Audible giving $250,000 grants to help bring startups to Newark

In stunning show of corporate philanthropy, company formally announces economic development program that already has had success

In an amazing act of corporate giving that already has spurred business development in Newark — one that further demonstrates Audible’s commitment to its headquarters city — Audible announced Tuesday morning the details of a business attraction program that is providing grants of up to $250,000 each to companies that relocate to Newark in the area around Harriet Tubman Square.

Audible officials made it clear that the money is a grant — not a loan or even an investment — and that the money can be used for a variety of purposes, including but not limited to subsidizing a lease or a buildout of that space.

In addition, Audible announced it will provide other incentives, including a $500 monthly stipend for employees of those companies that move to Newark (or already live in Newark) in another effort to bring dollars to businesses.

Companies already in program

Four new tech startups have received packages from Audible in the program and will lease office space in 550 Broad St.

  • ABF Creative is a multicultural kids and family podcast network and production company;
  • Gymble (pronounced gym-bull) is a fitness app, founded by three athletes from Charlotte, North Carolina, that connects communities to facility rentals, personal training and fitness experiences;
  • co:census is a collaborative, cloud-based workspace for urban planning and design teams to learn, plan, create, analyze and work together as they conduct research projects and community engagement;
  • Fitnescity is a consumer health startup that gives consumers easy access to wellness tests, along with personal analytics, while allowing local clinics to reach more consumers.

In addition, Newark Culture Club is opening at 12 Halsey St., and Harlem’s BLVD Bistro will open a second location in the mixed-use space at 33 Washington St.

Audible also will make its experts — and those working at Newark Venture Partners, which Audible founder Don Katz started — available to assist companies in areas such as marketing, finance, sales, business development or whatever is needed.

For Audible, which received national acclaim for its Newark Working Kitchens program that helped feed families and support restaurants during the pandemic, it’s another example of giving back to Newark in a very tangible way — the program could potentially distribute multiple millions of dollars.

“It is an effort to say, ‘How do we catalyze this revitalization in the city?’” Aisha Glover, vice president of urban innovation for Audible’s Global Center for Urban Development, said.

“We’re all in on Newark. We are focused on, ‘How can we be a leader in this space — be disruptive, be inventive, be innovative, be everything we are as a company, but using that to the benefit of the city.’”

The program, which made a soft launch earlier this year, has shown its worth. Six companies already have announced they will be expanding or arriving in Newark.

Glover said there is not necessarily a limit on the number of companies that can receive a grant. And, while the program is tentatively scheduled to run through the end of 2024, it can be extended to meet need and interest, she said — acknowledging the multimillion-dollar potential.

“If there is great demand and folks willing to relocate right at the right stage of their growth, then we’ll expand the program,” she said.

The goal, Glover stressed, is not necessarily the number of companies but the number of employees (and potential residents) that can result from the program.

And, while Audible is eager to bring more business to the city, Glover said the program is intended to favor certain sectors and entrepreneurs — and those at particular points in their development:

  • Companies with at least 10 employees at the seed or Series A stage: Ones that have shown they can scale — and are ready to take the next step in their expansion;
  • Companies in technology: Tech companies tend to scale more quickly;
  • Companies whose founders are women and people of color:
  • Companies willing to locate to the area around Harriet Tubman Square: Audible will help facilitate leasing opportunities at buildings such as 33 Washington St., 550 Broad St., 494 Broad St., 540 Broad St. and 536 Broad St.

How does this work with NVP?

Newark Venture Partners, co-founded by Audible founder Don Katz in 2015, is the most active investor in New Jersey, having invested over $55 million into more than 100 companies, nearly 60% of which are founded by women or founders of color.

Those companies, primarily business-to-business Software-as-a-Service companies, are not necessarily a fit for this program due to different space needs and employee work roles. The NVP leaders, however, will be available to assist the new companies coming into the city.

Audible, in fact, is the master leaseholder of a floor at 33 Washington, where some program participants already have taken space.

Glover said it’s a broader effort to further build a business ecosystem in the part of the city that needs help.

“This is the northernmost end of the Arts and Education District, where there are not as many amenities and not as much foot traffic,” she said. “We’re saying, ‘What can we do to really help drive this, bring more companies in?’

“We’re focused on tech and innovation, because the job rub-off is much higher. For every tech job, you can create up to four additional jobs. And we’re focused on dining and entertainment because we know we need more amenities. We can’t just do this in a silo and say, ‘Just tech companies.’

“We’re trying to be holistic. We’ve made investments in the park, we’re doing the Newark Artists Collaboration. This is meant to be part of a broader creative placemaking and business attraction effort.”

Glover said she hopes to hear from at least 100 companies by the end of the summer — and is eager to begin the vetting process.

“If we hear from 100 and only 10 or 20 make the cut, that would be a success,” she said. “If we hear from 1,000 and 100 make that cut, that would be incredible.”

And a big boost for the area that has great potential.

Harriet Tubman Square is within walking distance of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, robust public transit with access to Manhattan in under 20 minutes and area restaurants including Swahili Village and Marcus B&P.

Audible’s billion-dollar effort

Audible moved to Newark in 2007 and has spearheaded an array of unique programs, including the launch of Newark Venture Partners in 2015, the establishment of the Global Center for Urban Development in 2020 and impact initiatives like NWK Delivers, which have generated close to $1 billion in economic output.

Marc Berson, chairman of Fidelco Realty Group, which owns and operates many of the buildings in the area, said he is happy to participate in the program.

“Fidelco and Audible’s collaboration gives startups and aspiring entrepreneurs access to world-class amenities while they start and expand their businesses in Newark at the historic 550 Broad,” he said. “We are proud to collaborate with Audible in this important effort.”

Glover said the effort is another example of Audible’s commitment to leave a legacy that is far greater than its business success.

“There is a genuine belief that a company can exemplify more than what they do,” she said. “Beyond what we are just providing, as our core business, what can we be known for?

“Being the premium audio storyteller in the entire world is great, but it’s just as important to us for people to say, ‘Audible has really accelerated the revitalization of its headquarters city.’ And this is just one example of how we’re doing that.”

As with all of his programs, Katz said he hopes others will follow the lead.

“This innovative pilot program is another scalable model that can be adopted by other companies seeking to make an impact in the cities they call home,” he said.