Gov. Murphy’s innovation plan: Visionary, comprehensive and a great start

James Barrood of the New Jersey Tech Council.

The New Jersey Tech Council has brought together and represented the state’s regional technology communities for over 20 years, and we’ve always prioritized strengthening the local ecosystem that supports our innovators and entrepreneurs. So, we listened with great anticipation as Gov. Phil Murphy presented his new economic development plan. We’re pleased to say it’s remarkably visionary and thorough.

The governor first noted that New Jersey has a tremendous legacy of innovation and entrepreneurship that has driven economic growth for the entire country, but, in the past 10 years, we’ve lagged most states in supporting and benefiting from the innovation economy. That’s a point we’ve made often. We’re pleased that Murphy has placed the objective of nurturing innovation-driven economic growth front and center, and his team seems equally committed to fully leveraging the state’s extraordinary resources.

In discussing his commitment to renewable energy, Murphy went well beyond generalities about energy self-sufficiency. In addition to announcing a new Wind Institute, he outlined intentions to revamp port and supply chain infrastructure to support a renewables-friendly energy grid that promotes economic development. His plan’s breadth and ambition offer opportunities for virtually everyone to participate.

I particularly applaud his announcement of the Innovation Evergreen Fund. It aligns perfectly with our own efforts to provide more investment for brilliant entrepreneurs and innovative startups via Tech Council Ventures, a venture firm now raising its second fund, and JumpStart, our angel network.

Murphy’s creative approach for capitalizing the fund won’t just attract capital cost-effectively: it will engage the larger corporate community in supporting our innovation ecosystem. The fund will provide tremendous leverage for our own venture fund, as well as other investors in New Jersey, from in-state and out of state. It’s the quintessential example of a visionary government-led initiative that could transform our economy.

While Murphy’s plan is excellent, we still face great challenges. One is the limited pipeline of strong entrepreneurs graduating from our schools and accelerators. There are plenty of reasons for that; not least, mounting tuition debt that makes it harder for graduates to risk entrepreneurship.

From many years leading an entrepreneurship center, I know pipelines take time to build — and we must start now. I’m hopeful the governor’s leadership will help us educate and inspire many more of our students to be more entrepreneurial; they’ll need these skills more than ever.

Our great colleges and universities offer many novel programs to promote entrepreneurship; we need to scale them. So, too, we must offer opportunities and encouragement for students to participate in intensive bootcamps to master key startup skills.

At the Tech Council, we’re eager to bring our 1,000-plus member companies and the investor and entrepreneurial communities to the table to further these goals. In the meantime, we need to attract entrepreneurs from all over to set up shop here.

That’s where novel programs like free rent at co-working spaces and accelerators will help, as well as more tax incentives we’re hopeful will be announced soon. Of course, we also need to attract smart immigrants, notwithstanding problematic federal policies that are dissuading great people we desperately need. As America’s most diverse state, we need to signal a global welcome that helps us fill our innovation pipeline as we build homegrown talent.

With a visionary businessperson leading the state, I’ve been hoping for some “Bloombergian” magic. It appears that some of my dreams are being realized. It’s a strong start, but sustained energy, investment and leadership will be critical. Other ecosystems are racing us to goalposts that keep moving. To build on our great strengths, we’ll have to collaborate more creatively and vigorously than ever before: industry, investors, government, academia, communities, nonprofits, Democrats, Republicans, everyone.

James Barrood is CEO and president of the New Jersey Tech Council.

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