Newark Venture Partners has just closed $23M of its $50M fund and launched NVP Labs, an accelerator aiming to invest in high growth companies in Newark (NJ). In conjunction with the double announcement, Tom Wisniewski, NVP Managing Partner, answered our questions about these initiatives, their targets and future plans.
FinSMEs: Hi Tom, can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Tom: I was born in NYC and grew up in Montclair, NJ, just a few miles away from Newark. I was a Physics and Philosophy major undergrad. My first job out of college was as a computer programmer (e.g. big IBM mainframes). After that I worked in investment banking for a few years. After business school, I helped found a startup — Mitchell Madison Group — that was a consulting firm, a spin off from McKinsey. I joined as a green associate, and was there from start-up until the firm reached 1000+ people and 15 offices and was sold in 1999. More recently I have been actively investing out of my family office, RosePaul, in seed stage tech, 5-10 deals a year for the last 5 years. I joined and helped found NVP about 18 months ago, where I am full-time as a Managing Partner.
FinSMEs: What about the entrepreneurial environment of Newark, NJ.?
Tom: Newark is in a state of pioneering, high growth, and has amazing potential as an entrepreneurial location. There are a number of tech giants with offices here including Amazon/Audible and Panasonic. Great co-working spaces including our brand new 25K sq. ft NVP Space, NJIT’s incubator and others. Rents are super cheap, 25K sq. ft for great office space. Newark is home to 40k+ college students from Rutgers and NJIT. It’s 20 minutes from midtown Manhattan with 3 train lines that connect Newark to NYC, as well as Hoboken and Jersey City. NVP is building on this great base and adding momentum to Newark as a tech/entrepreneurial hub.
FinSMEs: Let’s speak about NVP. What’s the target?
Tom: NVP is a new kind of venture capital firm. We’re looking to make the investments in the best young technology companies, bring them to Newark and help them grow here. We can do this because we are active investors pre-seed through Series A, with the ability to invest up to $1M. We offer our company’s huge value-added resources: our 25K sq. ft workspace, access to Audible/ Amazon mentors and resources (an elevator ride away), fantastic 10 Gig fiber-to-the-desktop internet and more. The goal is to attract and invest in companies that will become the next set of market leaders like Audible, here in Newark.
FinSMEs: How does it work? What’s the strategy?
Tom: NVP operates an accelerator and makes direct VC investments in tech startups. We are looking to deploy $10M per year across the spectrum from Pre-Seed, to Seed, to Series A. The accelerator will operate similar to TechStars; we will invest $100k for participation in a 3 month program and serve 15-20 companies per year. In addition, we will look to make seed stage investments of ~$250k, and $1M into Series A rounds. We are opportunistic in our approach to select companies where we see a clear investment rationale, but expect that most companies will fall into the category of software and software enabled business, both B2B and B2C.
FinSMES: Personally speaking, what do you like (don’t you like) to see in startup founders?
Tom: To succeed, founders need to have a bunch of core qualities. They must be incredibly persistent, and have an almost irrational belief that they can win. They need to be good (or get good) at pitching: pitching to attract investors, team members, clients. So much of life as a founder is communicating what you are doing and convincing others to “join you.” I want founders to be “authentic”: they have real insights on their sector based on real experiences there, not just talking about some common problem they ran into recently in their daily life. Common mistakes? Not preparing for the meeting, not taking the time to research the background of who they are pitching to. Not properly understanding the current and past competitors, why they have succeeded or failed.
FinSMEs: Can you introduce the other members of the management team?
Dan Borok, Managing Partner, who has more than 15 years of venture capital and technology experience, having worked at DoubleClick, Google and Millennium Technology Value Partners. He has led or co-led investments in BigCommerce, Envivio (IPO), Glamsquad, Janrain, MarkLogic, SugarCRM, and Watchdox (Acquired by BlackBerry), Yodle (Acquired by Web.com), as well as working on many other investments. Dan has an MBA from Columbia Business School and a BA from University of Vermont.
Tal Lev, Partner and CFO, who has over 15 years of investing and operational experience. He was previously CFO of LoyalBlocks, a venture-backed technology company, and prior to that the third employee of Ceragon Networks (NASDAQ: CRNT), a Principal with JVP (an $800M VC), and spent eight years as a Wall St analyst (Bernstein, Cowen). Tal has an MBA from Wharton (Palmer scholar), an MS in Computer Science and a BS in Electrical Engineering.
FinSMEs: Have you already made some investments?
Tom: We are closing on our first two investments as we speak. One is StrongArm, a really amazing manufacturer of wearables for “industrial athletes.” For instance, a warehouse worker uses their lightweight exoskeleton to prevent back injury, and increase strength and stamina. All the while the unit is capturing valuable information on their productivity and any actions taken that could risk injury as well.