Readers may well be wondering what, exactly, they are looking at. The Companies to Watch list is a compilation of businesses that are worth paying attention to because they are doing more than the ordinary operational blocking and tackling. They may be small, focused companies or global giants. They may be recently founded or able to trace their roots back more than a century. The common thread is that they are uncommonly successful. Or growing quickly. Or conducting business in a way that improves the lives of a wide range of stakeholders.
That’s how pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson can appear on the list alongside LeGrand Coffee House. How Hackensack Meridian Health made the list along with Harmony Dispensary. In each case, the businesses are attracting attention – or should be – because they are accomplishing extraordinary things.
A couple of issues should be addressed here. First, cannabis businesses are well represented. And that’s to be expected. The adult recreational business is a new industry here in New Jersey and a lot is riding on its success. Governments are counting on improved tax revenue. The law and regulations that made the industry possible and governs its operations are designed to redress wrongs that have harmed whole communities for too long. Clearly, those businesses are among the most noteworthy in the state because of the promises made on their behalf.
Second, there’s one company worth watching for perhaps the wrong reason. BlockFi was, along with many cryptocurrency exchanges, growing rapidly not long ago. But the recent industry meltdown pushed it into bankruptcy. The question of crypto’s broad legitimacy is one for another day and another forum, but BlockFi’s future will go a long way toward revealing whether such businesses can thrive. Stay tuned.
The companies are listed alphabetically. As always, NJBIZ editorial staff members are interested in your feedback. Let us know what you think of the choices – and, because this list is the first of its kind that we’ve done – what you think of the concept generally.
— Jeffrey Kanige
Real estate and restaurants; Adenah Bayoh, founder and CEO
As a first-generation immigrant from Liberia, Bayoh worked hard to establish herself as an entrepreneur and local developer. Her corporation, Adenah Bayoh and Cos., owns eight restaurants – including four IHOP franchises in northern New Jersey – and a real estate development portfolio worth more than $225 million. Bayoh also helped spearhead the long-discussed redevelopment of Irvington General Hospital. After launching her latest restaurant venture, Cornbread Farm to Soul, five years ago with Zadie Smith, the pair began rolling out franchise opportunities this fall. In addition to expanding the fast casual chain’s presence in the New York City area and beyond, Bayoh has said she wants to bring “a franchise opportunity to everyone, especially to give the chance for minorities and women to run a restaurant they will be proud of.”
Fort Lee, Montclair, Rochelle Park
Cannabis dispensary; Frank Perullo, interim chief executive officer, president and co-founder
With dispensaries in Rochelle Park, Montclair and Fort Lee that are licensed to sell both recreational and medical cannabis, the Garden State has become a leading growth driver in 2022 for multi-state operator Ascend Wellness Holdings Inc. After New Jersey launched its recreational cannabis marketplace in April, New York City-based Ascend secured the necessary state and local approvals to sell adult-use cannabis out of its existing medical dispensaries in the Garden State. The MSO has also expanded production to include edibles from its new cultivation facility in Franklin and sells product to over two dozen dispensaries across New Jersey. During its Nov. 10 quarterly earnings call, AWH interim CEO, President and co-founder Frank Perullo reported that Rochelle Park and Montclair are off to strong starts and that the company expects similar results at its newly opened Fort Lee store, which is New Jersey’s closest dispensary to New York City.
Hospital system; Brian Gragnolati, CEO
Atlantic Health’s Morristown Medical Center – the system’s flagship facility – routinely earns top honors on best hospitals lists. This year alone, Newsweek’s World’s Best Hospitals for 2022 listed just seven facilities from New Jersey, with Morristown being the highest at No. 46. Morristown and Overlook Medical Center were the only Garden State hospitals to make Healthgrades 2022 America’s Best 50 Hospitals list, placing the system in the top 1% of nearly 4,500 hospitals nationwide. But AHS isn’t sitting still. Last year, Atlantic became the majority corporate member in CentraState, which joined the former’s network. Earlier in 2022, AHS expanded its reach further when it acquired seven Immediate Care urgent care locations. With $3.3 billion in revenue, that (growing) network includes an 18,000-member team serving 11 counties and a region covering 4.9 million New Jerseyans. And CEO Brian Gragnolati is an active and influential voice on health care policy, having served as chair of the American Hospital Association and holding a spot on the organization’s nominating committee, which helps to identify future leaders.
Audio books, podcast provider; Don Katz, executive chairman
At a time when tech companies are struggling with public image problems, Audible stands out as one of the most highly regarded corporate citizens. The company is held in high esteem not only in its home city of Newark, but around the state as well. Why? Well, start with its creation of the Global Center for Urban Development, which established and funded a program paying dozens of primarily Black and Latino-owned restaurants to prepare meals for the city’s low-income seniors and families. As of December, Newark Working Kitchens has delivered nearly 1.5 million meals, reaching 10,000 residents across 70 locations. Last fall, Audible also launched a discretionary spending pilot program, inspired by Newark’s universal guaranteed income initiative, that offers a weekly stipend in an effort to drive spending and support the city’s post-pandemic economic recovery. In May, founder and Executive Chairman Don Katz and Vice President of Urban Innovation Aisha Glover were joined by elected officials, business leaders, Audible employees and city residents to celebrate the debut of installations by local artists at the Amazon subsidiary’s newly renovated Newark headquarters at 1 Washington Park and in the surrounding downtown area. Highly skilled tech employees are drawn to the company because of such efforts, giving it a leg up in a competitive hiring environment.
