Thursday, April 21, 2016

A guide to New Jersey startups

New Jersey; the armpit of The United States, the home of The Jersey Shore and the state that doesn’t pump our own gas!

These are just a few of the things that are most associated with our great state, but what isn't associated with our state is the willingness to innovate and understand technology. New Jersey is more than likely one of the last states that you would think of when you hear the words “start up”, “investing”, or “entrepreneur” but I am hear to prove other wise. Our great state has a tremendous amount of opportunity to grow our current base of businesses and even start-ups.

Being that we are sandwiched between two great states that scream success, entrepreneurship, and innovation, it makes sense that New Jersey doesn't get the rep that they deserve. More times than not, a business is created in New Jersey, only to leave for places like New York, Philadelphia, or even San Francisco. Honestly, I don’t blame them. New Jersey isn’t fun for start-ups. There isn’t that big city feel, or that hipster culture that’s normally associated with startups, but that shouldn’t deter people from leaving our great state.

Whether you're in North Jersey or South Jersey (or maybe a Central Jersey if you believe there is a Central Jersey) we have an opportunity to make a name for the third state of this great country. New Jersey doesn’t have to be the armpit anymore. With growing cities in our Southern Region of Camden, it’s not what it used to be. In fact, there is a ton of innovation going on, that get’s neglected because of the association of what Camden was! If you're a start up in New Jersey, you need to stay here!

And here are examples of other companies that not only started here, but continue to stay here on their own will:

Location in New Jersey: Holmdel, NJ

Years in Business: 1.5

Name: Roy LaManna, CEO

With over 15 years in the entertainment industry, Roy LaManna’s name has become synonymous with the launch of visionary and inventive companies, propelling him as the go-to guy in the music video space. Working with top artists including Ariana Grande, Major Lazer, and Andy Grammer.  LaManna’s most recent venture, Vydia, is paving the way for artists on all levels, to distribute and publish their music videos on one easy-to-use platform.

Why have you stayed in New Jersey: My roots are deep in NJ. My family and friends are here and I employ over 20 people in the area.

What are the benefits of working in New Jersey: Many people live in NJ and work in Manhattan. For those people there's a clear advantage. You can spend more time doing what you enjoy and less time sitting in a commute.

Why do you believe New Jersey is unique to innovation: Innovation is all about the people and NJ is home to a lot of smart people. We were the home to Bell Labs where over 4000 individuals worked together to invent things like HDTV, The transistor, Unix, and the Laser. A lot of those innovators continued to live in NJ where they started families. It's things like that, those type of people, and the culture it creates, that sparks innovation.

Gridless Power

Location in New Jersey: Collingswood

Years in Business: 5

Name: Jason Halpern, CEO

Gridless designs and builds battery systems that provide when and where it's needed most. Our products solve power problems for our customers, so they can focus on getting their jobs done. Our first product the Gridless CORE has been deployed everywhere from Nepal after the recent earthquakes, Liberia during the ebola crisis, and in our own backyard after the recent Amtrak derailment.

What are the benefits of working in New Jersey:

- People

From where we are in Collingswood, we can access amazing people from all over. We've got employees in Philly, South Jersey, Central Jersey, and even just outside NYC. That access to talent is only going to get more important as keep growing. Even more then just the people we hire; being able to participate in the start-up cultures in all those different places, is hugely beneficial too.

- Proximity to Customers

If you draw a circle on a map with New Jersey at the center and every where you can get to and back in a day or two road trip, you're covering a huge number of towns, counties, states, federal agencies. As a company selling hardware, that's a big deal for us. We can be doing a live demo in Albany, New York one day and down in Richmond, VA the next. We've put some good mileage on our cars, but saved a ton of resources in the process.

- Great Regional Manufacturing Base

We didn't know it when we started out, but this region is great for building things. Our mechanical components are made 20 minutes away, our electronics are made 2 hours away, our batteries are made 5 hours away. Having quick, direct access to those manufacturing partners let's us move quickly, and produce great products.

Why do you believe New Jersey is unique to innovation: The community here is a big part of what makes New Jersey unique. There's a ton of talented people working on great products, but it's smaller than some of the hot-spots (SF, NYC, Philly). As a result, it's tighter-knit. Everyone knows everyone else and is always willing to help out.


Location in New Jersey: Toms River

Years in Business: 8

Name: Scott Hoffman, President

Yashi is a location-focused digital advertising platform that enables local and national businesses and agencies to target, serve, and measure their video ad campaigns.

