Newark: The East Coast Silicon Valley?

Newark is one of those cities you rarely hear about. It’s in New Jersey, 15 miles from New York City and a 20 minute train ride from lower Manhattan via the PATH. It is also 15–20 minutes from some of the best suburban towns on the east coast, with some of the best school districts in the nation. For example, check out the towns of Montclair and Maplewood. It is also a regional and international transit hub with Newark International Airport and access to Amtrak at Newark Penn Station. Newark is also a university town, key for filling the talent pipeline. It is the home for Rutgers University business school, The Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken) and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Newark is strategically located with commuter access to New York City and Philadelphia. This gives firms the ability to cater to employees that want an urban or suburban lifestyle, as well as access to regional talent. Also, neighboring Harrison New Jersey is a blank canvass that can accommodate new campus style development, important to expanding companies. It is also important to note that being a tech and innovation hub is also not new to Newark.

A Technology Center of the Past:

Historically, before the advent of Silicon Valley, Northern New Jersey has been the American home of innovation. Thomas Edison’s laboratory, in which he invented the light bulb, phonograph, motion pictures and a thousand other touches of genius, was located just six miles south of Newark. Bell Laboratories, where the transistor, and many innovations in telephone and microwave technology originated, is located in Murray Hill, just is 16 miles south-east of the city. The Newark area has always been a shoe-in for high-tech development. New Jersey and Newark area inventors accumulated 153,813 patents including the light bulb, tetracycline — the antiseptic, the visible light laser, bubble wrap, oral ace inhibitors — heart attack prevention, and TV dinners. Newark still ranks 6th in the world for number of international patents annually.

Many experts feel that Silicon Valley should have developed in Newark. During the early 20th century, the east coast of the United States had become complacent and smug, and a lot of talented inventors, scientists, and entrepreneurs moved west. New Jersey law also played a role in the slowing of technical innovation. New Jersey has had a strong legal position that blocks an inventor from profiting from independently marketing an invention invented while they are employed. The rights to their inventions migrate to the employer. This inability to make use of invention prompted many to migrate to California where they are free to establish their own companies and market their products.

New Growth:

Things have changed now. The State of New Jersey is making major efforts to bring technology companies into the state, to Newark in particular. In 2015–2016, Newark Venture Partners raised $50 million to invest in a select group of start-up technology companies, opting them to be housed in a so-called “accelerator,” provided rent-free by the Rutgers University Business School. This business incubator will help them develop ideas and encourage their growth. This is part of a push to help Newark recover from its industrial past. As many as 1,000 start-up technology companies applied to join the select group with seed money from $50,000 to $100,000. The initiative is also intended to create “Firebolt Newark WiFi,” a network of free high-speed internet for the city core. Some nine start-up companies per year will join the accelerator hub.

According to Mashable, Newark has become fashionable in Silicon Valley itself. Mark Zuckerberg is providing funding for Newark schools. The renewal of Newark has become a favorite new cause for tech-savvy millionaires. Progress toward building the new silicon valley is slow but steady.

Startup Pioneers:

The companies joining the Newark hub are esoteric startups. Audible, the audio books company (recently acquired by Amazon), moved its offices to Newark in 2007. Barkly, creators of a cell phone application that builds a network of pet owners, moved from the Washington, D.C. area to Newark last year. Kidcase, a startup that created a parental control program which included hardware and software. Sales Huddle, a software startup that customizes training packages into a gaming format joined the high-tech population of Newark last year. Bowtie, a company that creates AI “bots” that enhance business to customer communications via text, joined the tech center last year. Navinata Health, a company that establishes portals for communications between doctors and pharmaceutical companies also joined the Newark high-tech population last year. Alphachannel creates innovative advertising using social media, virtual reality and other technologies. Dream Forward, creates AI advisors and planners, a kind of AI personal financial coach. NativeTap, a startup that allows game and app developers to debug their creations across playforms. Upchannel targets “second tier” cell phone developers, providing customer service supported by automated user support and digital manuals.

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