Crypto exchange; Zac Prince, founder and CEO
Much like the rest of the collapsing crypto sector, BlockFi has experienced the highest of highs and now the lowest of lows. After a rapid rise over the last few years, including topping the Inc. 5000 list, the Jersey City crypto firm got caught up in the fallout of FTX, announcing a withdrawal pause followed by the filing of bankruptcy protection. “As part of its restructuring efforts, the company will focus on recovering all obligations owed to BlockFi by its counterparties, including FTX and associated corporate entities,” BlockFi said in its announcement. “Due to the recent collapse of FTX and its ensuing bankruptcy process, which remains ongoing, the company expects that recoveries from FTX will be delayed.” Because of these developments, BlockFi becomes a bellwether for crypto: Can a company resurface from the tidal wave swallowing up the entire industry? “We know the past few days have been incredibly difficult for you,” BlockFi wrote in a letter to clients on Nov. 14. “We are deeply saddened to see the devastation that is cascading across an industry that we love and believe in, touching the lives of so many people. Our top priority remains doing the best we can for our clients.”
Candy distributor; Joseph Lees, president
Founded in 1865, Casani Candy Co. considers itself “America’s oldest candy distributor.” Originally based in Philadelphia – whose ports enabled easy access to rum, sugar and molasses, and made the city a hub for East Coast candy production – Casani established itself as a player in the industry. In 2010, a commercial development forced the family owned and operated company to relocate across the Delaware River to Pennsauken, where it is still going strong. Casani offers an extensive selection of bulk candies, ranging from classic products, such as bubble gum, gummy worms, licorice and melting chocolate to iconic staples, like pop rocks and candy buttons. It also carries beloved brands like Hershey’s, Nestle, Necco, Jelly Belly and Mars.
Health system; Kevin O’Dowd, Anthony Mazzarelli, co-presidents/CEO
“Imagine $2 billion, the largest single capital private sector investment in the history of the region, and perhaps, the State of New Jersey,” George Norcross, Cooper’s chairman, said in September announcing a new expansion that is expected to transform and grow the Camden campus, and amount to a reconstruction of Cooper. The project will create more than 100 new private rooms – including the addition of three clinical buildings – using emerging technologies and innovations while providing greater education and teaching space and, of course, creating jobs and economic impact. Gov. Murphy said that the investment will touch all facets of the community, describing the campus as a true engine for Camden’s growth. “Today, Cooper announces probably for the fourth time in its 135-year history that it will remain in the city of Camden forever,” Norcross added. “It will never abandon this city. And to create opportunities for all of those that are cared for here, those who work here. Opportunity for those who live and work in the city, who care about this institution which has been here 135 years.” Building on that momentum, in November, Cooper’s credit rating was upgraded by S&P Global Ratings to an A- from BBB+ — the highest in that 135-year history. “Today’s credit rating upgrade is validation of Cooper’s financial strength, our prudent growth strategies, and the tremendous work by our dedicated team members,” O’Dowd said.
Financial services; Gilles Gade, CEO
Cross River Bank is based in Fort Lee, but its reach “at the intersection of banking & technology” is international. The financial services company has originated more than $100 billion in loans since its founding in 2008 in addition to offering a range of products and services, establishing partnerships, and engaging in communities to help enable financial inclusion. In 2022, it expanded its payment services, pairing with American Express and allowing Cross River to issue credit cards on behalf of fintechs on the AMEX network. Advancing another priority, the fall saw the launch of nation-al advocacy group Fintech Future, which “supports responsible innovation that breaks down traditional barriers to wealth creation and bridges the access gap to modern financial services in historically excluded communities.” With strong foundations – in addition to Cross River its members include U.S. Black Chambers, Operation HOPE and others – it stands to have potential impact. Glob-ally, Cross River has a deep connection to Israel, and is a longstanding partner with the Israel Economic Mission – work that helps to expand the ecosystem by connecting entrepreneurs from that country to U.S. partners. With more than 850 employees and over 80 partnerships, like its logo, Cross River’s potential seems infinite. In the spring, its parent company, CRB Group Inc., announced a $620 million financing — increasing the odds there’s much more to come. “Cross River is powering the future digital economy and changing lives by reinventing the way financial services are accessed,” its founder, President and CEO Gilles Gade said in a statement at the time. “The quality of the investor group and size … will enable us to accelerate the growth of Cross River as the foundation of modern finance.”
Architecture and design; Jeff Venezia, CEO/Vince Myers, president
DIGroup Architecture traces its roots to a group of small firms that banded together to work on school projects at a time when such work was mainly handled by larger competitors. Today, New Brunswick-based DIGroup ranks among the largest minority-owned businesses in the region and has become a significant player in its own right. And its leaders take that role seriously. “Part of it we do take responsibility for — we need to do a better job everybody, needs to do a better job if we’re going to move things forward,” President Vince Myers told NJBIZ earlier this year. “I can’t just sit back and go ‘where’s all the work? How come I don’t have this and how come I don’t have that?’ We have to go out and we have to get work and we have to let other people know who we are, what we stand for, the work that we’ve done, our reputation and get that message out there.” The firm – under its motto “Architecture for Change” – focuses on projects in academia, health care, senior living, and municipal and civic settings.
Organic farming; Jim Kras, CEO
Founded in 2015, the next generation agricultural company’s locally grown, sustainable lettuce, organic herbs, hydro basil, salad kits and protein powders can be found at over 4,000 stores, in-cluding ShopRite, Weis Markets, Meijer and King Kullen. Led by Chief Executive Officer Jim Kras, Edible Garden operates its own state-of-the-art greenhouses and processing facilities and has a net-work of contract growers, all strategically located near major markets in the U.S. During 2022, the company was focused on adding new retail distribution partners, expanding relationships with existing collaborators and expanding the mix of products available at each retailer. Edible Garden is also working on further optimization of its supply chain and enhancing product lines with new, higher margin, complementary offerings. Some achievements this year included: acquiring a 5-acre greenhouse facility in Grand Rapids, Mich., and launching on the Nasdaq in May with a $14.7 million initial public offering (IPO).
