NJ Tech Leaders Consider: What’s the Greatest Challenge for the State’s Tech Industry in 2013? Part 2.

Photo: Mukesh Patel of JuiceTank Photo Credit: Charlie Patel
Mukesh Patel of JuiceTank | Charlie Patel

Over the past few weeks NJTechWeekly.com approached New Jersey tech community leaders, asking them to consider a question: What is the greatest challenge facing the N.J. technology industry/community in 2013?

We are happy to report there was an overwhelming response. We have decided to present the replies in alphabetical order by responder last name, in an attempt to organize what were very thoughtful, provocative answers. You can find Part 1 of this article here.

Mukesh Patel, founder, CEO and entrepreneur of JuiceTank Innovation Lab, sees challenges in the lack of top qualified talent with technology backgrounds and an “inefficient” climate for capital:

There are two large challenges the N.J. technology industry/community should address more aggressively in 2013. The first is the imbalance of supply and demand in terms of top qualified talent with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) backgrounds.

 Given that the technology and startup industry is moving at a highly accelerated pace, the educational curriculum and practical training provided to young talent needs to catch up to this movement. Certain geographic locations, such as Silicon Valley and Boston, have been in lockstep with these trends; however, N.J. needs to face this challenge with actionable programs, resources and interest to compete with leaders in the industry.

 The second challenge is the inefficient marketplace for capital required to fund and grow technology and innovative startup companies. Raising smart capital is still one of the most important challenges small companies face, and although numerous sources of equity capital exist, the ecosystem is not in pace with the growing demand and need for such capital.

Aaron_Price_at_NJ_Tech_MeetupAaron Price, founder of NJ Tech Meetup the largest tech meetup group in the state — and a startup entrepreneur at crafterMania, argues passionately that N.J. must come up with aggressive financial incentives to attract investors:

 N.J. was recognized as a leading technology hub on the East Coast this past year. Though that has been the reality for some time, 2012 seems to have been the year we started to get credit for it. However, there are still many challenges we face.

If we want to be able to attract and retain great entrepreneurs for the long haul, I believe the No. 1 priority for 2013 should be to build a robust investment community. The reality is the number of VCs, angel groups and active angels in areas outside N.J., particularly in New York, far outweighs the resources in our state.

Additionally, and as it pertains to my area of expertise in software businesses, there are almost no N.J. investors who are vocal thought leaders and up to speed on where the mobile and Internet categories are moving. While good companies will naturally attract good investors, to accelerate that process, the state should come up with aggressive financial incentives to attract investors to N.J. Here’s to 2013; may it be the year of the N.J. check writers. (Price expands on this idea in a blog post here)

Govi Rao, NJTC chairman of the board and president and CEO of Noveda Technologies — a company focused on reducing energy consumption in buildings — sees a continuation of the “war for talent”:

The N.J. tech community is made up of companies and institutions at various stages of their industry lifecycles — some starting up, some early-stage, some just coming out of Death Valley and yet others breaking growth barriers and looking for new markets. The No. 1 challenge this group will face in 2013 is the war for talent! Entrepreneurial, passionate, street-smart candidates are going to be in short supply, especially here in N.J., and this will be a big challenge for the entire N.J. tech community. Beyond this challenge — getting the right talent, depending on the stage of the company — the next two challenges will be finding the capital to grow faster and finding the markets to sustain their growth.

Steven Royster, a senior venture officer at the New Jersey EDA who is bringing a Lean Startup Machine Workshopto Newark in March, says N.J. needs more “clever” startups:

For 2013, the tech startup community really needs more entrepreneurs solving interesting problems. Very simply, as more clever startups are born in N.J., the more awareness we’ll create and thus [we’ll] attract more of the inputs needed to grow companies (mentorship, capital, talent, acquirers). We’re already doing a great job with folks like Aaron Price, Anthony Frasier, Clark Lagemann [head of the meetup Scarlet Startups], Bret Morgan and all the TechLaunch companies. Let’s keep supporting N.J. entrepreneurs in 2013!

Judith Sheft, associate vice president of technology development at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), adds that the greatest challenge for entrepreneurs and others — including higher education institutions — will be to do more with less.

The challenge for all entrepreneurs in 2013 is to make significant progress with limited resources — talent/human capital, funding and facilities. Bootstrapping will continue to be a major funding strategy for the early-stage startup. The successful entrepreneur will leverage connections and use shared resources to accelerate time to market/first revenue and time to profitability. Doing more with less needs to be the entrepreneur’s mantra. Entrepreneurs need to get out and engage with potential customers and use that real-world feedback to modify their product/service offerings, to strengthen their venture. Additionally, entrepreneurs need to stay focused on execution and customer service.

I am optimistic about the N.J. entrepreneurial ecosystem. At NJIT we support entrepreneurs through our high-tech and life sciences incubator, the NJIT Enterprise Development Center, and the New Jersey Innovation Acceleration Center. We have seen increased student interest in considering entrepreneurship as a career alternative, and our faculty are engaged with the commercialization of their research results. To help support our students, faculty and the community, we have partnered with other groups to cosponsor various Newark meetups and are hosting TEDxNJIT events to enhance the dialogue on new ideas in technology.

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