Jessica Gonzalez has been a fixture on the entrepreneurship scene in New Jersey for nearly a decade — or since her first company, InCharged, turned the need for phone charging into a marketing opportunity for major brands.
Her latest venture, VendX — what she calls “experiential vending machines” — experienced growth as part of the most recent Newark Venture Partners‘ cohort. Then COVID-19 hit. And Gonzalez said she knew she had to pivot.
“I saw the writing on the wall,” she said. “Events were not going to open up for some time. So, we all retreated back to our houses and I started building in my basement.”
Gonzalez felt the impact of the coronavirus would forever alter her product.
“We took this experiential vending machine where people would experience it, touch it, feel it and we turned it into a touchless experience,” she said. “People are able to go up to the unit, scan a QR code, and it will bring up a web address on their phone. So, the experience became touchless.”
Gonzalez is now trying to figure out how this technology can apply to others. One of the ways is working with major brands to help shift retail to be more hands-free, she said.
“We’re working in the beauty industry on a way to replace testers because no one wants to use a shared tester now. We’re working in other industries, like airlines, and thinking about corporate being able to dispense PPE material. This could work in pretty much any industry.”
This entrepreneurial spirit caught the eye of Gov. Phil Murphy, who made Gonzalez a member of his prestigious Restart and Recovery Commission this April.
The commission was headed by Merck Chair Kenneth Frazier and former Princeton University president Shirley Tilghman. It included a number of notables in the business world, including former Fed chair Ben Bernanke, Amtrak Chairman Tony Coscia, Apple executive Lisa Jackson, former head of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka.
Gonzalez, who was selected to represent the interests of entrepreneurs and small business owners, said the experience was invaluable.
“It’s been an honor to represent New Jersey’s small businesses on Governor Murphy’s Restart New Jersey Commission,” she said. “Despite the challenges of the past few months, we are now able to say we have some of the lowest transmission rates in the country.
“Our leadership and our business community have been driving that result by working together to put people — our friends and families, and our employees and customers — first.”
This emphasis on employees and customers came into play in her own business world.
While pivoting the business plan of VendX, the need for increased sanitation presented another business opportunity. So, she started LuxUVC.
Gonzalez said LuxUVC offers a variety of disinfecting products, which removes 99.9% of germs in as little as 10 minutes with UV-C sanitizing light. She said she is selling cleaning kits to small businesses — “disinfection that doesn’t break the bank” — in addition to free tips on best practices.
Gonzalez said revenue from LuxUVC will help support VendX’s growth — in addition to seed funding. She said her collaboration with NVP has been a plus.
“Newark Venture Partners has been phenomenal,” she said. “I’ve been a solopreneur my whole entrepreneur journey. And, for once, I feel like I actually have partners.”
Gonzalez said she wears several hats with multiple companies, including being a mom during a pandemic. She hopes to serve as an inspiration for her own kids and others.
“I would say to everyone this applies to, you could be a mother, a woman, a minority, in the LGBTQ community and still be able to make it,” she said. “You’ve just got to keep going.”
And adjust along the way.
“If I didn’t pivot, my revenue would be zero,” she said. “The most important thing is to not stop working and not take defeat.”