Why have you stayed in New Jersey: “When we were acquired for $33M by Nexstar Broadcasting Group last February, we had the option to relocate, but there was no question that we should stay in New Jersey.” Says current President Scott Hoffman. We’ve developed Yashi into a leader in online advertising and built a great team of talented people here. It just makes sense to see the vision through in the same spot that we started. yas

What are the benefits of working in New Jersey: Most people will make the claim that a viable technology business needs to be in New York or Silicon Valley to succeed. What they don’t realize is that New Jersey has the infrastructure and the talent to become a hub for innovation. There are thousands of talented graduates each year from schools like Princeton, Steven’s, and NJIT who might not want to commute to surrounding cities for work. They’d much rather stay local if they have the opportunity to learn and grow at home.

Why do you believe New Jersey is unique to innovation: Yashi’s mission is to bring a product usually reserved for national brands to the local business level. New Jersey is the perfect place to do that because of its spirit of entrepreneurship. Our office is equidistant to New York and Philadelphia, making it the ideal central location for an East Coast innovation hub. It’s no wonder why there’s an emerging tech scene in the state.


Location in New Jersey: Asbury Park

Years in Business: 3

Name: Scott Barnett and Eugene Fabrikant, Founders

Scott and Eugene are tech entrepreneurs who have been around enterprise and web software their entire careers. Scott moved to NJ 28 years ago after college and started his career at Bell Labs before leaving to work at several startups, including 3 companies he's started and run. Eugene is a Rutgers grad and lifelong NJ resident who has worked at several software companies, most recently Audible, before starting Bizyhood.

Why have you stayed in New Jersey: We both have deep family roots here, which helps! We also worked together at a previous startup, and many of the folks that are working with us are people we've known from previous companies. Once you've built up that network, you don't want to lose it. But most of all, the Jersey experience is a great one, all joking aside. Folks here are hard working, smart, and innovative. Our only issue with the area is there are too many large and established companies (primarily in financial services and pharma) that can put "golden handcuffs" on top talent. It would be great to see even more entrepreneurs in the talent pool, but once there are enough exciting startups in the State, that problem will take care of itself.

What are the benefits of working in New Jersey: As we mentioned earlier, the diverse geography is a huge plus. This area can accommodate campers, hikers, skiers, foodies, surfers, gamblers, you name it! It's still an expensive area to live compared to the rest of the country, but relative to other tech hubs, it's actually not hard to find great and affordable places to live with great schools and infrastructure.

Why do you believe New Jersey is unique to innovation: It's important that people not forget the impact that Bell Labs had on the State. People joke about how you can walk into a bar or coffee shop in San Francisco or Boston and always hear entrepreneurs talking about their hot new startup, but when Scott first started at Bell Labs, you would hear tech talk in public all the time. Amazing innovations have occurred in New Jersey for well over 150 years, and we're very confident that will continue.


Location in New Jersey: Camden

Years in Business: 2

Name: Nick Groh, CTO

RippleLocal wants local communities to flourish by preserving the authenticity, the ethnicity, and the competitive advantage that drives our cities to not only add more variety to the culture but to keep more local businesses alive! RippleLocal is a full service marketing solution for small businesses. Specializing in web design, PPC, and content marketing, they are on a mission to increase their client’s local website traffic, and also walk-in traffic, all at an affordable monthly rate.

Why have you stayed in New Jersey: Camden will soon be the epicenter of all things tech in the up and coming years, so we wanted to be one of the first to not only get here, but stay here. Larger businesses like Subaru and Campbell’s Soup are here, and with the plans to renovate the Waterfront, Camden is going to be much different than what you hear and read about on the news. It’s going to be a vibrant community filled with innovation and commerce.

What are the benefits of working in New Jersey: Among the obvious tax benefits in Camden, the benefit in staying in New Jersey is our proximity to Philadelphia and New York. Not being in a major city gives us flexibility to expand. With our clients, we do a lot of calling and rarely meet our customers in person. Because we are in the middle, we have found that our customers like that homey or local business approach.

Why do you believe New Jersey is unique to innovation: As stated before, Camden. Camden is a changing city. We believe that Camden has the best opportunity to becoming the east coast version of Silicon Valley. If you’ve ever been to Silicon Valley, it’s not the most beautiful or perfect area. It’s a lot of business complexes and tech parks. Similarly built to Camden. If larger businesses were to see the benefits and potential growth to this city, more people will follow suite in coming over.

