In Newark, tech startups get a head start

Nine companies, from real estate technology to artificial intelligence, represent the third Newark Venture Partners Labs Accelerator Class.Welcome to Demo Day, an opportunity for companies to present and pitch to investors to raise capital right in Newark.“This day basically is going to kick-off our Series A round, we’re going to be raising $5 million to get this facility off the ground and open a few more, and also start distributing our products to consumers. We’re making a cleaning product and an organic plant food,” said Amanda Weeks, co-founder of Industrial/Organic.It’s one of the companies in the lab’s program that turned a former meatpacking plant in Newark into its pilot facility.

“What we do is take in food waste and it gets processed using fermentation and other mechanical and biological methods,” said Weeks.

In 2014, startups in New Jersey attracted just one-tenth of the venture capital that was invested in New York. Newark Venture Partners is aiming to bring more of that money to the state.

“We invest from $100,000 up to $1 million, and each of the companies we work with on the $100,000 end, that’s the lab program, but as they graduate we put more and more into the company and help them thrive,” said Managing Partner Tom Wisniewski. “The idea is for us to make things so great here with our partners, with our space, that the companies will lay down roots.”

Managing Partner Dan Borok says his family’s roots are in Newark — they go back about a hundred years. His grandfather came to the city from Russia and opened a family business not far from Newark. He sees that potential for the tech companies the fund invests in.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is there are a number of publicly traded large corporations, so we’ve gotten those companies to invest in our fund and connect directly with our startups to help them scale up and build businesses here in Newark,” said Borok.

“We’ve received about 1,800 applications in the past year and a half. We invested in 40 companies and put about $10 million of capital to work and we’re really happy with the progress we’re seeing with the companies now,” continued Borok.

That was part of Audible CEO Don Katz’s vision for his company.

“Eleven years ago, we brought Audible to Newark and the idea was to be part of this comeback story, and to redefine the company around urban transformation,” he said.

He founded Newark Venture Partners as a way to expand on that vision. With the graduation of this class means a new group of entrepreneurs, to which Katz offered this piece of advice.

“A lot of entrepreneurs think it’s all about them, and ultimately, it’s not scalable. You need compatriots,” he said. “You need to fill in the gaps and another thing you have to argue is that you have to measure your success in your own metrics because if you wait for the money guys to tell you how to measure things, you won’t be too happy because in the early stage, it’s the input that matters — not the financial outputs.”

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