For TechUnited:NJ, trip to East Asia showed how much New Jersey can do at home

Here’s the question: Where do top New Jersey companies, top New Jersey universities, top government officials and a top organization geared to building a world-class tech ecosystem in New Jersey come together?

The answer: In the Far East, of course.

Aaron Price, the CEO of TechUnited: New Jersey and the creator of the Propelify Innovation Festival, could only chuckle at the scenario. One, to be sure, he was grateful for.

The ability for so many leaders of the New Jersey community to come together and talk casually about innovation and entrepreneurship was among the biggest takeaways Price had from being a delegate on the 2023 New Jersey East Asia Economic Mission trip, a nine-day journey that ended Sunday.

“Besides the very important mission of sharing the New Jersey message to Asia, this was an incredible opportunity for TechUnited and for New Jersey itself,” he said. “I was expecting there would be benefits from this trip, and, as it was underway, I realized just how much we would have missed if we weren’t here.”

Price gave an example.

After a supply chain presentation by Public Service Enterprise Group CEO Ralph LaRossa — one in which he described how the company was saved by a supplier partner in South Korea — Price and LaRossa had a casual conversation in a ballroom about how technology might help predict failures in the power grid, an area of particular focus to LaRossa: Keeping the grid reliable and online.

“We brainstormed a few ideas, and then I immediately went over to Craig Arnold from Princeton and Mei Wei from Rowan and we talked about how we might leverage their research knowledge here, how TechUnited:NJ might pull in the entrepreneurs to work on a potential solution — and how all of this could take place in our new startup studio incubator, BetterFutureLabs,” Price said.

“At each point, there was a lot of head-nodding and more brainstorming.  It’s still just a brainstorm, but the foundation of this conversation is significant: We’d be engaging the region’s entrepreneurs and university research to build a business, create jobs and help the residents of New Jersey.

“This all unfolded in a matter of minutes. Back home, this would have taken months to even set up initial meetings.”

Price said he had conversations like this with numerous delegates on the trip.

Aaron Price speaks at an event on the East Asia Economic Mission.

Even more, he had conversations with various members of the tech community abroad in all three stops on the trip: Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

“We already knew this, but it was notable to hear firsthand, that they have the same dreams and desires — and issues and challenges — that we have,” he said. “A trip like this gives all of us a chance to work together to help one another and engage our communities in the process.”

Price was thrilled to see the response he got after speaking at the Seoul City Startup Hub event in South Korea was the same as he would have gotten in Jersey.

“As it often happens in the New Jersey startup community, there was a lot of, ‘Hey, do you know so and so (and he did!),’ and, ‘We we’re working on something similar in AI here — how can we collaborate?'” he said.

The connection went deeper, Price said.

“In a way, South Korea is still proving itself and is a bit of an underdog in the startup community,” he said. “The situation there very much parallels New Jersey — and, therefore, the eagerness and ambition to show off their many assets to see how we can collaborate was very real.

“I’ve already gotten WhatsApp messages, LinkedIn requests and follow-up emails from many people that we met at these meetings — from companies big and small as well as investors, reaching out about what we might be able to do together. For us to bring these relationships back to our startups, investors and enterprise members at TechUnited:NJ is a home run.”

An entrepreneur in South Korea even approached Price about starting a TechUnited franchise in that country.

The possibilities are endless.

Of course, that was never so evident as when the delegates toured the LG Science Park in Seoul and the famed Hsinchu Biomedical Science Park in Taiwan — the Silicon Valley of East Asia that is the leader in semiconductor research and design.

Price was excited.  He longs for more of that in New Jersey. And, he left hopeful.

“What struck me at the Hsinchu Science Park in Taiwan were comments Gov. (Phil) Murphy made, alluding to a concentrated effort by the government and tech community to bring together various industries to accelerate growth and build businesses much more effectively,” he said.

“In particular, he noted how the governmental role in putting a finger on the scale was a major contributor to the success that the Science Park was seeing. We’d like to see TechUnited:NJ as the unifying effort for a similar park in New Jersey.

“New Jersey has an opportunity to do quite a bit more of that, especially where startups work with universities and enterprises to solve real problems. This is an area where we’re already making inroads and where we are actively advancing policies to give companies big and small a real advantage.”

Price said TechUnited’s new startup studio, BetterFutureLabs, is an effort to impact that specifically.

“There’s a win for New Jersey in having multiple spaces that have connectivity among them — places in Hoboken/Jersey City, in Princeton, in Asbury Park, in Newark,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have enough places for startups to start.”

It’s an idea Price and TechUnited:NJ have been pushing for years. This trip gave him a chance to talk in-depth about it with the governor and officials from the Economic Development Authority.

“At TechUnited:NJ, we often talk about how we can collaborate and drive innovation among the universities, enterprises and the government,” he said. “Having all of us in the same room is difficult and unusual. Beyond spreading our message about the value of New Jersey to international companies, the trip has given us a unique opportunity to build relationships among us that I’m sure will drive countless collaborations back home.”