As he sat near one of the leading technological minds in the world during a panel discussion last Thursday, Aaron Price got the ultimate challenge.
“You can be the glue that brings all of this together,” Nokia Bell Labs President Marcus Weldon told him.
Weldon was speaking of the New Jersey technology ecosystem — an amalgamation of scientists, entrepreneurs, investors and companies that has been fractured in a way that defies the state’s rich history.
Price’s new job is, in fact, to help bring it all back together.
The appointment puts one of the state’s leading tech entrepreneurs in charge of the organization while adding the Propelify Innovation Festival — which Price founded — into the fold.
In fact, Propelify was the impetus for the move.
When Virginia Alling, chair of the New Jersey Tech Council, learned Propelify was looking for a partner, she jumped at the chance.
To Alling, Propelify — an annual gathering of tech innovators and entrepreneurs that has drawn more than 10,000 attendees from around the globe — represented a way to fill one of the holes at the NJTC.
“While the Technology Council always has been an organization that broadly covers technology spanning a number of industries — bio, information technology and a host of other sectors — there’s always been this yearning to find a way to provide more support for the startup community in the state of New Jersey,” she told ROI-NJ.
Landing Propelify, founded by Price , a well-known New Jersey tech entrepreneur, became a goal.
And it was one that soon became a two-for-one proposition.
“It’s hard to envision Propelify without Aaron, since he was the founder of it and the visionary behind it,” Alling said. “The vision itself was of keen interest to us, as well as the tremendous success that the event has had — as well as the unyielding support that it has had from the startup community.”
Alling, a senior vice president at PNC Bank, said she feels NJTC and Propelify are perfect partners.
“We knew there were other suitors for the organization, so we tried and obviously were able to win him over by supporting what the combination of the two organizations represented,” she said. “Combining helps broaden the touch points of the technology community, because we’ll have a dedicated segment devoted to techs and startups, something that we’ve always tried to support.”
Alling feels the synergies will be seen as quickly as this year’s event, which will be held Oct. 3 in Hoboken.
“We feel we can help Aaron and his vision grow even further, because we have had the history of having a number of people that are more experienced with middle or larger companies that can bring to bear their experience, their resources, their commitment, their connections to the folks that attend the Propelify event,” Alling said. “We expect greater engagement from larger companies, greater support, greater networking, greater information sharing and greater success.”
Price said he’s confident this year’s event will be all that and more. To him, combining with the NJTC was a no-brainer.
“I understand how important it is to have many ties,” he told ROI-NJ. “And I think the combination of Propelify and the council gives us a lot more scale and reach across that entire ecosystem.
“I think there’s enormous power that comes with the ability of bringing the entire technology life cycle together. That’s what I’m excited about with the Tech Council. It represents some very powerful companies that I’m certain understand the role of the technology community, both early-stage and growth-stage companies. And, I think, together, we’ll be able to really impact businesses and hopefully create some noise for New Jersey in the process.”
Price made it clear that the benefits the NJTC brings to Propelify are just the start of what this new collaboration will bring.
“I’d like to see the Tech Council continue on the path that it’s on, but also do more to differentiate itself by taking advantage of the strengths of New Jersey,” he said. “I want to collaborate with the other associations and groups in the state and to raise the bar of excellence.
“That’s what I hope we’ve done with Propelify. But that’s one day. I hope to do that year-round.”
Price, who founded the NJ Tech Meetup in 2010, knows that’s easier said than done.
His experience, however, has taught him how to do it.
“One of the things that I noticed as both Meetup and Propelify grew is that there were some associations that were a little surprised that I was so eager to collaborate,” he said. “I think that there might be some legacy in the state of being territorial.
“My view is, the more we can do to pull these groups together to complement each other, the better we’ll do together.”
In addition to founding Propelify and NJ Tech Meetup, Price is a serial entrepreneur.
He started his first tech company when he was in college at the University of Maryland two decades ago — the first of a handful he has created.
Not all of them succeeded.
Those successes — and failures — are one of the things Alling and the NJTC found attractive.
“It’s invaluable to have somebody that’s had numerous startups, and not every one was successful,” she said. “To know when to stop and to start a new one and move on to the next idea is incredibly important.
“Aaron was very open with everybody about his experiences and why they did or didn’t work out. That’s what people need to need to hear. Hopefully, it will be a way for them not to make the same mistakes. To be able to learn from somebody who’s been there, failed, been there, succeeded, and now created this incredible vision, which has been a tremendous success, is invaluable.”
Alling feels the time is right for the New Jersey Tech Council to increase its influence exponentially.
The Tech Council not only has the support of Gov. Phil Murphy, Price has served as an adviser to the governor throughout his administration.
“I think it’s extremely important that the governor has indicated that he wants to make New Jersey a technology leader for idea generation and for startup companies,” she said. “We’re really excited about the support and the dialogue that we have with him now, and we’re looking forward to that growing.
“Aaron has had an open dialogue with the governor, and we will enjoy that increased level of communication.”