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Press Release
March 5, 2024
4 minute read

NJEDA Hosts Diversity Finance Advisory Board Meeting, Convening Diverse Group of Entrepreneurs and Investors


Meeting highlights Governor’s commitment to equity and inclusion in New Jersey’s innovation economy

TRENTON, N.J. (March 5, 2024) – The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) held the first in-person meeting of the Diversity Finance Advisory Board (DFAB) last week, bringing together a diverse group of investors, entrepreneurs, and mentors for presentations and networking sessions. Held at the Newark Art Museum, the event featured recognition of the New Jersey Innovation Fellows (NJIF) inaugural cohort, and remarks from NJEDA’s Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan and Chief Economic Transformation Officer Kathleen Coviello on the importance of equitable access to funding for women- and minority-owned start-ups. 

“The Diversity Finance Advisory Board meeting last week advances Governor Phil Murphy’s goal of creating the most diverse and equitable innovation economy in the nation, bringing together leaders of inventive start-up companies and seasoned investors for an important dialogue on access to capital,” said NJEDA Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan. “While we have more work to do to ensure minority entrepreneurs have access to the funding needed to launch and grow in the Garden State, discussions such as these will help to spark ideas for ways to level the playing field.”

Established in September 2023, the DFAB works to increase access to institutional capital for women- and minority-owned startups, providing knowledge, guidance, and insights on ways to best increase capital, access, and investments in New Jersey’s diverse entrepreneurs. In addition to the DFAB and the inaugural NJIF cohort, investment managers from the Black and Latino Seed Fund and Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Individuals (SEDI) Seed Fund, as well as other venture capital partners, attended the event.   

“Last week’s event showcased the growing diversity in New Jersey’s innovation sectors and is a tremendous step toward ensuring every entrepreneur has equitable access to opportunities and funding,” said NJEDA Chief Economic Transformation Officer Kathleen Coviello. “The NJEDA is taking important steps toward Governor Murphy’s goal of making the Garden State’s economy stronger and fairer by investing in inventive companies led by entrepreneurs that represent New Jersey’s culturally diverse population.”

Michael Johnson, President of the New Jersey Innovation Institute, addressed the crowd, identifying lessons he has learned through his far-ranging career as an innovator, and strategies that entrepreneurs can take to scale their unique businesses. Founded in 2014 at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the New Jersey Innovation Institute aims to accelerate the translation of technologies, foster innovation and upskilling the state’s workforce by being a conduit between NJIT and the outside world.

“It has been breathtaking to see the changes in the state’s innovation economy in such a short period of time and programs like NJ Innovation Fellows are exactly what the state needs to spur innovation and build an innovation ecosystem,” said Johnson.

As part of the event, companies from the inaugural cohort of the NJIF program were invited to attend and network with investors, fellow entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. Announced in January 2024, the cohort consists of 10 new businesses, made up of 30 entrepreneurs, who will receive a total of $3.6 million in income replacement grants, as well as mentorship and training. Income replacement grants ensure that first-time entrepreneurs, diverse entrepreneurs, and recent grad students, who may not be able to forego steady income, are able to dedicate more time to growing the state’s innovation economy.

The application period for the second cohort of the NJIF program is expected to open in early April. For more information, visit https://www.njeda.gov/new-jersey-innovation-fellows-program/ or email questions to NJInnovationFellows@njeda.gov.

Among the NJIF cohort members participating in the Diversity Finance Advisory Board meeting were:

Klick Studios, a woman-owned, NJIF inaugural cohort member based in Burlington City, aims to fuse innovative digital media technologies with traditional video and content marketing tools to create interactive, immersive experiences. Klick Studios Chief Executive Officer and Founder Nefer Craig, who attended the event, said that the experience of being recognized by the Innovation Fellows program resulted in opportunities for further growth.

“Being an awardee has significantly elevated our business profile, opening doors to new opportunities and mentors that were previously beyond our reach. The recognition has not only validated our efforts and mission but has boosted team morale, instilling a greater sense of purpose, commitment, and readiness,” said Craig. “The event itself was an incredible experience, offering a platform to connect with industry leaders, potential investors, and fellow innovators. It provided invaluable insights and inspiration, fueling our passion and determination to drive our business forward.”

Another inaugural cohort member, AbilityHUB in West Windsor, will facilitate collaboration among service providers, caregivers, disabled community members, and their families by ensuring the delivery of services that impact whole person health for the disabled community. Chief Executive Officer Rohit Mathur said that funding from the program has allowed him to pursue his goal of growing an impactful business. 

“The significant funding provided by the NJEDA for income replacement has presented a huge opportunity to focus on growing our business. This funding has not only enabled us to leave our full-time jobs and pursue our entrepreneurial dream, but also think about growing our business and dedicating ourselves full-time,” said Mathur. “We are very, very heartened to hear from the NJEDA and other prominent leaders at this event, and to learn all the various features and functionalities of NJEDA programs that they are bringing to us to help us grow and prosper in the state.”

NJIF member My FitPlate, based in Jersey City, aims to revolutionize the way people see food by creating a wellness application and community that will aid users in their health and wellness journey alongside innovative Artificial Intelligence technology that will determine calorie counts and nutritional value. My FitPlate Chief Executive Officer Loraina Calderon said support from the NJIF program is opening doors to opportunities that startup companies struggle to access.

“This opportunity provided by the NJEDA is literally changing our lives,” said Calderon. “In most cases, startup businesses are not afforded a lot of funding, especially when you’re pre-launch of your product. So, we are very excited and grateful for this money and the opportunities that are part of this program, as well as the mentorship that is going to allow us to thrive as a business.”

About the NJEDA

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) serves as the State’s principal agency for driving economic growth. The NJEDA is committed to making New Jersey a national model for inclusive and sustainable economic development by focusing on key strategies to help build strong and dynamic communities, create good jobs for New Jersey residents, and provide pathways to a stronger and fairer economy. Through partnerships with a diverse range of stakeholders, the NJEDA creates and implements initiatives to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life in the State and strengthen New Jersey’s long-term economic competitiveness.

To learn more about NJEDA resources for businesses, call NJEDA Customer Care at 844-965-1125 or visit https://www.njeda.gov and follow @NewJerseyEDA on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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