The New Jersey Tech Council (NJTC) headed by Aaron Price, is taking the lead in connecting New Jersey tech and green companies, large and small, with each other.
The NJTC is now looking at three specific areas — clean tech, health tech and smart cities — where it has “the government backing, the industry focus, and the corporate leaders in the region, many of whom want to be part of making sure that we’re ahead of the innovation economy and provide opportunities for entrepreneurs,” he said in a recent interview.
Price sees the NJTC’s primary functions as “opportunity, activity and awareness.”
And so, he asked, “How do we put the right people in the room to create opportunity? How do we drive more awareness of what’s actually in the state overall, and, beyond that, make sure that there’s a lot more awareness” of New Jersey tech?
“There are a whole variety of companies, big and small, that are doing really interesting things in these industries. And we want to make sure, if they don’t already know each other,” that they’ll meet each other through the NJTC, he said.
Impact Challenge with a $50,000 Prize
Programming around clean tech is already being developed, Price noted, through the CleanTech Alliance with Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G), which was announced Monday.
The Alliance’s first program will be the CleanTech Impact Challenge, a competition for startups that features a $50,000 grand prize. Competitors will be asked to tackle big fundamental problems such as how to create energy equity in the state and how to increase energy efficiency.
Companies that can attack these problems should apply. There will be other cash prizes, as well as opportunities to connect with PSE&G “at the most senior level,” Price said, to see if the energy company will be able to scale the startup ideas for its business.
A webinar explaining the initiative — with Price; Ralph Izzo, chairman, president and CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group Incorporated (PSEG); and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang — is scheduled for Thursday, April 23.
“Those are exactly the kind of things I think the Council should be leaning in on,” Price said. “We can help big businesses solve problems and connect smaller startups to potential big partners. I think we can do that really well.”
“We can help big businesses solve problems and connect smaller startups to potential big partners. I think we can do that really well.”Aaron Price, NJ Tech Council
After the Impact Challenge, the NJTC will follow up with other events, like clean-tech webinars and, eventually, a small focus dinner or a clean-tech happy hour online. The topic of clean tech and alliance partner PSE&G will have a big presence at the Propelify festival this year. “They’ll have an award at our annual gala. We’re launching something called the State of the State of Innovation, which is a report on what the landscape of innovation looks like in New Jersey, and they will be a part of that.”
The corporate partners are committing themselves to working with the NJTC, connecting with the community and saying, “We want to be part of the technology community, we want to collaborate with early and growth-stage startups, and we’re committed to doing so and are trying it out here in New Jersey,” Price said.
The NJTC’s programming on health tech will follow a similar model. “We’re launching a health tech alliance with Hackensack Meridian Health (Edison). And I hope that we’ll launch a smart cities alliance later in the year,” he said.
We asked Price about the exclusion of other top players when the Council commits to an alliance with one.
“I think this is where the Council can have a unique position because we can bring the various, sometimes competitive companies around the table, who I think are invested in their own success, but also in the success of the region and the state.” He added that the NJTC is looking to bring other collaborators into these alliances.
Providing Value to Members They Can Take to the Bank
Price acknowledged that, as a membership organization whose central focus is on events, the NJTC had to be quick on its feet when confronted with the realities of COVID-19. But he said that the organization is thriving, thanks to a startup mentality and a fresh perspective.
Price understands that the NJTC may unavoidably lose members as business declines, but he is laser focused on providing value to members that they can take to the bank.
A lot of that value centers around relationship building, putting together members of the NJ Tech community who can benefit from getting to know each other.
Price became CEO of the NJTC in August 2019, when it acquired Propelify, the annual innovation festival that he had started in 2016, and that had brought thousands of participants to the Hoboken waterfront.
Who would have thought that during his first year at the NJTC, Price would see the coronavirus upending event companies and sending participants online?
This year’s Propelify is scheduled for September 24, and while Price is hopeful that it will take place, he is planning for alternatives. “If we can’t bring everyone together in person, we’ll figure out how to get them together online,” he said.
Price noted that tech in New Jersey has matured quite a bit since the NJTC was founded, more than 20 years ago. “I think that now there’s an opportunity for us to lean in on our areas of strength,” he said.
“I think that our real value prop is bringing people across various industries together to create opportunity, whether that means getting introduced to investors or introduced to larger corporates or potential clients.”