Update: Bleeding-Edge AI to be Part of Solutions Offered by BetterFutureLabs Companies

BetterFutureLabs (Hoboken), the upcoming venture studio spin-off from TechUnited:NJ (Jersey City), is on its way to fruition with the hiring of Mark Yackanich, partner, to lead the enterprise.  He joins Justin Trugman, cofounder and head of technology, who came on board near the end of 2023.

The venture studio, which we first covered in 2023, is expected to incubate at least one company this year. New Jersey is supposed to get two new venture studios soon: one from Nokia Bell Labs in addition to BetterFutureLabs.

For those who don’t know, a venture studio is a program that creates startups by incubating their own ideas or ideas from their partners, according to the Harvard Business Review. BetterFutureLabs is being set up to establish companies with a better chance of success than typical startups. That’s because they will be created specifically to meet difficult unmet needs in partner industries. The objective is to create innovative companies that will prosper and stay in New Jersey.

NJTechWeekly.com spoke to Aaron Price, president and CEO of TechUnited:NJ, and to Yackanich to see how the venture studio program is progressing.  

What we found is that TechUnited:NJ has big ideas for the studio, and one of them is to enable member startups to use cutting-edge AI in their solutions. BetterFutureLabs wants to lean into the future by helping startups develop AI to assist Fortune 500 companies in the state with solutions to problems they are having.

“BetterFutureLabs is built around the premise that we can identify real problem areas” by working with our partners, Price said. “Then we can rapidly come up with solutions to vet with those partners to see: Is this a potential fit? Is this a service you would actually use? Depending on the partner, we hope to get to product/market fit and validation much more rapidly” than your typical startup could. 

The venture studio itself will leverage multi-agent systems, which include conversational AI agents, to more quickly vet ideas submitted to it. 

Trugman developed MagicJ, an AI program, to assist the BetterFutureLabs venture research team in selecting ideas to pursue for the studio. According to a TechUnited:NJ newsletter, “While still in private beta, this product will provide a key advantage in rigorously evaluating and comparing new business ideas at the earliest stages.”  Yackanich said the product is so advanced, there may be a commercial opportunity for MagicJ itself, as feedback from early demos has been extremely positive. 

Monetary support for BetterFutureLabs has come from a federal grant. Also, “Verizon has been a fantastic partner who has provided some seed capital. And, in turn, we’ve activated their Piscataway space to invite entrepreneurs for mentorship and to have a physical space to build their own businesses,” Price stated.

Yackanich, who has lived in Hoboken for 17 years, spent much of his early career in investment banking and management consulting before focusing on building businesses (including work with Hulu and NBC’s digital sites) and as an operator in several tech and media companies.  During our conversation, Yackanich noted that he had often thought there should be more startups here in New Jersey and more institutional or VC assets under management in the state. Part of the reason there are not, he said, is because there are “just not enough starts. And while building community is part of the answer, a big part of it is you just have to start things and create a supply of investable businesses that are focused on really big opportunities. That’s what I’m excited to do right now.”

Price said that BetterFutureLabs would be focused on the future of work, and Yackanich expanded on that further. 

BetterFutureLabs is not looking at another new HR [human resources] or training program, he noted.  the venture studio is looking for startup solutions that infuse bleeding-edge AI into businesses to vastly improve their processes and efficiency. 

“We’re focused on building businesses that derive sustained and durable competitive advantage from AI. We have a thesis that Justin Trugman and I are working on within AI, and that we’re heavily invested in. We believe that on the path to artificial general intelligence [AGI] and beyond it, the use of multi-agent systems will be critical.”

Trugman continued, “We’re focused on applying that technology and on building businesses also that help orchestrate and manage autonomous agents. We’re focused on founding businesses here, we’re focused on B2B businesses. But, very importantly, we are focused on deploying our expertise in the area of multi-agent systems.”

He added that some of the deep expertise BetterFutureLabs has developed “is emerging from our research and collaboration with Microsoft. So this is an area we’re heavily invested in. And we’re collaborating with Microsoft research to advance the use of autonomous multi-agent systems through open-source projects.”

Towards the end of our conversation, NJTechWeekly.com asked Yackanich about finding the right entrepreneurs and technologists to support the startups that BetterFutureLabs will enable. 

“This is where our close partnership with TechUnited is so important. We are already actively engaged with the community and with universities. We’ll have more news coming about this soon. We have a big network of entrepreneurs that we have already engaged with. We also have a smaller bullpen of entrepreneurs that we’d be very excited to work with. And when it comes to further investment from BetterFutureLabs, we will ultimately build out a talent capability that will help us organize our talent and assure us that we’re finding the right entrepreneurs to partner with,” he said.

“As you know, a business idea is great. It’s the execution that gets you there.  Execution is always built on the back of somebody with a messianic zeal to make this thing work.  I’ve done it before. It’s hard, but we believe that for the right entrepreneurs, we can be a great partner in doing that because we’ve been there and we’ve done that.”

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