And, with the NJ Tech Council now celebrating its 20th year, time has more than proven them correct.
“It was introducing a new concept and a way of getting legislators to realize that this is an important sector that they need to give attention to,” Ballen said. “It was also a way to make the more traditional businesses realize that they needed to start to understand the needs of the technology companies.”
Ballen, who served as CEO of the Tech Council for 18 years, cites accounting, banking and law as industries that all needed to grow to understand what dealing with technology and early-stage companies meant for how they approach their own services.
“There were specialties that needed to be implemented, such as how you handle the accounting on a tech company, which is different than a traditional manufacturer or retail store,” she said. “Lawyers needed to be more innovative in terms of reducing fees to give the entrepreneurs a chance to grow their company to the point where they could begin to afford the traditional fees.”
Ballen said that, as these more traditional companies get involved, the entrepreneurial spirit became infectious.
Martinson, who was working as a venture capitalist when he and Ballen were designing the early stages of the council, said other investors saw the Tech Council as a way to develop new business and attract clients. That fact alone led them to be early adopters of the council.
“We quickly developed a core sponsor group and had demand for programs and services,” he said. “But we started by finding Maxine as our leader, and she was already proven as an organizer and a quick study to recognize the opportunity and needs.”
David Sorin, head of the venture capital and emerging growth companies practice at McCarter & English, also remembers industries being quick to recognize the needs that the Tech Council was able to serve.
“We had no statewide network that had been established to nurture that marketplace and provide the kind of information and network that allows an ecosystem to develop, so we decided to create one under Maxine’s leadership,” Sorin said.
“The market was so hungry for that at the time, and I remember how quickly entrepreneurs, middle-market companies and even larger companies either joined the council or participated in the events,” Sorin added.
Jim Barrood, who assumed Ballen’s position as CEO in 2015, said the Tech Council is taking its time to celebrate its milestone, but it’s still looking toward the future.
One advancement made this year was the launching of the Tech Council’s second venture fund.
“We’re the only council in the country that has launched a venture fund and an angel network,” Barrood said. “Now, we’re on our second venture fund.
“We’re really proud of that, because our role is to support this ecosystem,” he said, “and if we can’t support the young companies and startups in this state that are really the pipeline of growth companies that help with hiring employees and retaining and attracting talent, then we’re not doing our job.”
To that end, Barrood said the council is always looking for ways to evolve and continue to provide these services as the landscape changes.
That drive, Barrood said, is perfectly encapsulated by the Tech Council’s relocation from Mount Laurel to New Brunswick, which was completed in March.
For Sheldon’s full NJBIZ story, click here.
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