A key ingredient in creating a tech ecosystem in any city is developing coworking spaces that encourage entrepreneurs to rub elbows with one another, trade knowledge and bounce around ideas as they develop their startups.
Recently Newark took a big step forward in that endeavor, announcing the creation of Converge, a pop-up coworking space that will operate for free every Thursday. Converge joins MEDINA = CITY’s = Space (pronounced Equal Space), which has not yet opened for business.
Following the pop-up trend, Converge, located at Seed Gallery, a SoHo-like event space and gallery in Newark’s downtown, will operate Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. until October.
Capital One has been a consistent supporter of Newark tech. Theresa Bedeau, director of community development at the bank said, “We love to see people connect, and we support you in your business … I’m really excited to see the programming and innovation that will come out of this space.”
For Newark and its tech entrepreneurs, this is an idea whose time has come.
Organized by Brick City Development Corporation (BCDC) in partnership with local tech groups like BrickCity Tech Meetup, Scarlet Startups, Code for Newark and Lean Newark, the space will provide tech entrepreneurs from Newark and other nearby towns a place of their own.
Converge will also hold events. A Code for Newark meeting has already taken place there, and Code Crew (New York) will be teaching programming classes at the space.
As Code for Newark organizer and Newark senior technology adviser Seth Wainer said, Converge will be a place to “do tech” and learn tech, to get your hands dirty. “We will run classes, and we will do it all summer in this spot,” he said.
An upcoming event at the space, entitled “Perfecting Your Investor Deck and Pitch,” will feature a free three-hour workshop with Yao-Hui Huang, managing director of The Hatchery (New York), an incubator founded on the principle that all tech companies have the right to access business experts and leading-edge information.
The May 29, 2014 party celebrating the launch of Converge was attended by some 80 people, including many of Newark tech’s movers and shakers. Several VCs were on hand to see what all the excitement was about.
In attendance was Anthony Frasier, who had started BrickCity Tech Meetup and is also a founder of The Phat Startup (New York). He recounted how he had wanted to establish a coworking space a full year and a half ago. NJTechWeekly.com covered his early vision here.
At the launch party Frasier recalled that when he had started the meetup, just five people would attend the gatherings. Yet the meetings began to gain some traction and drew the attention of Emily Manz, the real estate and business-attraction associate at BCDC.
Frasier said he had thought, “We have to think bigger. We have to have collaboration and more people working among each other.” He said he had gone to the BCDC office “with a 20-page deck. I had a lot of unnecessary details. Yet overall, they believed in the vision.”
Lean Newark organizer April Peters, along with New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) senior venture officer Steven Royster, talked about “unlocking” Lean Newark on the Lean Startup website so the organization can run its third three-day intensive workshop.
Also speaking at the event was acting Newark Deputy Mayor Daniel Jennings, who said the coworking space was exciting on many levels.
“By bringing together VCs, BrickCity Tech Meetup, Scarlet Startups and Code for Newark, we are making it easier for budding startups to put their heads together and grow and form the innovative businesses that will grow Newark’s economy.” Cities, he said, thrive when they collaborate well.
“We are also excited about your commitment to inclusion … Many of you have expressed a commitment to exposing Newark residents to 21st-century technology,” Jennings told the attendees.
“We hope all of you will utilize the space to open and expand your businesses … We want you to succeed because you are great people, but from an economic development perspective, we want you to hire Newark residents and pay more taxes. We are also hoping that this coworking option will lead to a more permanent operation,” but all in good time, he added.
BCDC CEO Victor Emenuga also paid tribute to Converge’s inclusiveness. “We wanted to create a space like this where people can come not only to put some profit in their pockets but to improve the quality of life in Newark,” he said.
Many in the room spoke of the Converge pop-up concept as a way to test for an appetite for coworking in Newark.
Anthony Frasier said that popup coworking is a good way to test the market, see if there is interest. “When that is proven, we can take the next step and build on that,” Frasier told NJTechWeekly.com.
Royster noted that businesses want to be in an urban transit area accessible to New York. “There are many companies that need affordable space. This is a great location, so let’s test it out. We needed someone like BCDC to help prove the market.”
Wainer added that Converge is “a great way to pilot the idea in classic lean style. We’ll look at how this works and pivot if we have to. We want to see many coworking spaces in Newark over the next year.”
The Phat Startup cofounder James Lopez told NJTechWeekly.com he would be spending time at the coworking space. “What it means to me is a place for people to share … and bounce ideas off … one another. I started in a coworking space, so I know how much it is needed in our community.”
Scarlet Startups founder Clark Lagemann added that surrounding itself with community had helped prevent his company from making mistakes, so he was glad to see coworking in Newark.
After the event we spoke with Manz, who had coordinated the Converge project and led the program at the launch party. She said developing the pop-up coworking concept had not been easy. “We talked a lot with the entrepreneurs about what the model would look like,” Manz said.
BCDC wanted a creative space, she noted, one where the tech community could feel at home, in a part of town with easy access to transportation and near restaurants and other amenities. It also had to be an easy place in which to come and go, she said.
Manz said Seed Gallery, a light, airy space filled with art, wood and brick, would be an environment conducive to entrepreneurs’ working and mingling.
Converge is located on the street where launch sponsor Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, a new Chipotle Mexican Grill, Rita’s Ice and other local businesses are thriving.