By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Don Katz wants Newark to be the new Brooklyn.
The founder of Audible.com, with 700 employees in downtown Newark, announced a $50 million venture capital fund to lure 50 new tech start-up companies to his building.
Team Leader Tom Wisniewski said, “And our goal is to bring hundreds of young high-growth potential tech companies to Newark to join us in an accelerator, a collaborative workspace.”
“Newark has some of the highest speed internet in the country. I get to say that today. And it completes our infrastructure finally. The best roads, the rail, the boats, the air and now tech,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
A roomful of notables was on hand.
Each in his own way talked about how technology creates opportunity.
“It takes an educated workforce, it takes a perfectly located company that has access to bandwidth and fiber-optics. But most importantly it takes venture capital, people who are willing to take risks,” said Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno.
“I’m the oldest guy up here. I can’t explain the technology, But I know this. This is what our friend Bill Clinton would call a big deal,” said Tom Kean.
Newark boosters called this one more step along the path to a Newark revival.
“The idea of creating a space for innovators, which I’ve seen in Silicon Ally in Chicago, it is most important that it’s done right here in Newark,” said Sen. Cory Booker.
New Jersey has fallen back in terms of start-ups.
Start-ups attracted $543 million of venture capital here last year, one-tenth of the $5.1 billion that got invested in New York.
By comparison, in 2005 venture capitalists put $887 million into New Jersey, almost as much as the $1.1 billion they put forward in New York.
Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey was on hand.
Philanthropist Ray Chambers is involved.
Audible founder Katz said there is a welter of start-up ideas out there.
“Only 3 percent of the applicants are getting into the New York accelerators and incubators, so there really is an overabundance of talent. And when these companies take off, they don’t grow at 10 jobs a year, they grow at our scale, a job a day,” Katz said.
According to Katz, commercial plastic was invented in Newark, commercial radio and the precursor to the fax machine. Now it’s time, he and others here say, for Newark to be the home of some 21st century inventions.