“There’s A Lot of Freaking Brainpower in New Jersey,” Yang Tells Price at CleanTech Impact Challenge Launch

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang joined NJ Tech Council president/CEO Aaron Price and PSEG head Ralph Izzo in a webinar to launch NJTC’s CleanTech Impact Challenge recently.

Yang, a former entrepreneur who founded Venture for America (New York), an organization that trains recent college grads for careers in tech entrepreneurship, was very supportive of the alliance between NJTC and PSEG, stating that this is “a great template” for other companies to follow, “where, if you put up a prize, and then have startups pursue it, that’s where a lot of the best thinking and innovation is going to come from.”

He added that he believed Izzo could clearly see that “if you come up with an innovation that’s going to save consumers money or increase energy efficiency, everyone wins. His customers are going to win, his company is going to win, society is going to win.”

Getting the Right Incentives in Place

Price noted that it hasn’t been easy to incentivize the startup community to tackle energy problems, and Yang responded that the right incentives were not in place. “But if the incentives are in place, it’s going to be small, nimble organizations that innovate in a direction that big firms need.” 

He added, “To me, the missing piece really is the set of incentives.” He asked the audience to imagine a world in which there were “the same incentives in place to innovate in some of these clean technologies as have been around [for] some of the consumer technologies over the last number of years.” Then we’d see a lot more energy-related innovation, he said.

“Some of the strongest entrepreneurs I know are coming out of New Jersey.”

Andrew Yang

Yang has visited New Jersey often, and was a guest at the Propelify Innovation Festival, Price noted. He asked Yang if he had observed anything positive about New Jersey and New Jersey tech startups.

“You know, I think there’s a lot of freaking brainpower in New Jersey. … And you’ve got major companies that are headquartered there that are throwing off both talent and opportunity. So, some of the strongest entrepreneurs I know are coming out of New Jersey. Some of the smartest products I’ve seen are coming out of some of the industries that are around biotech and big data and some others. So, yeah, I love the New Jersey tech community. … I’ve been there a lot and I’m friends with the folks in Newark and throughout the state.”

Earlier in the conversation, Price asked Yang about his support for the universal basic income, noting that with the stimulus payments, it has almost become a reality.

“Unfortunately, we’re living in the darkest circumstances possible,” Yang replied, though he added that he was grateful to be able to advance this solution on a national stage during his presidential run. “To me, we have to lean into putting money into people’s hands.”

With the staggering amount of unemployment in the United States, “there’s going to be massive, catastrophic economic harm from this that’s layered on top of the public health crisis. And putting money into people’s hands is one of the only effective ways that we can actually give millions of Americans a path forward,” he said.

Nuclear Energy in a Reduced Carbon Future

Yang went on to promote the virtues of nuclear energy in a reduced-carbon future, although he emphasized the need to rely on good innovative technology and increased safety measures. “Now, I do think that there’s an increased amount of comfort around the good power being an important part of the climate change conversation, from a carbon-free energy point of view,” he said. “And there’s no doubt that one has to be very sophisticated and careful about the safety systems that are deployed on nuclear power plants. I hold the domestic nuclear industry safety record up against any industry in America, notwithstanding the fact that there have been some issues in the international community that has set the industry back quite a bit.”

He also expressed hope for the realization of fusion power, although he admitted that it’s not around the corner.  But he suggested that we work on it, to make it a reality some time down the road.

Workforce development is one of Yang’s big issues, and he told Price that he believes that we’ll need a Marshall Plan-scale initiative to rebuild the country, to make it through the COVID-19 crisis, “where a lower portion of Americans are working right now than at any point in recorded history,”

This is a perfect opportunity to engage in massive projects, to “dig out of that hole,” he said, adding, “and to me, green jobs, updating our infrastructure, moving towards a sustainable future should be number one.” He said that he’s optimistic that there will be major public investment in this direction.

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