Investment firm; Chris Sugden, managing partner
Edison Partners is one of New Jersey’s most prominent private capital firms. With more than 263 investments and 214 exits, Edison focuses on fintech, health care IT, and enterprise solutions. Earlier this year, the firm led an investment round for end-to-end real estate brokerage and homeownership platform Houwzer, raising $118 million in Series B financing, including $18 million in equity funding. Managing Partner Chris Sugden has led dozens of new investments at Edison and nearly 50 rounds of financing. He’s served as director of more than 25 portfolio companies and currently sits on the board of six of them. In the spring, the firm closed its 10th fund — the largest in its 36-year history. Edison Partners X, oversubscribed at $450 million, is the firm’s third consecutive fund dedicated to growth equity since 2015. Addressing the gap in the $10 million to $30 million emerging market in geographies outside of Silicon Valley, the firm said Fund X includes seven investments, five of which are from underserved geographies: Kaiyo (New York), MacroFab (Houston), Prepaid Technologies (Birmingham), Recycle Track Systems (New York), Slingshot Aerospace (Austin), Solutions by Text (Dallas) and Spiffy (Charlotte, N.C.). “Fund X continues Edison Partners’ successful track record, some would call an ‘old-school,’ disciplined approach to investing in and growing capital-efficient, high-growth businesses in fintech, health care IT, and enterprise SaaS outside Silicon Valley,” Sugden said at the time.
Health care; Haruto Naito, CEO
Eisai had an extremely exciting 2022, which it will look to build on even further in 2023. The company moved its U.S. headquarters to the ON3 Campus in Nutley, the iconic former site of Roche. Eisai is at the center of a burgeoning life sciences community on that campus, which officials hope will drive job growth, research and economic development. “We’re excited to welcome the new Eisai US hhceco Center to our very own Nutley, New Jersey. This new collaborative and innovative center will bring hundreds of jobs to our state,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at the ribbon cutting in August. “New Jersey has become a hub for innovation in many industries, and Eisai’s extraordinary innovative research that will take place here will contribute to life-changing scientific and medical solutions for people living with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.” The 332,800-square-foot facility – which can accommodate 1,300 employees – will serve as the hub for Eisai’s “hhc,” or human health care mission, focused on addressing health care’s most pressing challenges. An example came in November when Eisai and Biogen confirmed that the Alzheimer’s drug they partnered to develop, Lecanemab, slowed cognitive decline in patients.
Energy storage systems; Joe Mastrangelo, CEO
Eos Energy is in a great spot. The state, and much of the nation, is moving toward greener, alternative energy sources such as solar and wind. The facilities that produce clean power – solar panel arrays, wind turbines, and the like – only generate electricity when the sun is out and the wind is blowing, so a method to store energy for use on calm, cloudy days is an absolute necessity. And that’s what Eos does: build large scale power storage systems. The company went public two years ago in a merger with a special purpose acquisition company and has embarked on an ambitious expansion program. It started 2022 by announcing that it will expand its manufacturing facility near Pittsburgh to more than triple output to 800 MWh and meet production demand for its Znyth aqueous zinc batteries. The expansion of the state-of-the-art Keystone Commons facility, located in Turtle Creek, Pa., will provide Eos with more than 46,000 square feet of additional space and the ability to create more than 125 jobs, the company said at the time. Over the summer, Eos opened its Ingenuity Lab at its Edison headquarters, focused on expanding the company’s R&D capacity as it designs future generations of the Znyth. “The launch of the Ingenuity Lab underscores our commitment to building the energy storage solutions of the future,” CEO Joe Mastrangelo said at the time. “We have always prioritized innovation and continuous improvement as part of our company identity, but to have a designated site where this can be fostered will help accelerate adoption of energy storage and its critical role in the renewable energy transition.”
Financial services; Ira Zlotowitz, founder & CEO
Founded in 2021, GPARENCY is just getting started, in a big way. And NJBIZ isn’t alone in that assessment: The Howell-based commercial mortgage brokerage was named one of the top startups of 2022 by LinkedIn, ranking at No. 35 out of 50. When that list was published in September the company reported 70 employees — flash forward less than two months and it’s looking to more than double that head count. At the start of December, GPARENCY put out the call that it would celebrate one year in business by adding more than 100 new part- and full-time salespeople by the end of 2023’s first quarter. That kick to increase staff started in the summer with the addition of its first CFO, following a record July that saw the company sign 36 contracts, including $9.2 million- and $12.5 million-multifamily bridge loans. In addition to offering jobs, the company is also offering experience through its affordable and virtual 30-day educational and mentorship course: GPAREN-CY Experience, helping to break down barriers to entering the industry. In November, it was reported that the company hit $50 million in listings (representing more than 20,000 nationwide properties) on its Digital Marketplace — proprietary software that had launched just the month prior. In announcing the significant gains the company had made over the summer, GPARENCY founder, owner and CEO Ira Zlotowitz said the startup’s aim “has always been to shift the narrative of the CRE industry.” With a year in business almost under its belt, GPARENCY’s beginnings seem to be the start of a compelling story.
Hospital system; Robert Garrett, CEO
Through an active M&A program and strong organic growth, Hackensack Meridian Health became one of the state’s largest and most prominent hospital systems. That strategy hit a difficult hurdle in 2022 when a federal court upheld a move by antitrust regulators to block a merger between HMH and Englewood Health. Nonetheless, the system still boasts 17 hospitals, 500 patient care locations, 36,000 team members and 7,000 physicians. And CEO Robert Garrett told NJBIZ after, that while the antitrust climate might limit traditional M&A opportunities, HMH would still pursue partnerships and other arrangements to continue its growth. Part of that growth will come from a fundraising campaign launched at the system’s annual meeting this year. The effort will be led by former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Peter Cancro, CEO of Jersey Mike’s Subs – another company to watch. As if to punctuate its plans, HMH recently unveiled the $714 million expansion of Hackensack University Medical Center, an undertaking that is considered one of the largest and most comprehensive health care construction projects in the U.S. In November, hospital officials conducted a tour of the Helena Theurer Pavilion, a brand new, nine-story, 530,000-square-foot surgical and intensive care tower in Hackensack. Equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and amenities, HMH executives are confident the pavilion will raise the bar on patient-centered health care in the region and beyond once it begins accepting patients in late December.
