The Propelify Innovation Festival was once again held at Maxwell Place Park in Hoboken Oct. 6, with the event hailed by Forbes as the “SXSW of the Northeast” drawing a who’s who of entrepreneurs, innovators, founders, C-Suite leaders, industry experts, political leaders, stakeholders, exhibitors and others.
“I can say with all sincerity this was our best one yet,” Aaron Price, Propelify founder and TechUnited NJ CEO, said in an Instagram post after the festival had wrapped up.
The event featured two stages, the Stage of Inspiration and Stage of Wisdom, which simultaneously produced a full slate of speakers, panels, startup competitions, and more.
And despite some iffy weather earlier in the week, Mother Nature fully cooperated with a picture-perfect October day on the Hoboken waterfront.
“We’re just so honored to have this festival, this event here in Hoboken, where we can bring people together from diverse backgrounds to network and exchange ideas,” said Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, acknowledging that it was the brainchild of Price, one of Hoboken’s own.
“Words can’t describe how dedicated he is to the mission of tech and innovation and bringing people together,” said Bhalla. “In addition to welcoming you, I would like you all to think about technology and innovation, not simply within the circle in which you belong, but within the community as a whole.”
Bhalla noted the myriad challenges the world faces at this critical juncture, emphasizing that so many of those problems could be mitigated through technology and innovation.
“So, as you go here today, think about how you could connect your intellectual brainpower to help others and try to address some of these problems that our community, the entire nation and really the entire world is facing. We will need technology and innovation to get to a better place as a society,” said Bhalla. “And we’re counting on your contributions toward that end.”
Price stressed that the last couple of years have been tough on everybody, and while this year’s event featured broad themes such as better together, building a better planet, driving more inclusive entrepreneurship, driving tech in health and life sciences, which were on full display, the event was about something more.
“The theme I started with this morning is about propelling positivity,” said Price during the event. “This is a community of people who propel ideas into action, who want to help one another … I think, in this case, who were really sick of being inside for the last two-ish years. And we’re just all really, really psyched to be here.”
Organizers estimated a crowd of more than 5,000 attendees with registration numbers up from 2021 when the event returned to in-person after going virtual in 2020 because of the pandemic.
“But with the pandemic, there’s even more energy and, I think, pent-up desire to gather in person,” Price told NJBIZ before this year’s Propelify.
The two stages featured fast-paced panels and discussions on a wide array of topics from innovation to cryptocurrency to climate change to NFTs to fintech and even one moderated by NJBIZ Editor Jeffrey Kanige, who along with Ian Moraes, head of consumer domains technology at Newark-based Audible, discussed how individual companies can enable a thriving society.
“What you’re hearing is why Audible is one of the most highly regarded corporate citizens, not only in Newark, but throughout the State of New Jersey. And I’m curious then what executives and business owners here can take away from what Audible is doing?” Kanige asked. “If someone is sitting there now thinking, ‘yes, I’d like to be that kind of company. I’d like to be the Audible of where I am.’ What are the most important things they need to think about and start to do right away? How do you get started down that road?”
Moraes said there are number of ways to do that, noting an effort to reskill local residents from the Newark community as well as Audible executives focusing on diversity by listening.
“For us, it’s about helping our listeners learn about different perspectives and opinions and reality and experiences,” Moraes explained. “And to do that, we need that diverse talent.”
Moraes closed by saying everyone has been bestowed gifts and privileges, urging people to pay those forward to others and not just keep them for yourself.
“Work with your organizations and work with public and private nonprofit partnerships to make a difference and to make an impact,” said Moraes.
This year’s event included more than 100 speakers, 250 investor meetings, several startup challenges, food trucks, corporate lounges with elaborate setups, and nearly 100 exhibitors promoting a wide range of products, services and businesses. Before the event, Price told NJBIZ that walking around and meeting the exhibitors was one of the highlights for him.
“Learning how we can help one another. And hearing from people how much they got out of it, who they met, where the connections are,” said Price. “It’s really what you do with the opportunity that matters.”
Those exhibitors ranged from well-known established national brands to New Jersey agencies and institutions to business organizations to companies of all shapes, sizes and varieties operating here in the Garden State and beyond.
“We’re so excited to be here. It’s our first time here,” Mary Griffin, vice president member relations & programs at the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, told NJBIZ. “But it’s amazing to see all these technology businesses represented and all of the people that we’re meeting for the first time. We’re excited and happy to be here.”
“Esports is an industry that thrives on connecting with other businesses and even within each other,” said Ahmed Alami, competitive director of the NJIT Esports club. “Propelify is really giving us the opportunity to connect with people who can help Esports at NJIT grow.”
Alami said it was his first time at the event, as part of the club’s new board.
“But definitely we have plans to return,” Alami added.
Frederick Amicucci, vice president of operations for Woodland Park-based Selfie Background Check, said Propelify exceeded his expectations.
“I love that there’s so many different companies tied to the tech industry that offer so many different services right here in New Jersey,” said Amicucci. “I think it’s great. It was fun. Everyone’s happy. I saw a lot of different people.”
He described it as a must-attend event.
“Tech is part of the future no matter what you’re in,” said Amicucci. “And if you want to be ahead of the curve, and you’re in New Jersey, this is where to be.”
The event, which Price described as the most fun business event anyone can attend, closed with an open bar happy hour and epic fireworks show over the Hudson River.
Price explained that saying this was the best Propelify yet was not a knock at previous versions, but more an acknowledgement of the energy and enthusiasm on display this year in Hoboken.
“Best crews building this thing. Best speakers, best attendees, best sponsors,” said Price. “Not that any of the previous events have been bad. But everybody this year was so psyched and so supportive and just thrilled to be here. And everybody helping each other out. If you missed it, we had the most insane fireworks ending we’ve ever had.”-