I’ve spent over two decades evangelizing New Jersey as a truly remarkable (if occasionally underappreciated) center of innovation. It’s been my responsibility—and pleasure—to show leaders the powerful advantages of plugging into our regional innovation ecosystem, in markets ranging from enterprise tech to biotech. Today, I’m more excited about New Jersey’s potential—and realities—than I’ve ever been.
This Garden State, of course, has a long heritage of innovation. Thomas Edison planted his invention laboratories here—and also launched the nation’s first movie studio here, in a quintessential early example of the interplay between devices, content, and entertainment. AT&T’s Bell Laboratories invented the transistor and information theory and discovered the expanding universe here— and, as innovation powerhouses tend to do, Bell Labs spawned immense activity as its scientists and researchers moved on, transforming great ideas into companies of their own. New Jersey welcomed a wide cross section of the world’s most significant pharmaceutical companies—creating and sustaining a foundation for wider innovation in medical R&D and healthcare more broadly.
As at other key centers of innovation, New Jersey hasn’t rested on its laurels or a storied past. I can tell you from firsthand experience that the state has built out all the elements of a thriving modern innovation ecosystem. First, ours is an enormously educated population: 4th among the 50 states in percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees, 7th in both masters and professional degrees. We value education here, and it shows in our commitment to higher education—from the Ivy League (Princeton), to an exceptional state university and college system, to outstanding STEM education at institutions like Rutgers University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University, Stevens Institute of Technology, Fairleigh Dickinson, Montclair State, and The College of New Jersey, among others.
But these colleges and universities equally value their deep linkages to the region’s entrepreneurial communities, and their roles as engines of innovation. I can tell you this from personal experience. I started working at one of the nation’s and state’s first university-based entrepreneurial programs, at Fairleigh Dickinson, in 1997, and I’ve had a firsthand view of how these links have deepened into an exceptionally robust set of programs and initiatives statewide. Entrepreneurship programs and activities. Startup weekends to welcome and encourage new entrepreneurs and developers. Technology accelerators and incubators to give startups a home and a community. Innovation programming. You name it, we have it.
These are just a few of the ways New Jersey’s entrepreneurs, technologists, and scientists have organically evolved strong networks to promote innovation. As CEO of the New Jersey Technology Council for five years, I’ve seen these efforts firsthand, too.
Through the Tech Council and other thriving support organizations, our innovators regularly come together to build a virtuous circle of successful entrepreneurship. Exited founders give back to the community in money and time, and an active investor group of VCs and angels (i.e., JumpStart Angel Network) is providing both capital and expertise to emerging startups. As just one example, the Tech Council Ventures Fund—which the Council and I helped launch—is a $55 million early-stage venture capital fund investing in promising companies located\ throughout the region. We’re making available crucial early funding to companies in industries ranging from fintech to health tech to enterprise tech to clean tech—backed here on the ground by the expertise of a remarkable network of active partners and advisors.
Another area where we’ve come a long way: we now have government leadership that celebrates and nurtures our innovative ecosystem—and above all, respects and listens to innovators. Businesses don’t get everything they want here, but they do get a fair hearing from leaders who truly want them to succeed, and aim to build an environment where they can.
There’s one final point about New Jersey that makes me especially proud to recommend it to you. From the days of Edison’s “Muckers”—his remarkably creative team of inventors from across the US and far beyond it—we’ve always embraced smart and hard-working people from everywhere. We still do. We know immigrants start more businesses: they always have.
By welcoming them, we’ve been rewarded with a brilliantly diverse community of entrepreneurs and innovators. They aim to change the world, and they’ve found New Jersey a great place to do it. That’s why I wrote this piece: to invite you to join them.