Casino; Anthony Faranca, Hard Rock AC property president
Hard Rock’s dramatic transformation of the former Taj Mahal continues, turning the property into one of the go-to event and convention destinations in Atlantic City. In addition to all of the reconstruction already done, Hard Rock is reinvesting $20 million in capital improvements that include suite renovations, a new Starbucks, more slots and table games, a new dining outlet and a refresh of beach amenities. That trend is part of a wider reinvestment effort throughout Atlantic City. In August, Anthony Faranca was promoted to president of the property, taking the helm from the departing Joe Lupo. “Anthony’s deep knowledge of the Atlantic City and Northeast region is an invaluable asset to the company,” said Jim Allen, Hard Rock International chairman. In September, Hard Rock International made headlines by announcing a $100 million investment to increase wages for half of its U.S. workforce. During the 25th Annual East Coast Gaming Congress, which took place at Hard Rock in October, Allen stressed that investing in people is vital and that the wage increases were potentially life-changing for some of its employees. “And I think in today’s environment, it’s not just rewarding people when the numbers are great,” said Allen. “It’s being there when times are tough.”
Cannabis retailer; Shaya Brodchandel, CEO
Harmony Foundation was one of the first entities to begin operating under the state’s Medicinal Cannabis Program. Since opening its doors in June 2018, Harmony’s cultivation and dispensary facility serves nearly 6,200 medicinal-use patients who are seeking relief from a variety of ailments. Harmony’s second location in Lafayette, which won operational approval in May, has enabled the foundation to expand its product variety through onsite cultivation, manufacturing and extraction. On Dec. 2, Harmony became the first New Jersey-based nonprofit medical dispensary to expand into New Jersey’s recreational use market. As part of its plan to enter the dual market, Harmony aims to open dispensaries in Hoboken and Jersey City. Brodchandel, who is also president of the New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association, has spent the past few years working to help entrepreneurs overcome the challenges associated with establishing themselves in the industry.
Sandwich chain; Peter Cancro, CEO
Founded in 1956, the business started out as Mike’s Subs, a small sandwich shop in Point Pleasant. Since then, the fast casual franchise – now headquartered in Manasquan – has expanded to over 2,300 restaurants nationwide, including more than 100 in the Garden State. In 2021, Jersey Mike’s opened 246 new shops, a 13.1% increase over the previous year — an accomplishment that earned the company several recognitions, including the No. 1 spot on QSR’s fastest growing quick service restaurants in the U.S., No. 4 on Entrepreneur’s 2022 Franchise 500, No. 14 on Franchise Times’ Fast & Serious List for “Smartest Growing Brands” and No. 23 on Fast Casual’s Top 100 Movers & Shakers. Jersey Mike’s was also ranked No. 38 on the Forbes Halo 100 List, highlighting customer experience excellence. Additionally, the chain’s Grilled Portabella Mushroom & Swiss Sub was named Best Health Fast Food Sandwich in the 2022 Eat This, Not That! Food Awards.
Health care; Joaquin Duato, CEO
Everything old is new again. And that’s certainly true of J&J, which sits on the precipice of its split into two public companies: Johnson & Johnson, a medical device and pharmaceutical business, and the recently dubbed consumer health-focused Kenvue, which boasts brands including Aveeno, Band-Aid, Listerine, Neutrogena, Tylenol, Johnson’s and others. The more than 135-year-old company will also begin 2023 with new leadership. Sure, CEO Joaquin Duato has been in that post since the start of 2022, but in the new year he’ll also transition to serving as chairman of the board when the man who has led the New Brunswick-based health care giant for nearly a decade, Alex Gorsky, departs from his remaining executive chairman post. The changing of the guard comes as the company rides a high, having initiated a $5 billion share repurchase program in September. At the time, Duato said the shares represented an “attractive investment opportunity,” adding that, “With our strong cash flow and lowest level of net debt in five years, we have the ability to invest in innovation, grow our dividend, execute strategic acquisitions, and take this action to deliver shareholder returns and drive long-term growth.” The announcement was followed two months later by news of J&J’s $16.6 billion-addition of medical technology company Abiomed. Important to pay attention to as well – and in part due to its precedent-setting implications for other companies beyond the outcome for J&J – is the attempt to fend off lawsuits regarding cancer-causing claims for its talc-based powder. By invoking a legal maneuver known as the “Texas two-step,” LTL Management LLC was established to hold and manage such claims and subsequently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year.
Coffee shop; Eric LeGrand, founder and CEO
Even for someone as accomplished as Eric LeGrand, 2022 was a particularly special year. And LeGrand is poised to do even more in 2023, continuing to take his next steps forward as an entrepreneur. In May, the former Rutgers football star opened LeGrand Coffee House in his native Woodbridge, a project that is at the center of a major downtown revitalization project. “It takes a whole village,” said LeGrand during that ribbon cutting ceremony. “And you guys have always supported me throughout the entire State of New Jersey. And I’m so thankful.” Added Gov. Phil Murphy: “This place is rocking. This is going to be a real anchor tenant in town. To have Eric’s name on the door, it’s just so totally cool.” And in addition to becoming an pillar in downtown Woodbridge in just a few short months, LeGrand Coffee House was also selected as the 2022-23 season recipient of the New Jersey Devils Buy Black Program presented by Prudential Financial. The company logo is being featured on the Devils’ helmets for all road games. “Our selection committee had another extremely difficult choice, but to a person, Eric’s story was impactful, powerful and resonated with everyone and we are proud to partner with Prudential Financial to take LeGrand Coffee House to its highest levels of success,” said Jake Reynolds, New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center president. “Whether you are walking into the store in Woodbridge, drinking a cup at Prudential Center for a Devils game, or getting it delivered to your home, we look forward to spreading LeGrand Coffee House’s ‘Daily cup of bELieve!” LeGrand is also working on another, perhaps more potent project, LeGrand Whiskey, which he and his team have been teasing on social media.
