner will meet with and pitch to Dennis Crowley, CEO of Foursquare (New York).
- Stevens’s president, Nariman Farvardin, announced plans to develop a startup hub in Hoboken with close ties to the institute and local stakeholders: “These sorts of hubs help to build a support network for growing companies, provide mentorship and guidance on how to compete in the technology market … and ultimately provide sustainable job growth,” in the local economy. Echoing Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer, Farvardin said the group will be creating an advisory board to help it develop this technology nexus.
- Farvardin said he is looking forward to working with other major N.J. universities to make the state an even greater part of the app economy.
Speaking at the conference, Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute (Washington, D.C.), unveiled previously unpublished research showing that “N.J. is one of the most app-intensive states in the country.” The Garden State ranks fifth among all states for app economy jobs as a share of total employment, he noted.
N.J. is ahead of N.Y. and Texas and traditional tech powers such as Calif., Wash. and Mass., Mandel said. It has the infrastructure to make a booming app economy possible, he added: great people, great educational institutions and great connectivity.
Lautenberg recalled his days as a startup entrepreneur and cofounder of ADP (Roseland), which now employs more than 45,000 worldwide. He founded it with two boyhood friends, and the company sometimes operated out of a hotel basement, with the colleagues using calculators and electric typewriters. Lautenberg was the marketing guy and, he said, unlike leaders at today’s startups, he didn’t have a great vision for what ADP might become.
“Honestly, we weren’t clairvoyant. We didn’t talk about the days when we would be a giant company. We went to work every day. We were poor boys and we knew that our mission in life was to make a living, and that’s what we tried to do.”
When the first viable, commercial IBM computer came along in 1961, “it gave us the engine to pull us along, and then growth was incredible … I’m often asked, ‘Who among the three of you was the technology person?’ ” he said. “We didn’t have one.”
Lautenberg pointed out that N.J., the home of Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Bell Labs, still ranks among the top states for the number of patents issued each year, with approximately 4,000 patents issued in 2011.
Genachowski took the opportunity to pitch for immigration reform. He said more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. “Smart innovation policy requires smart immigration policy,” he said.