For people that live on “the other” side of the Hudson River, there’s always a bit of “me versus them” in reference to anything going on in the city when contrasted to the efforts within the Garden State. Make no mistake, the New Jersey startup tech scene is growing. Broader angel investor tax incentives announced by NJ Governor Phil Murphy plus increased access to capital are making an impact.
Investment in NJ is growing
Indeed, the Garden State is getting greener. Golden Seeds recently announced their expansion into the state in partnership with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) and First Lady Tammy Murphy. Both the number of investors and the size of their respective funds – are growing. Not to mention the increasing number of pitch opportunities available, including an upcoming college student pitch contest March 24, 2020 to be hosted by StartupTribes at NJ City University.
TechCouncil Ventures now has over $55 Million, Soundboard Ventures has $8 Million with a $25 Million new fund in the works. Additionally, there are so many other investment efforts from Newark Venture Partners to Jumpstart NJ, and Jane VC. And iFund Women now has a special program dedicated to supporting women of color.
The #JerseyStrong judges and mentors
Grit Daily caught up with Mario Casabona, founder of TechLaunch, the business accelerator, and Casabona Ventures, a capital investment firm, to get a look at some of the up and coming startups in the state. On February 12, 2020, TechLauch hosted its 16th Bullpen pitch contest. The event was hosted at Casabona’s alma matter and began with opening remarks by Dr. Dale Caldwell, executive director of the Rothman Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Silberman College of Business at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU). The tireless efforts of Esther Surden, a long-time contributor as the “voice of NJ tech” with her publication of NJ Tech Weekly, were rightfully acknowledged and applauded.
Entrepreneurs are getting younger
Following the announcement of an upcoming high school student pitch contest, Will Lutz, co-director of NJIT’s Venture Link, introduced his mentee, Israel Hervias. Hervias is an undergraduate at NJIT and admirably delivered his first pitch. After overcoming some initial nervousness, Hervias, encouraged by the receptive audience, shared his solution for identifying, vetting, managing and paying independent workers offering political canvassing and literature dropping services. VisionRace, described by one audience member as the “Uber of canvassing,” is currently poised for use by regional businesses and politicians after a two year sprint.
Sam Beiler and Jared Neff, co-founders of BoostPoint, an advertising solution designed for home service providers, shared their pitch. They have developed an algorithm for hyper-local targeting of prospective buyers to advertise to. With a decade of experience in the home services and repairs business, they recognized the need to make advertising on social media 1-2-3 simple, more affordable than agency offerings, better targeted and with output guaranteed to provide advertisers with exclusive leads. Their pitch was good but the audience clearly lacked representation from home service providers so the pain of trying to create and manage ads to secure service contracts wasn’t fully appreciated.
Entrepreneurs are as diverse as their solutions
Nigel Gardner made the pitch for Audio Directions. Gardner and his seasoned team of entrepreneurs have developed proprietary, patent-pending audio-loop technology to assist the hearing impaired. Rather than collecting and amplifying sound, which is essentially how hearing devices work, their solution delivers the audio directly into your ear, in effect, “whispering” into it. Innovative concepts like a welcome mat designed for placement at a pharmacy prescription drop-off counter can aid private communication between the pharmacist and patient.
As is commonly the theme for nearly every founder, a personal connection, and hence passion, is at the heart of the company. More than 50 Million Americans have been identified as having hearing loss (Gardner is one of them), but ADA Compliance is estimated to be < 5%. Each year, 3.6 Million hearing aid devices are sold: this is critical for Audio Directions as the majority (85%) of them contain the T-coil switch that is leveraged by their solution. Their pitch victory at TechLaunch Bullpen #16 affords them with $15,000 in coaching and mentoring services along with introductions and an invitation to pitch at JumpStart NJ and TechCouncil Ventures.
The lone woman was the audience favorite
Lauren Siclare, the only female in the cast, had a terrific pitch. She has been successfully leveraging WOM (Word-of-Mom, aka Word-of-Mouth) to grow her low-tech mobile child car seat laundry service. Colorful pink vans, armed with a seat inversion tool and a stringent laundering process that meets car seat regulatory guidelines and uses organic materials – no bleach – make their way around town to various day care, fitness centers, and retailers where you would expect to find moms and tots.
BuckleBath has already established a few key partnerships that enable them to service multiple vehicles in a business parking lot. It’s no surprise that her pitch was voted as the audience favorite given the collective groan at the thought of baby vomit, cheerios, bacteria and other unmentionables often found in car seats and booster seats. Yuck! Not to mention the arduous task of re-installing the seat once it’s been cleaned.
The key takeaway
Make no mistake, NJ has had an active and thriving tech scene for some time. The only thing next is to watch it boom now that the secret’s finally out.