Education; Brendon Robinson, president and co-founder; Stanley Okoro, vice president and co-founder
Launched earlier this year by two New Jersey entrepreneurs, Brendon Robinson and Stanley Okoro, the Minority Cannabis Academy is a first-of-its-kind, nonprofit workforce development program that aims to provide a pathway for minorities that want to begin working in the state’s legalized cannabis marketplace. Thanks to the financial and professional backing of Harmony Dispensary Chief Executive Officer Shaya Brodchandel for its first cohort, the eight-week, free program gives participants a full hands-on experience of what it’s like to work in the cannabis industry and prepares them for a wide range of positions, including as CEOs, store managers and cultivation directors. As part of its mission to help disenfranchised communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, the MCA also provides job placement for students upon completion of the course.
Energy provider; Steven Westhoven, CEO
New Jersey Resources is looking toward the future, embedding sustainability efforts into its framework and outlook as the nature of how and where we get our energy from evolves. In a letter on its website, President and CEO Steve Westhoven wrote that “2021 was a pivotal year as federal, state and local policy continued to evolve to meet these challenges, creating new opportunities for our company to grow and thrive.” On the downward trajectory are NJR’s own emissions in New Jersey, which it’s lowered by more than 50% since 2006 levels en route to a net-zero emissions goal for state operations by 2050. On the upswing is its financial performance. For Fiscal Year 2022, NJR reported consolidated net income of $274.9 million — increased significantly from 2021’s $117.9 million. And NJR is also making progress on its strategic growth initiatives. That includes projects like a recently completed, 56,900-solar-panel installation in Mount Olive — according to NJR, the largest capped solar array in the state and one of the biggest in the country. As one of the largest solar owner-operators in New Jersey, NJR has already sunk more than $1 billion into the clean energy systems over the past 10 years and says it plans to invest another $850 million through FY 2024. In Howell, meanwhile, NJR established the first green hydrogen project on the East Coast. There, the gas is produced using 100% renewable energy from an on-site solar installation. Aside from boosting the company’s cred, the outpost has the potential to amplify green hydrogen, generally. Additionally, and teeing the company up nicely, the infrastructure to serve green hydrogen is already in place: the product blends directly into NJR’s already-existent pipeline infrastructure network.
Energy provider; David Hardy, Orsted Offshore North American CEO
Ørsted is at the center of one of the most consequential projects in New Jersey, and perhaps the country, partnering with PSEG on Ocean Wind 1, the state’s first offshore wind effort. The project, expected to be completed in 2024, will be able to power nearly 500,000 New Jersey homes while creating approximately 1,500 jobs and contributing more than $500 million each year to the state’s economy. Ørsted is also working with the state to marshal Ocean Wind 1 via the New Jersey Wind Port. “As the nation’s leading offshore wind energy company, Ørsted is committed to transforming ambition into action in order to create a world that runs entirely on green energy,” said Ørsted Offshore North American Chief Executive Officer David Hardy in April. “New Jersey is on the forefront of wind energy technology, and through our partnership the Ocean Wind 1 project will deliver hundreds of jobs, clean energy, and transformative infrastructure to the region.” In October, Ørsted cut the ribbon on its new North American Digital Operations Headquarters in Newark, a facility that will be central to the company’s offshore wind efforts in the Garden State as well as being a hub for local educational and community partnerships. “We are focused on creating local educational opportunities that build solid foundations and bridges to opportunities that enable New Jersey students to have access to new clean energy job opportunities created in their home state,” said Kathleen Frangione, head of government affairs and market strategy for Ørsted.
Snack maker; Michael Rosenberg, president and CEO
The former Promotion in Motion certainly has velocity. In 2021, the company rebranded as PIM Brands Inc. and moved its headquarters to Park Ridge. When it signed the lease for the space in November 2019 the agreement – for more than 110,000 square feet – marked the largest new office transaction completed in Bergen County up until that point in the year. Ahead of PIM Brands taking occupancy, the space – which includes R&D, tasting and sensory labs; a pilot manufacturing lab; graphics studios; retail plan-o-gram layout rooms; office and conference space; and more – underwent a nearly $25 million renovation. In addition to physical moves, the snack maker behind favorites like Welch’s Fruit Snacks, Sun-Maid Chocolate Raisins, Tuxedos Chocolate Almonds and others, was ranked as one of the top candy companies by Candy Industry in this year’s “Sweet 60,” placing at No. 10 — a two-place jump over the previous year. Earlier in 2022, it was named one of the nation’s fastest-growing consumer pack-aged goods companies, ranking at No. 13 in the “small companies” category. At the time, CEO and President Michael Rosenberg said it was the sixth time the company had been recognized in just 10 years. “Our talented and passionate team of associates and vendor partners stepped up during 2021 despite supply chain challenges, as best as was possible, to optimize deliveries of our loved brands to retailers and consumers,” he said at the time, indicating that more high points are on the horizon. “At PIM we remain laser focused on the future and in bringing bite after mouth-watering bite of joy to consumers across North America and around the world.”
