Press Release
November 16, 2017
4 minute read

New Jersey Founders and Funders All Stars Event to Feature Panel of Successful NJ Entrepreneurs


Event Features Competition, Networking for Technology and Life Sciences Entrepreneurs

TRENTON (November 16, 2017) –  An upcoming event designed to connect New Jersey entrepreneurs directly with investors will feature a panel of experts sharing trials, successes, and lessons learned along the path of growing startup technology and life sciences companies. Hosted by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), New Jersey Founders and Funders All-Stars will be held on December 6, 2017 at the newly-completed 32,600-square-foot Biotechnology Development Center on the Technology Centre of New Jersey campus in North Brunswick.

The panel, entitled Navigating the Fundraising Trail, will shed light on the trials, successes and wisdom of four New Jersey entrepreneurs, leveraging their insights on fundraising, maximizing investor relationships, and the path to exit, based on their unique experiences managing and growing startup companies in the State.   Each panelist has been in the shoes of the Founders participating in the event and has successfully raised capital, managed deal terms, dilution, and board expectations.   

Featured panelists will include:

Fred Dirla, CEO, Austere Solutions – Dirla, a serial entrepreneur, is now CEO of Austere Solutions, which focuses on interim executive positions, as well as advisory and consultative services. Dirla’s most recent exit was FieldView Solutions, where he was the CEO & Founder of the venture-backed enterprise software company. FieldView Solutions was the first company to receive financing through New Jersey’s Edison Innovation Green Growth Fund when it closed on a $1 million growth capital loan from the EDA in 2012. 

Rick Kushel, CEO, DealCloud –  Kushel is a three-time founder member of entrepreneurial businesses, and is now at DealCloud, which was founded in 2010 to provide Customer Relationship Management, deal management and business development software for principal investing and M&A advisory professionals.  Previously, Kushel was a strategic advisor to the innovations portfolio at The Blackstone Group, which he joined in 2007 to become CEO of a technology spinout which became iLevel Solutions. Prior to Blackstone, Kushel was Chairman and CEO of Archive Systems, Inc., a leading on-demand document management company he founded in 1991. Archive Systems was approved by the EDA in 2007 for a $1 million investment through the Edison Innovation Fund to help the company develop state-of-the-art digital infrastructure. Under Kushel’s leadership, Archive Systems achieved 14 years of double-digit revenue growth, grew to 250 employees and raised over $20M in venture capital from the Carlyle Group, and the EDA-supported Edison Ventures and NJTC venture funds. An active angel investor, Kushel served on Archive System’s board until its recent sale to Access Information Management. 

Dennis O’Dowd, Partner, Crosswalk Ventures – O’Dowd has over 20 years of business experience in private equity financing and mergers and acquisitions.  O’Dowd recently co-founded Crosswalk Ventures, a fund dedicated to investing in the healthcare and life sciences industry.  Prior to Crosswalk, O’Dowd was a principal at Ivy Capital Partners Management, LLC, which managed two orthopedic-focused venture funds with over 20 investments, spanning start-ups through public company rounds.   O’Dowd served on several Boards at Ivy’s portfolio companies, including IvyRehab Network, Inc. (acquired by a private equity fund) and Ivy Sports Medicine, LLC (acquired by Stryker, Corp.) Additionally, O’Dowd served as CFO to Ivy Sports Medicine, LLC where he secured multiple financing rounds, including a successful partnership with the NJEDA, and ultimately led the sale process to Stryker.  Prior to joining Ivy, O’Dowd was a principal at Grumman Hill Group, LLC, a generalist private equity fund, and spent two years each at Salomon Smith Barney in the Mergers and Acquisitions group, and at Price Waterhouse, LLP in the Corporate Finance division.  

Dr. Ashish Vengsarkar, Ph.D., CEO, Nistica – Dr. Vengsarkar founded Nistica, a leading supplier of optical subsystems that power telecommunications networks, in 2005. Shortly thereafter, Nistica received a $1-million Edison Innovation Fund investment from the EDA. Batelle Ventures was also an investor in Nistica, which was acquired by Fujikura in 2012, but has continued to operate as a Fujikura subsidiary.  After beginning his career at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill in 1991, Vengsarkar went on to launch his first telecommunications start-up, Photuris, in 2000. Throughout his entrepreneurial career, he has raised over $150 million in venture capital funding, has structured numerous strategic partnerships with international corporations, and has served on Boards of numerous start-ups and mentored many young entrepreneurs.

New Jersey Founders and Funders is a bi-annual event hosted by EDA that connects early-stage New Jersey technology and life sciences businesses with investors through 10-minute, one-on-one, “speed dating” sessions to discuss strategy, business models, and funding opportunities. These discussions help early-stage companies gain critical insight on how best to position their startups within the Garden State’s vibrant technology ecosystem. 

In this special “All-Stars” version of New Jersey Founders & Funders, returning companies will participate in a pitch competition for a $50,000 award, the winner of which will be voted on by the audience. 

“The New Jersey Founders and Funders All-Stars event will be valuable to participating entrepreneurs on a number of levels,” EDA Chief Executive Officer Melissa Orsen said. “In addition to the monetary award that will be available to past New Jersey Founders and Funders participants, all attendees can learn from the experience of both investors and seasoned entrepreneurs.” 

In addition to the one-on-one investor meetings and the panel, there will be ample networking opportunities for entrepreneurs, investors and other community stakeholders. Returning companies, other entrepreneurs, investors, and industry partners may register until November 27 at

To stimulate the growth of New Jersey’s innovation economy and drive commercialization of pioneering technology within the state, the EDA offers a continuum of assistance specifically designed to help technology and biotechnology companies at every stage of development. From networking and mentoring opportunities, to financial assistance, hundreds of entrepreneurs, emerging businesses and established companies benefit from EDA support each year. Examples of this support include the New Jersey Angel Investor Tax Credit Program, State’s Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer (NOL) Program and resources available through CCIT.

To learn about the various programs available to support the technology industry, visit and follow @NJEDATech on Twitter and LinkedIn.