The Propelify Innovation Festival, a technology entrepreneur event held in Hoboken, hadn’t been able to catch a break these past two years. In 2019, cold and rainy weather held down attendance. Then in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organizers to go remote. This year, the delta variant prompted a vaccine requirement for admission.
But Aaron Price, head of TechUnited, which founded and organizes the annual event, said the tech industry faces such challenges all time. And it’s full steam ahead. “Life isn’t easy, building companies isn’t easy,” he said in an interview. “It’s become par for the course.”
The 2021 festival, held on Oct. 6 along the Hudson River, drew thousands of attendees and was “bustling,” Price said. “I’m thrilled with the turnout.”
The sectors with tables at the festival, or a speaker or attendee, ranged from wellness tech companies to clean energy and future of work – essentially what the workplace will look like now that more companies are incorporating telecommuting.
“You can just see the energy in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, just walking in,” said Tim Sullivan, head of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. “Different companies that are doing their thing — pitching what they’ve got, trying to get people’s attention and become the next big thing, which is exactly what we want.”
Gov. Phil Murphy has, after all, said since early in his term that he would like to make New Jersey the “State of Innovation,” and that “New Jersey was Silicon Valley before there even was a Silicon Valley.”
Murphy, who is facing reelection in less than a month, scored a number of business wins in September. His Republican challenger, former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, contends that the Democratic incumbent has made New Jersey too hostile to businesses.
Late in the month, the state announced a $109 million tax break for financial technology giant Fiserv to renovate and open a 428,000-square-foot, four-story office site in Berkeley Heights, a Union County suburb along the Interstate 78 corridor.
The company will create 1,927 new jobs and said 1,063 jobs would have left the state had it gone elsewhere.
That same month, the state also approved a $9.9 million tax break for Party City to consolidate several regional offices into one space in Woodcliff Lake. And the state attracted a major tech hub to Newark, the $50 million HAX tech accelerator facility in Newark.
Under that deal, Princeton-based SOSV and the state will each put up $25 million for the facility, which is scheduled to open next summer with an eye toward attracting industrial, health care and climate tech startups.
The agreement calls for HAX to attract, develop and support 100 startups over the next five years. It will lease up to 60,000 square feet of space for up to 200 founders and their staff, as well as fabrication and prototyping workshops. The companies will receive resources, mentorship, education and financial investment.
Each company must create at least 2,500 jobs over the next decade in order to qualify for financial support from the state and HAX, according to a joint statement from SOSV and the Murphy administration.
“We’ve already met a handful of really interesting startups, other investors that are in the area,” Garrett Winther, a partner at HAX, told NJBIZ at the Propelify festival. “A lot of people that I’m learning about for the first time, like ‘wow you guys are coming to the neighborhood? Cool, let’s talk’. So, there’s a lot of opportunities, not just in start-ups and investors, but universities and corporates.”
Institutions like Princeton University; the New Jersey Institute of Technology, also in Newark; and the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program would play a key role in funneling local talent to these startups at the HAX headquarters.