Food vending; Audley McBrian Wilson, partner & CEO; Dan Braido, partner & CTO; Andy Siegel, partner & CMO
In recent years, the food industry has increasingly added automated processes into businesses, but a Newark-based company has taken it a step further by creating a ro-bot-in-a-box that can cook hamburgers to order. After being launched in 2019 by Audley Wilson, Dan Braido and Andy Siegel, RoboBurger unveiled its namesake vending machine in April as part of a pop-up experience at the Newport Centre Mall in Jersey City that drew much media and mentions from celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. Billed as the world’s first fully autonomous burger vending robot, the innovative machine uses a five-step process to cook and assemble restaurant-quality burgers made from 100% grass and vegetarian-fed Angus beef and artisanal buns sourced from local bakers. Following its trial run at the mall, RoboBurger used customer feedback to improve taste and cooking time to create RoboBurger 2.0, a unit that can cook a burger in four to five minutes – and even quicker when the grill is hot. Now, the minority-owned company has its sights set on expanding across the tri-state area and beyond. In November, RoboBurger opened its first higher education location at St. John’s University in New York, giving the campus 24/7 access to freshly grilled burgers. RoboBurger is also working with some of the largest companies in the U.S. to help them improve their food offerings by providing people with access to freshly cooked food, 24 hours a day, without having to leave the building, whether it’s a university, workplace, hospital or transportation hub. In December, the company received one of the first three Back 2 Business grant awards from Fiserv.
Health system; Barry Ostrowsky, CEO (retiring)
Whenever big things happen in health care around the state, RWJBarnabas is not far from the scene. One of the biggest is a collaboration between RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey that is creating New Jersey’s first freestanding cancer hospital in New Brunswick. Slated to open in 2024, the hospital will accommodate inpatient and outpatient treatment, research laboratories, retail space and ancillary services. And earlier in the fall, RWJ broke ground on a $225 million, five-story, 137,000-square-foot cancer center on its Livingston campus. The new facility, which is set to be completed in 2025, will serve as the northern hub for the integrated oncology services offered by RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute. The construction is part of the expansion of those services, as well as an ongoing transformation of the medical campus. “The new Cancer Center at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center will be a regional destination for cancer care, building on the medical center’s longstanding legacy of clinical expertise and compassionate, patient-centered diagnosis and treatment,” said Richard Davis, the hospital’s president and CEO. The center will feature medical, surgical and radiation oncology services all under one roof with holistic support services that will include a wig and prosthetic studio; teaching kitchen; and yoga, reiki and music therapy. While the system’s proposed merger with Saint Peter’s University Health System was thwarted by regulators, RWJBarnabas continues to move forward. It recently received what it said is the largest donation to a hospital in New Jersey history: a $100 million gift that renamed Saint Barnabas Medical Center as Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center.
Grooming products; Calvin Quallis, founder and CEO
Scotch Porter/Quallis Brands’ products aren’t just clean – made from ingredients like aloe, kale and shea butter – they’re also made right here in New Jersey. And they’re a hit, cropping up across a range of publications – from Vice to Huffington Post to Essence – as recommended gifts or current obsessions. If you don’t purchase directly from Scotch Porter, it could be you’re already familiar with the affordable men’s grooming products from seeing them at CVS, where the brand recently hit shelves at nearly 2,300 stores across the nation, or Target. Founder and CEO Calvin Quallis is also involved with every millennial mom’s favorite store through his capacity as a founder in residence in its Target Accelerator Program, where he mentors minority-brand founders. Beyond that work, paying back is also built into the operations of Quallis’s company, as well, through the Scotch Porter Impact Fund. Launched in the fall, the company has pledged to contribute 2% of online U.S. sales and more than 1% of total sales to the effort — so far garnering more than $238,000 in donations. Accord-ing the founder, the Fund allows the company to “collectively play a part in advancing the economic empowerment and success of underserved, previously excluded groups.” And there’s still more to come. This spring, the East Orange-based company closed an $11 million Series B funding round. At the time, Quallis said the money would go toward scaling operations and expanding its products. In October, it made inroads on that growth with a handful of executive appointments, preparing the company for its next stage.
Information Technology; Thai Lee, CEO
The Somerset-based IT solutions provider continues to roll along and even expand. In March, SHI announced a whopping 10% growth in 2021 over the previous year, bringing in $12.3 billion in revenue — remarkable figures achieved during the throes of the pandemic. In the fall, the company announced a multiyear agreement to be-come an official technology partner of the LPGA Tour. “Partnering with the LPGA allows SHI an opportunity to have different conversations with business and IT leaders in a new and fun environment, growing our relationships through a love of golf and an admiration of the world-class abilities the LPGA players possess,” said Thai Lee, co-founder, president and CEO of SHI International. The LPGA partnership is SHI’s second foray into sports sponsorship, in addition to a stadium naming rights deal with Rutgers. In November, the company opened its Nexus Integration Center in the U.K., a state-of-the-art, 46,000-square-foot facility. “The opening of the Nexus Integration Center is another key milestone in SHI’s continuing U.K., European, and international expansion plans,” said Celeste Lee, senior vice president of SHI’s International Division. With more than 6,000 employees worldwide, SHI is the largest Minority- and Woman-Owned Business Enterprise in the U.S.
Alternative energy provider; Shaun Keegan, CEO
A 2022 NJBIZ Best Places to Work honoree, Solar Landscape continues its role as a leading full-service developer, designer, installer, owner and operator of community solar and solar energy solutions for the commercial, municipal, public school and nonprofit marketplaces. Over the summer, Solar Landscape announced that its statewide community solar projects have saved low- and moderate- income customers an average of 20% on electricity costs. “We know the guaranteed savings from our community solar projects make a big difference to hardworking New Jersey families, giving more residents a choice, they can feel good about both for the environmental and financial benefits,” said Solar Landscape CEO Shaun Keegan. In June, the company showed its community commitment by installing more than 3,300 panels at four Asbury Park schools pro bono, which will save the schools $120,000 per year. “As an Asbury Park-based company, being a good partner to our local community – especially students and educators – is a driving force behind our mission and is a core reason that our 100-plus employees come to work every day,” said Keegan. In addition to its work with schools, Solar Landscape operates two-thirds of the state’s active community solar projects.
