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Tech Council founder says time is right for ‘transition’

Andrew Sheldon//August 11, 2014//

Tech Council founder says time is right for ‘transition’

Andrew Sheldon//August 11, 2014//

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You might say the New Jersey Technology Council was born in Pennsylvania.

That’s where Maxine Ballen was in the mid-1990s, a decade after founding the Pennsylvania Innovation Network, when she caught the attention of people across the Delaware River. Chief among them was venture capitalist John Martinson, who saw how she had fostered the emerging tech community in the Keystone State and asked if she would consider relocating to New Jersey.

At first she resisted, but after a year of back and forth, she grew excited about the potential to repeat the process in the Garden State.

Fast-forward 18 years, and the New Jersey Technology Council is one of the most respected tech groups in the country and one of the state’s most well-known trade associations. And it’s thanks in no small measure to Ballen, who will step down this week as its president and CEO in order to pursue other opportunities.

“I think we provided and filled a niche and a hole that people didn’t recognize they needed because we never existed before,” Ballen said. “But once we came to be, people really enjoyed the opportunity to come together because technology is very isolating and New Jersey is very isolating.”

In her place will be James Barrood, who ran Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship since 1997. He will take the reins of a Mount Laurel-based organization that has grown to 1,000 members.

In other words, Ballen put the N.J. tech community on the map.

“(One) big contribution was creating a brand or a voice for the tech community in New Jersey,” said Chris Sugden of Edison Partners, a Lawrenceville-based investment firm. “The NJTC is touted as one of the largest tech trade groups in the country. And a part of that is the time they’ve been around because they were at the front end of that.

“The second part of that is the staying power of Maxine and the ability for her to really cultivate a community.”

That work effectively began in 1985, when Ballen left a position in marketing to start the Pennsylvania Innovation Network, she said.

“We were sort of innovative in that there weren’t many of them around,” Ballen said. “The chambers of commerce just weren’t meeting the needs of our companies. Those traditional associations no longer fit the mold of the new, emerging entrepreneurial, innovative company that we were excited about in those days.”