James Barrood recently wrapped up five eventful and productive years as CEO and president of the New Jersey Tech Council. Before he moves on to new challenges, NJTechWeekly.com wanted to do an exit interview on his experiences at the NJTC.
Esther Surden: Can you talk about some of the accomplishments you’ve been most proud of at the council?
James Barrood: Our community has enormous capabilities when we work together. So, I’m especially proud that we’ve widened and deepened our collaboration to help catalyze and unify our technology, innovation and entrepreneurial communities. We’re working more closely with our great universities, and with other key organizations throughout the state and region — including BioNJ, the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, Research & Development Council of New Jersey, Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship Corp., Association for Corporate Growth New Jersey, meetups and local and statewide chambers of commerce, as well as the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, Choose New Jersey, the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and the New Jersey Business Action Center.
Secondly, we’ve expanded our programs and events. And, by leveraging our networks, I believe we’ve grown their value. We’ve brought in amazing speakers, including Gary Vaynerchuk; the CEOs from Celgene, BD and Bell Labs; and many other executives and entrepreneurs. They’ve shared best practices, and I see people using their entrepreneurial insights to build great companies. Beyond our large events, we have coordinated up to 100 targeted programs every year across our region, to engage our members as well as the wider community. From socials to innovation showcases, partnering events to invitation-only dinners, we’ve raised the bar on engagement.
I think that’s why we’ve been able to buck the national trend of declining membership affecting all trade associations. With better programming, a stronger value proposition and a great team — including Dan Sullivan, who spearheaded our membership initiatives — we’ve nearly doubled our membership since I arrived. We’re over 1,000 member companies now, and we’re on track to achieve our best growth since 2006.
Diversity is a crucial issue for the technology industry, and we’ve made considerable headway there, too. Our team has diversified and strengthened our board of directors and advisory board, and we’re achieving greater representation of women and minorities in our programming. Thanks to Poonam Balani and Nikey Pierre, our Women in Tech conferences and on-site corporate WiT forums have been hugely successful. I’m proud that we’ve established a strong foundation for further progress.
ES: As the Tech Council has raised its profile, how is that translating into benefits for the tech community?
JB: First, you’re right: We do have a higher profile, and we’ve been able to up-level our marketing and PR efforts. That, in turn, has raised the profile of the state’s tech community, as well as the council’s own relevance. We now have a very active social media presence and integrated marketing capabilities (thanks, Ana Mazumdar), and we use them to spread the word on industry and academic success stories — good news people ought to know about.
We’re also well positioned to quickly go after opportunities as they emerge. For example, we launched a creative campaign to attract Amazon’s HQ2, which included about 900,000 geofenced mobile ads sent to Amazon’s headquarters and national media outlets; we even flew an airplane banner over Seattle to encourage Jeff Bezos to come to Jersey. There’ll be more opportunities like that, and now we have the practical experience to execute on them.
To help our own entrepreneurs flourish more directly, we’ve been delighted to help fundraise and launch our second venture fund, Tech Council Ventures. Under the leadership of Steve Socolof and Jim Gunton, this $55 million fund is off to a great start. We’re also excited by the continued growth of the JumpStart New Jersey Angel Network. These funding arms differentiate us from other trade associations, both here and across the nation.
Speaking of doing things others don’t, we developed the Corporate Innovation Partnership program to help companies, innovate, engage entrepreneurs, launch new products and services and attract and retain better talent. We think it’s a novel model for how associations like ours can promote innovation.
ES: Anything else you’d like to say before we wrap?
JB: I’m just really proud of the team we’ve built since I arrived, particularly since we relocated the council’s headquarters to New Brunswick. They’ve worked tirelessly to create, develop and execute hundreds of events and programs. They’re universally respected and beloved by the community. This team, this family, is why we’ve succeeded over these five years, and it’s been a great privilege to work with them.