Investment firm; Sean O’Sullivan, CEO
As part of the HAX partnership with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the Princeton-based venture capital firm is at the center of the state’s burgeoning innovation economy. Over the summer, SOSV announced the signing of a 10-year lease in Newark that will serve as the U.S. headquarters for the HAX hard tech startup accelerator. SOSV intends to take 100 companies through the HAX program over the next five years, including investing $250,000 in each of the startups. In addition to the anticipated economic activity from the venture, SOSV is forming partnerships with educational institutions and community stakeholders. In August, Duncan Turner, general partner at SOSV, called HAX “the biggest thing that we’ve ever really done.” NJEDA Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan calls HAX “a game-changer” for the New Jersey economy. “Newark was built by entrepreneurs whose innovations propelled the city and the state forward,” said Sullivan. “Now, HAX will be able to provide hard tech startups a place to flourish and succeed in the heart of the state’s largest city.” In November, HAX was approved for support from NJ Accelerate, NJEDA’s partner accelerator program, becoming one of five startup development programs cleared to participate in the initiative.
Specialty retailer; Steven Silverstein, CEO
Since its founding 39 years ago as a pop-up store in a San Francisco mall, Spirit Halloween has become the go-to destination for decorations, props, costumes and accesso-ries for the spookiest night of the year. After being acquired in 1999 by Spencer Gifts – the mall brand known for gag gifts – Spirit is headquartered in Egg Harbor Township and considered the country’s largest seasonal retailer. Each year, Spirit opens more than 1,450 pop-up locations across North America, making use of vacant retail space from late summer to a few days after Oct. 31. Spirit’s network of seasonal stores is bigger than any other specialty retailer in the category and serves a Halloween consumer market that the National Retail Federation estimates to be around $10.7 billion annually. Die-hard Halloween enthusiasts can also visit Spirit’s online store, available year-round. Spirit’s approach of inhabiting shuttered stores has become synonymous in recent years with the retail apocalypse, inspiring countless internet memes. In 2022, Spirit became the toast of social media when Halloween revelers, celebrities and brands began sharing self-made memes of the company’s widely recognized costume bag with their own spin on the characters inside. Spirit also helped produce “Spirit Halloween: The Movie,” a film released in September starring Christopher Lloyd and Rachel Leigh Cook that follows middle schoolers locked in a haunted Spirit Halloween store on Halloween night.
Gas distributor; Michael Stivala, CEO
“I hope to continue to lead Suburban Propane as an innovative company that continues to make strides toward creating an economy-wide transition to a sustainable-energy future,” Michael Stivala, Suburban Propane CEO, told NJBIZ this year when asked where he hopes to be in the next five years. “In addition, I hope to continue our robust support of the communities in which we operate.” And the Whippany-based gas provider, which serves nearly 1 million customers across the company’s 42-state footprint, continues to make those strides. In March, Suburban Propane launched Suburban Renewables to serve as the platform for the company’s investments in innovative, renewable energy businesses and assets. At the same time, it purchased a 25% equity stake in Independence Hydrogen Inc. To further those green efforts, Suburban Propane in May announced a collaboration with Iwatani Corp. of America to advance the adoption of low-carbon alternative energy solutions across multiple applications in the propane market, including propane blended with renewable dimethyl ether. The collaboration is focused on advancing investments in hydrogen infrastructure and transportation services across the country. “We are leading the way to decarbonizing the propane industry, and this collaboration will help drive even more aggressive carbon reduction in multiple applications,” said Stivala. “In recognition of the growing role that hydrogen will play in a sustainable energy future, we continue to identify opportunities to diversify our business and leverage our significant energy experience to support hydrogen investments in the United States.”
Information technology; Joshua Weiss, CEO
Linden-based tech company TeliApp Corp. isn’t just one to watch – it’s part of the ecosystem helping to support other companies, giving “you everything you need to start or evolve a product or service-based business.” According to the creative agency and software development firm, its 18 professionals have been enlisted to help more than 100 startups, enterprises and Fortune 100 firms. That work is spread across several services: FetchPro, connecting remote workers in a safe, secure and speedy manner; IT, offering options including web design and hosting for federal, state and local governments; Labs, customizable software currently in use by the likes of Walmart, United Airlines and Barnes & Noble, among others; Studios, its marketing and PR services, which include branding and web design; and AI by way of its engine, Draconis, which is woven throughout the company’s products and offerings. “With the capacity to detect, analyze and predict trends our proprietary technology is used to influence human behavioral patterns to achieve positive outcomes,” according to TeliApp. The engine, whose name comes from the Latin for dragon, helps to bridge the disconnect between available data and insights derived from it. This year, Clutch ranked the company – which also has office locations in New York City and Philadelphia – in the top half of its list of Garden State B2B service providers with a five-star rating.
Recycling; Tom Szaky, CEO
TerraCycle does so many cool things it’s hard to pick a place to start. Maybe the best place to begin is with its mission: “Eliminating the Idea of Waste.” From its base in Trenton, the company led by CEO Tom Szaky is helping folks around the world (it operates in 22 countries) recycle and reuse items that have traditionally found their way to landfills. Maybe you can’t kick your smoking habit, but you can stop kicking those butts to the curb. It’s unclear if TerraCycle’s Cigarette Waste Free Recycling Program takes its inspiration from the large-scale repurposing of cigarette filters as seen in the 1996 film “Bio-Dome,” but the initiative does allow customers to send in items you’ve probably never thought of as recyclable: those filters, the outer plastic and inner foil packaging, and of course, those extinguished smokes. But that program is just one among many from TerraCycle that is helping people think differently about what they do with their supposed refuse. They’re also helping rethink how reclaimed products can be reused. Take the picnic tables they installed across Mercer County this summer, you probably can’t tell from looking, but the furniture is made from Taco Bell sauce packets. The result of its first quick service restaurant collaboration, the company collected enough pouches to cover 13 football fields — making for a large lot kept out of landfills. In the vein of perpetuating and promoting reuse, TerraCycle’s Loop platform is helping retailers — Walmart, Burger King and Kroger among them — brands and manufacturers make gains by initiating a circular system designed to make reusing things – your coffee cup or Herbal Essences shampoo bottle, that empty jar of Nutella or the old Cascade dishwashing packaging – just as easy and convenient as single-use. As environmental concerns take center stage in a changing climate, both figuratively and literally, TerraCycle’s efforts are poised to have big impacts in how not just consumers, but also businesses, think – about what’s trash, what isn’t – and make changes to the ways they operate to mitigate the accumulation of waste and its impacts.
