Newark Venture Partners, ultra-high speed Internet provide powerful new tools for social change in city

Monday, July 20, 2015

A group of businessmen, philanthropists and investors have announced the creation of a $50 million early-stage social impact venture fund that will focus on nurturing a hub of small technology companies in Newark. 

The fund will provide capital as well as sophisticated company-building services and a collaborative state-of-the-art 25,000-square-foot accelerator workspace with lightning-fast Wi-Fi and ultra-high bandwidth Internet access to innovative tech start-ups and neighborhoods across Newark.

The accelerator will be located at One Washington Park, which also houses the headquarters of Audible and its Newark-based employees as well as Rutgers Business School, which is providing rent-free access to the facility. The workspace is currently being readied for construction. 

"Rutgers Business School is excited to partner with Newark Venture Partners investors to realize this forward-thinking plan for attracting new companies to Newark,” said Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University - Newark. "The establishment of a dynamic technology facility and hub for innovation also creates an incredible new avenue of opportunity for Rutgers students and the rest of the academic community in Newark.”

Rutgers Business School faculty and graduate students will provide support services to companies participating in the accelerator.

Audible’s executives and advanced technologists will play a key role in providing mentoring to resident portfolio companies.  "Audible moved to Newark in late 2007 to help accelerate the comeback of a great American city,” said Audible CEO Donald Katz, who is also the founder of Newark Venture Partners. "As the fastest-growing private employer in Newark, we have added hundreds of employees who are thriving in a city at a historic tipping point.  Along with the Newark Venture Partners leadership team, we look forward to mentoring fellow entrepreneurs and their employees.”

The accelerator will also feature an advanced fiber-optic infrastructure providing 10 gigabits to the floor where start-ups will work.

Officials and community leaders heralded the news. "From Thomas Edison’s work to the invention of the transistor, New Jersey has a proud history of technological innovation,” said Senator Cory Booker. "Now, Newark is poised to take the next big step forward. Giving start-ups here access to ultra-high bandwidth Internet will attract more entrepreneurship to our community and bring the opportunities of an increasingly interconnected global economy even closer to people. That means the creation of jobs and a stronger city and state."

Veteran angel investor Thomas Wisniewski will lead Newark Venture Partners’ staff. Rutgers Business School faculty and graduate students will provide support services to companies participating in the accelerator along with Audible employees and a high-profile mentoring and support network that currently includes Kleiner Perkins partner Bing Gordon, Union Square Ventures partner Brad Burnham and noted early-stage investor Oren Zeev

The first fund of its kind in the New York metropolitan area, Newark Venture Partners is part of a national "social impact investing" movement characterized by a "double bottom line” investment thesis that will include regularly published metrics on the fund’s contribution to social and economic improvement such as job growth, taxable revenue growth, increased residential in-migration, foot traffic and the growth of vibrant street level amenities.

"We can accelerate the turnaround of economically challenged American cities by connecting them to technology-driven innovation and economic growth,” said Dr. Richard Florida, Newark native, Newark Venture Partners advisor and director of the University of Toronto's Martin Prosperity Institute. Florida is the leading academic proponent of the "creative economy" that brings together engineers, artists and other knowledge workers to create positive urban change.

"With this announcement, Newark is poised to become a paradigm of social impact venture investment wealth creation and social transformation upside for years to come,” Florida said.

Read more news about the $50 million Newark Venture Partners fund

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"Research has shown that for each new engineering job, five service economy entry-level jobs for citizens of the urban core are created too,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. "More than $2 billion in new construction is underway in Newark. This city is on a roll and Newark Venture Partners will play a key part in this continued transformation.”

Also unveiled today is downtown Newark’s new Firebolt Wi-Fi, an outdoor, lightning-fast free public Wi-Fi network.  Funded by The Military Park Partnership, Audible and Prudential Financial, the Firebolt Wi-Fi system covers a two-linear-mile stretch of downtown Newark. In addition, the same cutting-edge solution is also available at several community recreation centers and housing authority locations in the city’s neighborhoods.  The John F. Kennedy Community Recreation Center in Newark’s Central Ward and seven other community centers and Newark Housing Authority sites are the first public facilities to deploy this cutting-edge Wi-Fi solution. 

"We are excited to partner with Audible and other impact investors in creating Newark Venture Partners," said Mark Grier, vice chairman of Prudential Financial. "Our hope is that these companies will grow to call Newark home, just as Prudential has since the company was founded here 140 years ago. Our additional support of Firebolt, the ultra-fast, public Wi-Fi network, promises to be a boon for the community of Newark by expanding Internet access, stimulating innovation and giving businesses a competitive edge.”

"Access to broadband services and an understanding of computers and the Internet is key to the future of equality of opportunity,” said Dr. David Jefferson of the Metropolitan Baptist Church.  “Social impact venture investing is clearly a way to do well and do substantial good too.  Newark’s 21st-century technology infrastructure must be attended by 21st-century skills for all of our citizens.  This fund and these efforts will surely be lasting milestones for the comeback of Newark.”

TAGS: Audible.com City of Newark Donald Katz Entrepreneurship Nancy Cantor Prudential Social Impact Tech-Startups Technology