Opinion: Will They All Leave New Jersey? Should They? Will They Come Back?
Last week was a big one for young startup companies spawned in the Garden State. NJTechWeekly.com attended a demo day given by Tigerlabs (Princeton), where 7 young companies who had participated in a summer accelerator and 3 additional companies that operate out of the Tigerlabs coworking space showed off their tech accomplishments.
NJTechWeekly.com also attended a demo day at Princeton University, where the Keller Center-sponsored entrepreneurship/accelerator program produced four great student companies.
However, as we spoke to these young people, we had the idea that many of them will not be staying in the Princeton area. Many will migrate to San Francisco or Silicon Valley, some will go to New York where markets and capital await and others will ply their wares in far off countries like Kenya.
So, New Jersey, how do we keep them down on the farm? How do we prevent brain drain? One of the student companies at the Tigerlabs summer accelerator program practically begged for H1B visa help for the team. Several members were graduating and their student visas were expiring.
Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that a tech ecosystem is developing here in the Garden State. When I started NJTechWeekly.com, there were no N.J. tech accelerators. Now I can count at least three and there may be some I don’t know about. (Help me out here. If you know of others let me know). Then there are hybrid offerings like Innovation Garden. And of course, I’ve written before about the state’s great incubator system.
Now I believe that we not only need the ecosystem to develop young companies, but an environment conducive to keeping them here. We also need to be able to attract entrepreneurs from other places. This is why Hoboken, with its focus on becoming a tech friendly, cheaper and even family friendly option for entrepreneurs, is on the right track.
Hoboken is looking into municipal Wi-Fi, making the PATH stations tech-friendly with updates on arrivals and departures, establishing more coworking spaces, and other efforts. Recently, Mayor Dawn Zimmer told the Wall Street Journal that “the Hoboken City Council is set to vote next month on a plan to lease out a publicly-owned waterfront building as a community tech space.”
The Princeton area needs to do something just as bold. We can’t keep shipping our best and brightest off to other states which will reap the benefits of N.J.’s nurturing.
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