Commercial real estate; Mahbod Nia, CEO
On its way to homing in on a multifamily focus, developer, owner and manager Veris Residential Inc. has been locked on big-dollar sales for big-name properties while it streamlines its portfolio and moves farther from the former Mack-Cali Realty Corp. Some recent examples have included the offloading of the 351-key Hyatt Regency Jersey City hotel, the $346 million-sale of the Merrill Lynch Building, and entering a binding contract for the disposition of Harborside 1/2/3 for $420 million. And the work has paid off. In October, Veris reported that multifamily accounted for approximately 98% of the company’s net operating income — up from 39% from the end of the first quarter of 2021. That translates to 6,931 units boasting a 95.8% occupancy rate. The company’s change in focus and name was preceded by a proxy battle instigated by activist investor Bow Street. In the present, a similar scenario is currently playing out. In October, Veris confirmed it received unsolicited proposals from Kushner Cos. to externally manage or acquire the Jersey City-based company. For its part, the Veris board has said that is “open to evaluating any proposals to maximize value for all shareholders.” The catch is – at $16 per share, which would work out to about $4.3 billion – Veris says Kushner’s bids undervalues the company and its potential. The latest offer from the New York-based pursuer came with the backing of Fortress Investment Group — to no avail. With a pop-up still greeting and directing visitors to its web-site to public correspondence and a presentation regarding the saga, Kushner doesn’t seem likely to relent. That’s sure to keep folks watching to see how it all plays out – or if it inspires other offers – all the while Veris continues to offload any remaining assets that no longer fit within its renewed focus.
New York (operates only in NJ)
Part food delivery, part mobile restaurant; Marc Lore, CEO
A venture from former Walmart exec Scott Hilton and Jet.com founder Marc Lore, Wonder is an app-based service whose model includes meals designed by celebrity chefs such as Bobby Flay and Michael Symon cooked in vans parked right outside customers’ homes. The two teamed up last year to launch Wonder Group, which also includes Delivery by Wonder, a meal courier platform. Following a pilot period last year in Westfield, Wonder now operates in more than 70 towns across New Jersey. The startup has grown to over 1,300 workers with plans to hire an additional 500 employees as part of an expansion across the Northeast before eventually going nationwide. In June, Wonder raised $350 million in series B funding, giving the company a valuation of about $3.5 billion. To date, Wonder has raised almost $900 million in debt and equity financing from investors. The new funding, Lore has said, will be used to continue expansion across New Jersey, particularly in Bergen County.
Coworking space; Natasha Mohan, founder, CEO
At or near the top of most business leaders’ post-pandemic concerns is what, exactly, their workplaces should look like in the years to come. Expectations have changed for both employees and employers, leaving the future of the office very much in flux. Natasha Mohan heard those concerns and responded by founding WorkSocial, which operates a coworking space in Jersey City. Mohan describes the company’s founding on its website. “I spent the better part of my day at the office; I came home feeling physically and spiritually tired. I asked myself what if I created a workspace that was designed to bring health, happiness, and spirituality into our community. Watching people in my community wither away with mental health issues and trauma; I had found my mission. Happiness through healthy office spaces. And WorkSocial was born!” The company sees its mission as providing workspaces that support small business endeavors, community outreach, mentoring and entrepreneurial needs while promoting a well and happy lifestyle that matches individual needs. All of which should help convince many office workers to leave their dining room tables and return to a comfortable and collaborative space.
Financial services; Rich Eknoian, CEO
Blink and you’re likely to miss some kind of news from Iselin-based World Insurance Associates. The acquisitive company keeps eyes locked on the future with its appetite for growth: Since its founding in 2011, WIA has added 155 companies to its ranks, seemingly at a constant pace. Since November alone, the company led by CEO Rich Eknoian has made five such announcements. And the efforts have paid off. This year, WIA came in at No. 75 on the NJBIZ Top Privately Held Companies list, with reported 2021 revenue of approximately $81 million. That indicates an upward trajectory for the company, which debuted on the annual rankings at No. 89 in 2019, reporting a revenue increase of 74% from the year prior. WIA’s growth – it was ranked No. 2 on the Fastest Growing Brokers list and No. 3 on the Fastest Growing Benefits Brokers list by Business Insurance – has also afforded it the opportunity to diversify its offerings. This fall it announced a new private client group for “highly successful individuals and families,” and it launched a new brand for its wholesale business. Novatae Risk Group is a consolidation of seven existing WIA brands to create a leading property and casualty wholesale distributor that partners with independent brokers and agents across the U.S. At the time it was announced, Eknoian said, “Our combined synergies will no doubt lead to new growth and innovation opportunities that benefit everyone.” The company set up shop at a new headquarters in Metropark this past spring, consolidating several Garden State and New York offices. Chances are high that Iselin dateline will get plenty of work in 2023 as WIA continues its growth plan, expanding its reach nationwide.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1:26 p.m. EDT to indicate that Scotch Porter/Quallis Brands is based in Newark. Additionally, Wonder’s entry was updated at 10:41 a.m. ET Dec. 16 to include Marc Lore as CEO, its company description as well as the new name of its meal courier platform. On March 2, 2023, Edison Partners’ number of investments and exits were updated.-