TechLaunch Accelerator Showcases New Jersey’s Entrepreneurial Talent
TechLaunch BullPen 2 judges and audience Members listen to pitches at NJIT.
TRENTON (July 12, 2017) – The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) has long been at the forefront of ensuring that growing technology companies have the resources they need to thrive – from loans and investments to training and mentoring opportunities. One example of this is TechLaunch, which was founded in 2012 by successful entrepreneur and angel investor, Mario Casabona, in collaboration with the EDA and New Jersey’s angel investor community.
The investor-led technology accelerator was launched to drive the commercialization of emerging technology created by aspiring entrepreneurs. TechLaunch 1.0 provided a 16-week business boot camp program, from which entrepreneurs graduated by presenting their companies at a final “Demo Day.” It provided co-working space, mentoring, business workshops, coaching and access to capital to 26 ventures, 65 entrepreneurs, and 55 interns in the last three years.
This year, TechLaunch 2.0 features a reinvented accelerator model, moving away from the boot camp-style training program and toward single pitch events called “BullPen.” BullPen is loosely modeled after the hit ABC show “Shark Tank,” with entrepreneurs making the case for funding to a panel of investors and an audience of business leaders and academics.
Casabona and his team of entrepreneurs, angel investors, and business leaders have created a collaborative dynamic in which the BullPen functions seamlessly. Furthering the collaborative nature of New Jersey’s vibrant technology ecosystem, before and after presenting at a TechLaunch BullPen event, teams have the option to partner with one or more of TechLaunch’s 150 mentors to receive coaching and advice in areas where their companies need assistance. EDA Program Manager Kamran Hashmi serves as a TechLaunch mentor.
The bi-monthly competitions are held at university campuses throughout the State, with an average of four presenting companies per BullPen, of which three are considered early-stage, and one slot is reserved for a student entrepreneur from the hosting school. To date, BullPens have been held at Rutgers University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Fairleigh Dickinson University. The next TechLaunch BullPen is scheduled for September 20 at Montclair State University. An online application can be found on TechLaunch’s website. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.
“New Jersey is ripe with innovation, and competitions like TechLaunch BullPen give emerging entrepreneurs the opportunity for one-on-one training from mentors and face time with multiple investors,” EDA Chief Executive Officer Melissa Orsen said. “The EDA routinely attends BullPen events to keep a pulse on New Jersey’s technology sector.”
Several TechLaunch graduates and BullPen participants have also pitched to investors during the EDA’s New Jersey Founders and Funders events. Held semi-annually, New Jersey Founders & Funders enables early-stage New Jersey businesses to meet one-on-one with investors in 10-minute, “speed dating” sessions to discuss strategy, business models and funding opportunities. TechLaunch graduates FUSAR, NuSkool, and SHIELDtech have all gleaned invaluable advice through New Jersey Founders & Funders, as have BullPen #1 participant PeduL and BullPen #3 winner iSport360.
Casabona has a long history of bolstering the State’s emerging technology companies. Among his many accomplishments, he currently serves on the EDA’s Technology Advisory Board and is a Chairman Emeritus of Jumpstart New Jersey Angel Network and the Research & Development Council of New Jersey.
@NJEDATech asked Casabona about his experience as an investor in New Jersey:
Why is investing in New Jersey companies such a priority for you?
As a proud immigrant from Italy who has worked hard to fulfill the American Dream right here in New Jersey, I can’t help but feel a fierce loyalty to the State and its diverse population of likeminded, hardworking dreamers. New Jersey’s legacy is one of innovation and elevation, with countless successes in our past and countless more in our future. It just takes the right mix of leadership and vision to help steer our talented technology ecosystem toward profitable and inspiring achievements.
How do you choose which companies to bring into your portfolio?
As an entrepreneur and angel investor, my objective is to identify seed and early stage companies that have already proven themselves viable and worth my investment, based on a variety of return on investment criteria. I’m particularly interested in Northeast-based technology driven start-ups. By partnering with dynamic executive teams, I aim to commercialize innovative and industry-impacting technologies, driving them from the laboratory to the marketplace. But it’s not just a numbers game, for me. My investment strategy leans heavily on the team itself. Are team members coachable? How much sweat equity have they invested in their company? How much have they sacrificed? These factors all play a role in managing my portfolio for my venture capital firm, Casabona Ventures, and preparing these companies for the TechLaunch BullPen.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs participating in their first pitch competition?
Practice and preparation are the key words in approaching BullPen. This is a highly professional event, judged and attended by seasoned business people, investors and entrepreneurs widely respected throughout the State. If you think you may need some guidance in advance of BullPen, perhaps to address gaps in your business model, I encourage you to take advantage of the coaching opportunities offered by our vast stable of volunteer mentors whose expertise is sure to prove invaluable. And when you’re facing the scrutiny of the investor panel and audience, listen, and learn. Many of these investors have stood where you are now and speak from hard-earned experience.
How do you select which companies to accept into BullPen?
With TechLaunch’s transition to an accelerator centered on the pitch, our rolling application process is ideal for early stage startup companies with high growth potential and an experienced team. Our selection committee seeks out companies with an existing product, at least one potential customer on board, some seed capital in the coffers, and sweat equity of six to 12 months already banked. Participating companies should be seeking anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 in additional funding. And bottom line: They must be coachable.
The EDA offers a multitude of resources to help technology and biotechnology companies grow and thrive in New Jersey. To learn more, visit https://www.njeda.gov/tls and follow @NJEDATech on Twitter and LinkedIn.