Oftentimes, the best approach to growth is to take stock of your assets and work like crazy to bring them to their full potential. Such is the case for New Jersey: There's plenty to work with, but its business climate hasn't always offered entrepreneurs the best environment for achieving success.
That is changing.
For the past several years, a concentrated effort has been underway to strengthen the state's business appeal, and strides are being made as a result of collaborative efforts between agencies and higher education. These entities are working to grow the next generation of private companies and encourage more out-of-state businesses to call New Jersey home.
"Our job is to sell New Jersey," said Tracye McDaniel, president and CEO of Choose New Jersey, the privately funded arm of the Partnership for Action. The nonprofit launched in 2010 as part of the Chris Christie administration's economic development strategy.
Choose New Jersey generates its leads from a broad range of companies that fit the state's major attributes, including life sciences, technology and logistics.
"I think the biggest advantage for entrepreneurs is that we have these key anchor clusters," McDaniel said, "and I think that's important as long as we create an environment that supports business."
Another new tool Choose New Jersey has created is called RFP Watch, a database that gives subscribers access to public and private business opportunities in the tristate area.
Incentives also are critical to the effort. In July, the Christie administration introduced the angel investor tax credit program, which supports emerging technology businesses. The program, administered by the Economic Development Authority, provides investors with a tax credit equal to 10 percent of the amount of the investment; capped at $500,000 per tax year.
"This is an effort to foster and drive angel investment into these youngest of companies," said Tim Lizura, EDA president and chief operating officer. "If we don't open up the valve at the earliest stages, we're never going to get anybody through to the later stages."
The EDA's partnership with TechLaunch, a competitive 12-week accelerator course introduced in early 2012, has since graduated its first class of 10 companies, Lizura said, and most of the companies plan to stay in New Jersey.
Last year, 29 firms graduated from the Enterprise Development Center at NJIT, said Jerry Creighton, executive director of the incubator, which averages 90 tenants a year.
"We have a very aggressive program," Creighton said. "On average, I interview one to three application companies per week."
One of the EDC's biggest advantages for startups is its location on the campus of NJIT, which provides access to a wealth of workers.
"My companies have employed, at any one time, about 800 people," he said. "Half of them are full time, and the other half are students."
On the recruiting end, Creighton gets a lot of referrals, but he also partners with and belongs to several organizations in the state, including the New Jersey Technology Council and VentureAssociation of New Jersey.
Jay Trien, president of VANJ, said venture capitalists are on the lookout for people with innovative ideas.
"In this economic environment, angel investors and early-stage venture capital firms are actually more willing to write a check," he said. "The capital that it would have cost to start a business 10 years ago is a lot less now."