Dream scenario: Why NJ FAST feels it will seize once-in-a-generation opportunity in fintech

Fintech accelerator, to be based at Stevens, will bring together higher ed research, government and private sector support — and Plug and Play, one of world’s top technology investor groups

As the dean of the data-driven business school at Stevens Institute of Technology and an internationally recognized scholar in the field of operations research, Gregory Prastacos tends to be precise in his language.

So, when he stood in front of the podium Tuesday at the launch of NJ FAST, the new fintech accelerator at Stevens, and gave a heartfelt speech of what this initiative means to him, it showed the impact the program already is having.

“I’ve been the dean here for 12 years, and I have to say that today is one of the most gratifying, most important moments in my career,” he said.

“You know that mixed feeling of joy and maybe disbelief when we get something that we’ve dreamed of and worked hard for is actually happening — that is how I feel today.

“A dream we all had at Stevens is coming true.”

To be clear, NJ FAST does much more than just make Stevens a leader in fintech research. The Hoboken-based school long has been that — as evidenced by a number of metrics, including its selection as the first school in the country to get a National Science Foundation grant for fintech.

NJ FAST is more than that.

It creates a unique collaboration between the school, the state (the New Jersey Economic Development Authority is investing $18 million), the private sector (Prudential Financial is a founding partner) and Plug and Play Tech Center (it may sound like an arcade, but it’s actually one of the top venture funders in the world).

Prastacos wasn’t the only one who was excited.


Prudential Chief Financial Officer Bob Bastian said the partnership is about not just fostering startups, but fostering community.

“We are embarking on a monumental moment in the landscape of innovation, collaboration and economic development here in the Garden State.”

Gov. Phil Murphy shakes hands with Stevens President Nariman Farvardin.

Stevens President Nariman Farvardin said the potential of the partners — the ones announced Tuesday and the ones that surely will come — cannot be overlooked.

“The synergies of the partners that are here, public sector, private sector and higher education — and the many who will join us in the future — will propel and innovate fintech ideas from mind to market,” he said.

Of course, there is no bigger partner than Plug and Play.

Plug and Play, which was founded in the 1990s and saw early success from investments in companies like PayPal and Dropbox, has a presence across five continents.

Its founder and CEO, Saeed Amidi, said he is thrilled to make New Jersey the site of the global firm’s first East Coast office. He said he was overwhelmed by the welcome he has received — and vowed to come back often.

He may need to.

From 2020-22, Plug and Play was the most active startup accelerator in the world, investing in more than 250 companies a year. Amidi said he hopes NJ FAST will quickly create 50 companies — and that he hopes Plug and Play will be able to invest in a dozen of them.

“We will make this platform the best innovation platform for fintech in the world,” he said. “I personally guarantee it.”


Gov. Phil Murphy was more than overjoyed. NJ FAST is another success story in his push to re-create the state’s innovation economy.

“(NJ FAST) will bring together the world’s top minds in finance and technology to pioneer game-changing innovations in fintech,” he said. “And, as New Jersey’s first accelerator that is explicitly focused on fintech, NJ FAST will nurture a new generation of companies as well as a new generation of jobs right here in the Garden State.”

Gov. Phil Murphy speaks at the event.

The initiative plays to some of the state’s greatest strengths: banking and finance overall, and fintech more specifically.

Murphy rattled off a handful of huge companies with a strong presence in New Jersey that could become players in NJ FAST in addition to Prudential: Barclays, ADP, JPMorgan, BNY Mellon, Fiserv and many more, he said.

“With NJ FAST, we’re not only doubling down on one of New Jersey’s bedrock industries, we are also seizing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine fintech,” he said.

Being able to partner with Plug and Play is key, Murphy said, calling the Silicon Valley-based firm an iconic name in the world of innovation.

“Plug and Play has partnered with hundreds of startups and industry-leading companies literally around the globe to incubate revolutionary technologies,” he said.


Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the NJEDA, obviously is all-in.

It’s why the EDA, through use of funding available for Strategic Innovation Centers, will contribute up to $18 million to the program (Stevens, Prudential and Plug and Play collectively will match that).

Tim Sullivan speaks at the event.

Here’s the catch: Sullivan isn’t entirely sure what the group will be getting for the investment.

And that’s a good thing, he said.

“We have really focused under Gov. Murphy’s leadership on building our capacity for innovation,” he said. “None of us know exactly what’s going to happen here. Which company is going to grow out of this. Maybe the next Prudential is sitting in a classroom somewhere here on the Stevens campus.

“That’s the nature of innovation. But, when you add a Plug and Play to our innovation ecosystem, we think the sky’s the limit.”

Justin Murray couldn’t agree more.

Murray is now the director of partnerships for TechUnited: New Jersey. But, just a few years ago, the 2021 Stevens grad was trying to make a go of it with a startup he had created with a few of his fellow students.

His group eventually gave up on their dreams — six-figure salary offers from Corporate America can do that, he said.

But, if something such as NJ FAST was around then, well …

“The NJ FAST program is coming into a university that’s historically known for placing extremely intelligent students in Corporate America,” he said. “For those that chose to pursue something entrepreneurial, like myself, there was a major gap between being capable of taking the leap and having the backing to make that company work.

“NJ FAST, through both the fundraising and the corporate alliances, will keep more students involved and help justify their decision to go the entrepreneurial route.”

When it does, Prastacos may no longer be the only one at Stevens to have a big dream come true.