2019 was an exciting year for Newark Venture Partners. We made nearly 20 new investments, increasing our total portfolio to 72 companies. We celebrated our first exit, as Bowtie was acquired by MindBody, the leading technology platform for the wellness industry. Several of our companies closed new rounds of financing, including 1Huddle, Aerofarms, ClassTag, FlossBar, MoCaFi, PadinMotion, Team Mobot, Upsider, and the total capital raised across the portfolio reached $407 million.
When we talk about the growth of our portfolio and our impact on Newark, we often mention companies like 1Huddle, AeroFarms, and Riskcast who came to Newark and have been succeeding here ever since. They are creating jobs, and economic impact for the city, and helping to grow a tech ecosystem that will be central to the city’s future. What we don’t talk enough about is the companies that started out here in Newark - and the founders that represent the grit and hustle of the city they call home. In 2019, we invested in 3 Newark-homed startups: PeduL, MindRight Health, and ABF Creative. Their founders not only have roots here, but they’ve decided to stay here, create here, and grow here - remaking Newark for a new decade.
And to be clear, it’s not just Newark they are remaking.
PeduL, for example, is on track to reinvent how students pay for college, by marrying it to corporate recruitment for diverse student talent. Founders Chisa Egbelu and Kayla Jackson met while in school at Rutgers, and bonded over a shared frustration with escalating student loans and the disjointed world of financial aid. Following graduation, they came back to Newark - a city full of diverse young talent - and founded PeduL. When they joined NVP Labs in Spring of 2019, they had already established a student network of 500,000, and been featured in news outlets like Forbes, NBC and Bloomberg. Today, PeduL contracts with enterprises, such as Newark-based businesses Audible and IDT, to build and market custom financial scholarships, enabling greater access to and engagement with student talent. Under PeduL’s model, the scholarship is a key that opens the door, with success stories moving beyond graduation into internships and full-time positions. They have now grown to a team of 6 Newark residents.
During his time with NVP Labs, Chisa introduced us to Ashley Edwards, another Newark resident with a resume that included Yale, Stanford, and a Forbes 30 Under 30 award (among other accolades). Inspired by her time working as Operations Manager for a Newark charter school, she founded MindRight Health to help students whose basic mental health needs were simply not being met due to a lack of resources at the school. MindRight provides culturally responsive mental health coaching over text message to students, with a focus on communities of color. We were impressed with Ashley and MindRight, and we welcomed her to our NVP Labs Fall 2019 class, where she tweaked her model in order to work with insurers and employers who can help her reach a greater number of students in need. Today MindRight has worked with over 500 students, giving them a trained mental health coach to talk to every single day, and empowering them to take control of their own mental wellness.
This fall, we also formalized an investment in ABF Creative, founded by Newark native Anthony Fraiser, NVP’s long time Entrepreneur in Residence. Anthony has been part of our community since the start, acting as our original Ambassador to the city, and introducing us to his circles of local founders and influencers. He founded ABF Creative in 2017 - and has grown it into a podcast network that bridges the gap between authenticity, storytelling, and marketing. We invested in ABF Creative to help Anthony continue to “produce conscious content with mainstream appeal” like the recent 4-part series Through Her Eyes, which told the stories of 4 New Jersey mothers who lost their children to local gun violence. ABF Creative’s current and past podcast partnerships include Audible, Prudential Financial, The GRAMMY Museum Experience, Brooklyn Museum, and BET.
If you’ve been to our office recently, you may have noticed the signs or stickers reading “Newark is for Hustlers.” The adopted mantra was created and designed by another Newark native, Gabe Ribeiro, a former intern for ABF Creative and current founder of The NORK Project (Join us for Demo Day and check out his merch table!). The truth is, the NVP community is made up of hustlers: Founders hustling to perfect their product, to grow their business, and to expand their networks. But our Newark-homed founders feel that hustle a little bit deeper, because they are hustling on behalf of an entire city. As we jump into a new decade, we are proud to look to our Newark founders as the change-makers and innovators that are laying the foundation for Newark’s future.