Navarrete Urges Patience, Long-term Commitment as NJ Develops Tech Startup Chops

Photo: Left to Right: Bert Navarrete is introduced at the Morris Tech Meetup by FDU's Jim Barood. Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Left to Right: Bert Navarrete is introduced at the Morris Tech Meetup by FDU’s Jim Barood. | Esther Surden

Back on September 12, 2013, Morris Tech Meetup featured a talk by Bert Navarrete, the VC who cofounded Tigerlabs (Princeton), the venture capital group, workspace and digital health accelerator. The meetup took place at the Fairleigh Dickinson University (Madison) library.

Tigerlabs recently began accepting applications to Tigerlabs Ventures, a full-service, six-month digital health accelerator program. The program invests in startups on a rolling basis. Companies obtain coworking space and seed capital from Tigerlabs, many perks and “targeted” mentorship from leading executives, entrepreneurs and investors. Visit this page for more information.

Navarrete is a New Jersey guy. He went to Delbarton School (Morristown), then Harvard, and worked on Wall Street for a while. He told the group he’d been involved in venture capital for about 15 years, mainly focused on software investments across a variety of different sectors.

He has also been an entrepreneur, having cofounded a company focused on second-screen apps integrated with live sporting broadcasts.

Said Navarrete, “For the past five years, I’ve logged 225,000 miles or so flying back and forth to the West Coast … . It should be no surprise to anyone in this audience that the Bay Area is the epicenter for innovation specifically around technology and the areas of investment I focus on.

“In these long cross-country flights, I would often ask myself, Why not [be in] New Jersey? All the ingredients are here. We are in close proximity to New York City, which is now the second largest venture market in the world after the Valley. We have strong universities in the state with great engineering talent. However, we are underserved. Our market is fragmented.

“Meetups have been good about bringing people together, but for the most part we are still in different pockets and areas around the state. More thematically, there is a need for services, including capital,  that one can provide to early-stage companies,” Navarrete continued.

And, he added, there are few central coworking spaces for entrepreneurs to meet rather than being “a refugee at Panera or sitting at home or at the local library.”

Navarrete pointed to Brad Feld’s book identifying the Boulder Thesis about how to build startup communities, noting that entrepreneurs must lead the way when developing tech communities. “You are the ultimate customer and ambassador for these communities,” he told the entrepreneurs in the group.

Navarrete urged patience as the tech community develops. “You also have to have a long-term commitment,” he said. “What we’ve suffered from — and Princeton is no different— is that you’ll often have an evangelist come through with a lot of energy, a lot ambition to get something started. And then, after they beat their heads against the wall for so long trying to effect change, they leave” and everything collapses. “The community has to have a long-term commitment to see this through.”

In addition, the startup community must be inclusive, Navarrete said. It must accept everyone and provide a continuous interchange of learning. There must also be many activities and opportunities to engage the community. Meetups are a great example of that. Without these type of activities, entrepreneurs can feel very isolated, he said.

From Navarrete’s point of view, there are ways to improve the tech community here in New Jersey. The first is through mentorship. “There are a lot of people in this room with a variety of different professional backgrounds who have scratched their entrepreneurial itch …” he said. “They have to have a ‘pay it forward’ mentality to assist other entrepreneurs,” sharing the lessons they’ve learned professionally to help startups progress.”

Navarrete stated that New Jersey needs more recycled capital. “One thing that we believe in fairly strongly in Princeton with Tigerlabs is the need to invest locally,” he said. “We can’t guarantee that we will always find deals locally that we want to invest in, but we are definitely open to that.”

One of the best aspects of Silicon Valley, Navarrete said, is “there is so much money there. Everybody reinvests in each other, and the recycled capital keeps the innovation cycle going.” New Jersey has to keep enough companies here for that cycle to work.

Startups’ need for coworking space is acute, Navarrete said, and Tigerlabs has contributed to addressing that need. “We have had the great pleasure of building an 8,000-square-foot loft space in Princeton’s downtown. We’ve been blessed that we have investors who are willing to invest not only in our funds but in our entrepreneurship center,” he said.

He noted that Tigerlabs hosts meetups and workshops, and houses the companies that it is investing in so it can “continue to germinate and grow them in New Jersey.”

The coworking space also is available to entrepreneurs whose firms Tigerlabs does not invest in, so they can take advantage of the community space and interactions with likeminded entrepreneurs, he said.

Besides digital health startups, Tigerlabs invests in recent college graduates, graduate students and postdocs, who get an opportunity to take their nascent companies to the next level, Navarrete stated.

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