Visit South Jersey

Location in New Jersey: Haddonfield and Collingswood

Years in Business: 13 years

Name: Devon Perry, Executive Director and Dan Fitzgerald, Tourism Representative

South Jersey Tourism Corporation was created back in 2003. Recently, the company decided to rebrand their organization and have been called Visit South Jersey since 2014. During that time, the promotion of commerce, willingness to explore, and desire to experience the great region of South Jersey has never been more popular. Visit South Jersey has had a great impact in economic development within Burlington, Gloucester, Salem, and Camden counties by highlighting the arts, adventure, dining, museums, wine, and so much more.

Why have you stayed in New Jersey:

Our audience lives here. South Jersey is in our DNA. Being that we are in South Jersey, we need to be the voice our visitors, We need to be and have been there to help with any travel/destination needs.

What are the benefits of working in New Jersey:

Being that we are trying to promote South Jersey, we need to stay so close to our region. We are located in the heart of South Jersey, so it makes it easier for our customers to understand what we are selling and what we are trying to market. Being close to your target market and demographics, is one of the most important aspects in growing our company. You can argue that it’s good for any business for that matter.

Why do you believe New Jersey is unique to innovation:

New Jersey as a whole has an incredible history of innovation. One person that comes to mind is Thomas Edison, although not specifically located in South Jersey, but his inspiration travels. New Jersey is a unique state. Being that we are sandwiched in between two of the largest and densely populated states (PA and NY) is allows NJ the opportunity to house great minds. We have found that a lot of businesses owners work in a big city, but call New Jersey home.


Location in New Jersey: Gloucester

Years in Business: 1

Name: Nick Dennis, CEO

fitDEGREE is the easiest way to find nearby fitness partners for anything fitness related. We have found a way to engage people in fitness by capitalizing on the emerging growth of mobile applications and utilizing the concept of social media platforms. Many of us will find a million and one reasons why we cannot stick to an exercise program. The simple solution is to find yourself a fitness partner! There are statistics that prove exercising with social support leads to more effective sessions and greater consistency over time. It makes sense. Not only does having a fitness partner hold you more accountable, motivate you to achieve your goals and make sure you keep your ego and form in check; it also allows fitness to become a fun and social environment. Making fitness a lifestyle while having the support of an entire community is what keeps me coming back for more.

Why have you stayed in New Jersey:

Being born and raised in North Jersey (Morris County) I grew up accustomed to the fast paced, New York lifestyle. This set the tone for my work ethic of always pushing my efforts to the limit. Deciding to stay close to home, I attended and graduated from Rowan University. After my stay at Rowan University, the South Jersey culture grew on me. There is a ton of great energy here, a very natural lifestyle and after receiving an investment from the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund it became a no brainer to stick around.

What are the benefits of working in New Jersey:

The biggest benefit that I have noticed of working out of New Jersey is the family environment it brings. The entrepreneur community is constantly looking for ways to help one another get ahead. There is an incredible amount of passion to succeed from people in New Jersey. I have seen this in my fitness journey and am noticing a similar trend in my young entrepreneur journey. You quickly learn that nothing will be handed to you on a silver platter, you have to fight and take everything you want.

Why do you believe New Jersey is unique to innovation:

New Jersey has always been a place of innovation. Colleges and universities have been setting the tone over the past decade. Being a mathematics major with the goal of becoming an actuary, I never realized this. Once I stepped into the entrepreneur lifestyle I realized that there has never been a better time than now to start a business and that there is plenty of support around you. The most obvious sign of this was the creation of the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund. The Fund was established to provide early-stage funding primarily to students, faculty, staff and alumni. In my opinion, this was a fantastic move by Rowan University. It proves to students that there is a way to bring your ideas to life without leaving your backyard.

This article has simply highlighted 5 different startups, but with the growing trends of business and entrepreneurship it’s only a matter of time before even more incredible businesses are created in our great state of New Jersey. A lot of people define success in having an office in a major metropolitan city. And although that does sound great, you can have an even better view of a major metropolitan and spend a fraction of the cost in rent. When growing a business, it’s smart to use the resources around you. New Jersey does just that.

If you want to nominate another startup that we missed, use the comments below.

Johnathan Grzybowski is a techie. He is a results driven enthusiast, author, millennial podcaster of The Blind Entrepreneur and WWE Fan. From a lawn mowing business at 14 to multiple tech start ups at 27, Grzybowski's experience allows him to connect brands to millennials and millennials to the brands that matter to them.

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