Business leaders 50M Newark venture fund is ‘calling card’ to tech startups

Joshua Burd//July 21, 2015//

Business leaders 50M Newark venture fund is ‘calling card’ to tech startups

Joshua Burd//July 21, 2015//

Listen to this article

It was three years ago when Donald Katz started to ask himself: Why hadn’t more companies followed his lead after 2007, when he boldly moved Audible.com from the suburbs to downtown Newark?After all, the company had thrived, adding hundreds of employees to the 125 that made the move. And with the amenities and access that the city has to offer, it seemed too good for a company to overlook.

“I began to wonder why a dozen more Audibles had not joined us to grow large in Newark, only 18 minutes from Manhattan’s Penn Station by train,” Katz said. “The rents are low, the music and hockey and food are amazing, and many more cool places to live, work and play are coming online all the time.

“It felt like Newark needed a calling card to connect the city to the explosion of the innovation economy happening just a few minutes away to the east.”

It was a vision that helped plant the seed for Newark Venture Partners, a $50 million early-stage venture fund supported by some of the city’s top corporate leaders. And it was unveiled in grand style Monday at Audible’s headquarters at One Washington Park, in a ceremony attended by some of the state’s most high-profile business leaders and public officials.

RELATED: Big names welcome $50M Newark venture fund

With backing from companies such as Audible, a subsidiary of Amazon, along with Prudential Financial and Fidelco Realty Group, the fund will provide capital and company-building services aimed at helping Newark become a national hub for tech startups. To help the city make that leap, its founders have established a 25,000-square-foot accelerator workspace at One Washington Park, where startups will have access to high-bandwidth Internet access.

The seventh-floor accelerator space will be open by the fall, accommodating as many as 50 startups that will receive investments of between $50,000 and $100,000. Thomas Wisniewski, a veteran angel investor who will lead Newark Venture Partners’ staff, said those companies will be chosen from roughly 1,000 candidates every year, but those that make it will benefit from an environment unlike any other accelerator model.

For one thing, they will have “lightning-fast Wi-Fi” on the accelerator floor, thanks largely to the advanced fiber-optic infrastructure the runs below Newark’s streets. And the entrepreneurs will have access to Katz and his team just a few floors up, who will give them “advice and counsel across every subject, every element of your business that they need.”

That’s not to mention Rutgers Business School, which also occupies One Washington Place and is providing the space rent-free.

“Those companies will be joining us here — they’ll be sitting among their peers and alongside us,” Wisniewski said. “And this creates an environment that allows us to have daily interaction with them … and provide the resources that they need on that daily interactive basis to help them succeed.”

Click here to subscribe to the NJBIZ Daily and other newsletters

Newark Venture Partners was rolled out Monday before a crowd of dignitaries such as Ray Chambers, the Newark native and philanthropist, along with former Gov. Thomas Kean and acting Gov. Kim Guadagno. Wisniewski also used the ceremony to recognize several other “key founding partners, allies who have helped turn Newark Venture Partners from an idea into this reality,” including Chambers, Marc Berson of Fidelco and New Jersey Devils owners Josh Harris, David Blitzer and Alan Fournier.

About half of the fund’s $50 million still has to be raised.

The fund’s founders also unveiled the so-called Firebolt Wi-Fi, a high-speed, outdoor free public network funded by Audible, Prudential and the Military Park Partnership. The systems covers a two-mile stretch of downtown Newark and will also be available at several community recreation centers and housing authority locations in the city.

And it ties back to what’s meant to be a key focus of the fund: fostering entrepreneurship while having a social and economic impact on the surrounding area. That focus was highlighted by U.S. Sen. and former Mayor Cory Booker, who touted the “ecosystem that is re-emerging in Newark,” including its tech sector, the higher education institutions that anchor the city and its transportation infrastructure.

“All of these things are working to build out this incredible ecosystem, which is necessary for a city like Newark to reach its potential once again,” Booker said. “So the idea of creating a space for innovators, which I’ve seen now being done in Silicon Alley, in Chicago — it is most important that it’s done right here in Newark.”


Lockheed buying helicopter maker Sikorsky for $7.1B; will be part of Mission Systems unit

Saint Clare’s CEO joining Saint Peter’s as president

NorthMarq arranges $51.85M refinance of multifamily property in Hackensack

Click here to subscribe to the NJBIZ Daily and other newsletters