New venture capital fund vows to transform Newark into high-tech hub

Newark resident Jimi Olaghere remembers a time 10 years ago when New Jersey's largest city was a veritable opportunity desert for a tech entrepreneur like him. But with Monday's announcement of a new $50 million technology venture capital fund designed to back early-stage tech companies in Newark and boost Internet connectivity citywide, Olaghere is more than ready to see the nascent venture fund make it rain for tech companies seeking to put down roots and grow in Newark.

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Donald Katz, founder and CEO of Audible Inc., announces the formation of a tech venture fund known as Newark Venture Partners

"Newark's history wasn't great, but tech businesses have been bubbling in the city for at least the past decade," said Olaghere, the founder and head of business research and development at Geek Supply Company, an e-commerce startup in Newark that brings in, then distributes unique design products from China via the Port of New York and New Jersey and that recently expanded to include menswear and grooming products.

"Entrepreneurial tech companies in Newark are finally growing here, and the ideas being generated are great," he said. "It's a perfect time to be in Newark now. We just need the funds to help us execute our ideas properly, generate growth more quickly, and push us all up. It's time."

The leaders of the newly-created, early-stage technology venture fund, known as Newark Venture Partners, will provide capital as well as sophisticated company-building services and a collaborative state-of-the art 25,000-square-foot accelerator workspace with high bandwidth access to the Internet for innovative tech start-ups in Newark.

The accelerator is located at One Washington Park, which is next to Newark's Broad Street train station, just 18 minutes by train from Manhattan, and is home to the Rutgers University Business School, which is providing rent-free access to the accelerator, now being prepared for construction.

One Washington Park is also the headquarters of Audible Inc., one of the nation's most innovative producers of web-based spoken audio entertainment, information, and educational programming. The company became one of Newark's major corporate partners when it moved from Wayne to the city in 2007.

Audible founder and CEO Donald Katz, founder of Newark Venture Partners, framed the new tech venture capital fund and accelerator within the context of Newark's unique infrastructure.

"Newark sits atop of a vast network [of various varieties of telecom] fiber. To the many cable and telecom companies with presences here, this means that Newark, New Jersey is the place where the Internet comes up for air," Katz said. "I felt like Newark needed a calling card to connect the city to the explosion of innovation just a few minutes away to the east."

The room where the press conference was held to announce the birth of Newark Venture Partners was packed with much of the political and business establishment of both Newark and all of New Jersey.

Mark Grier, vice chairman of Prudential Financial, spoke to the crowd of more than 50 people inside Audible headquarters in Newark overlooking the city's skyline, with key business figures such as John A. Brennan, executive vice president of Barnabas Health, and well-known Newark philanthropist Ray Chambers looking on.

Political heavyweights on both sides of the aisle such as former Newark Mayor and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Democratic former Nebraska Governor and U.S. Senator and Medal of Honor winner Bob Kerrey, Republican New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Republican former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a longtime, stalwart Newark supporter, all spoke in support of the new venture.

But it was Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, smiling as Newark Venture Partners leaders simultaneously announced the introduction of Firebolt Newark Wi-Fi, Newark's new free, fast, public Wi-Fi network designed to connect the city's downtown to the rest of Newark's neighborhoods, who asked those assembled, after more than a decade of entrepreneurial frustration, to believe the new fund's high-tech hype.

"It's the multiplier effect. For every manufacturing job that is created there is maybe one-and-a-half to two professional jobs that are created as a result of that manufacturing job. But when tech jobs are created, there are about four-and-a-half to five professional jobs that are created as a result of that technical job," Baraka said. "It's important for us to wrap our brains around what's going to happen here. If we expand in terms of technology and bring more technology companies to the city, we bring more jobs overall as a result at the same time to help us push forward to get more Newarkers employed."

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