When Don Katz started Audible.com more than 20 years ago, he said the spoken word was a tiny business.
Fast forward two decades and it’s a world that increasingly relies, expects and demands advancement in technologies to live smarter, play better and work more efficiently and productively. In other words, it’s an invitation for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to test their ideas and collaboration.
“There’s no more upside than investing in great ideas. It’s one hundred percent,” Katz said.
Audible moved to Newark in 2007 with a spirit of innovation, investment and social responsibility in turning around New Jersey’s biggest city.
“The first thing that we did is basically say that all paid internships go to kids from Newark,” Katz said.
Audible’s influence is visible with new businesses in the shadow of its Newark headquarters and re-construction of a cathedral for innovation. And its Newark Venture Partners are infusing company founders with cash and coaching to make startup dreams come true, create jobs and generate tax revenue.
Katz urged this Audible and NJBIA “Tale of Tech Cities Forum” to look at the state’s injured big cities as opportunities.
“Focus on them almost as literal frontiers, places to unlock both the human capacity and the will to be better, and then actually look for growth right in those cities. It’s an amazing opportunity,” Katz said.
Some business leaders credit Audible with creating a tech-based ecosystem. Startups eager to follow the big company’s lead are keeping city hall busy with trying to match entrepreneurs with development space.
“The number of inquiries that come in to our office, that come directly into City Hall has just skyrocketed, so we’re trying to keep up,” said Aisha Glover, president and CEO of Newark Community Economic Development Corporation.
With all the talk of attracting entrepreneurs and investors and money for startups, Newark says there’s another simple element to the equation.
“Some of the questions I was thinking about, what can the government do to support? I think first and foremost it’s kind of like the doctor’s mantra, right? Which is first, do no harm,” Glover said.
Jim Barood of the New Jersey Tech Council says the state can do better in helping startups.
“Changing perceptions that this is a place to start and grow your business. I think we need to do more work in that because there’s a very expensive campaign coming from New York City saying it’s cheaper to start a business in New York City than it is here, which is insane,” said Barood.
New Jersey and Newark have made a bid to make it cheaper for Audible’s parent company Amazon to build its second headquarters in Newark with a $7 billion package of incentives put together by the state, city and business and civic leaders.
“And they basically all signed off, and it created one of the most impressive cases for, a business case for a city, and moral case for a city that were really profound,” Katz said.
Gov. Phil Murphy digressed from his prepared remarks to comment on if the report is true that Amazon is seeking to avoid what it’s blamed for in Seattle — soaring housing prices and paralyzing traffic.
“Newark is absolutely purpose-built for a company like Amazon. In particular for this notion it’s got to work for the new folks, but it’s got to work for the folks who fought and stayed. And I think our city right here, this city right here, is uniquely qualified,” Murphy said.
Touting Newark for big and small businesses.