NJ Coworking Spaces Chase Momentum on the Other Side of the Hudson

Rather than let the New York innovation community have all the fun, patches of startups are sprouting up across the Hudson River in New Jersey. The Garden State’s innovation scene is more diffuse compared with the concentrated activity in Manhattan and Brooklyn. But New Jersey coworking spaces such as JuiceTank Innovation Lab and Cowerks are looking to grow and accommodate help nurture more startups.

The allure of the innovation scene means more communities want in on the startup action. Coworking for technology startups is a big phenomenon across the country — Xconomy’s Guide to Bay Area Coworking Spaces includes listings for 28 coworking operations, several of which have multiple locations. New York rightly gets a lot of attention on the East Coast, but emerging coworking spaces in New Jersey include Mission Fifty in Hoboken, The Co-Working Space in Woodbridge, and C3 Workplace in Sparta. Montclair-based accelerator TechLaunch was formed by a collaboration of entrepreneurs, Montclair State University, and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. The Tigerlabs entrepreneurship campus in Princeton offers coworking space, accelerator programs, and seed capital.

Down in Asbury Park, Bret Morgan’s Cowerks is getting ready to move by the end of this month from its 700-sq.-ft. space to a 1,600-sq.-ft. home a few blocks away. That may seem like small beer, but the relocation will allow Cowerks, founded in 2010, to offer startups separate offices in addition to an open shared space. “We’re trying to cultivate a scene for entrepreneurship down here outside of the New York ecosystem,” he says.

In addition to co-founding Cowerks, Morgan in 2006 co-founded startup BandsOnABudget.com, which helps bands and businesses with merchandising. Morgan says it can be challenging to bring startups together in his area. However, he says the New Jersey innovation community is growing—with a bit of handholding—in spite of the Big Apple’s allure. “If you open a coworking space in downtown Manhattan, you’d be shooing people away after two weeks,” he says.

A much larger coworking space called JuiceTank set up shop last September in Franklin Township, not far from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, and began accepting startups in October. Founder Mukesh Patel says he considered starting JuiceTank in New York, but he saw an opportunity to fill a space in New Jersey given the access to talent from nearby universities.

An academic collaboration is already in the works. “We just officially launched a strategic partnership with Rutgers University,” Patel says. JuiceTank is working with parts of the school of arts and science, the office of technology commercialization for tech transfers, the business school, and the engineering school. Starting at the end of January, JuiceTank will host a capstone program that will bring in 50 masters students from the business school to work and earn credits.

Much of JuiceTank’s 14,000-sq.-ft. space has yet to be occupied. However Patel says he expects the executive suites will be full by midyear; the communal coworking space should reach at least at half capacity about the same time.

He is already busy helping a few startups get going at JuiceTank. “We have incubated and launched three companies in [the last] three months,” he says. They include mobile app developer Symphony Solutions, social media services company Strat-IQ that serves small businesses, and consumer product company Anna Mikka that developed sunglasses with fashion accessories. JuiceTank can accommodate up to 24 companies in the current space.

Sectors that JuiceTank plans to focus on include technology for mobile, Web, social media, enterprise software, media, entertainment, and digital health. Patel says he wants to incubate at least one company per month going forward, with a focus on established businesses that could generate six-figure revenues within 12 months. “It’s taking a company that’s doing typically under $10 million in revenue and seeing if there are orders of magnitude above that [they can reach],” he says.

Patel says he and his co-founders drew some of their inspiration from incubators, accelerators, and coworking spaces such as General Assembly in New York, Y Combinator in Mountain View, CA, and the Cambridge Innovation Center in Cambridge, MA, as well as local efforts such as C3 and Cowerks. Some of his long-term plans include establishing an investment fund as well as exploring a crowdfunding model to support entrepreneurs.

JuiceTank has its roots in a mentorship conference held last summer for high school and college students hosted by Kean University and organized by Patel. Based on the responses to the conference, he moved forward with plans to create a permanent incubator and accelerator. Patel has worked as an attorney representing entrepreneurs during the high-tech boom of the late 1990s. He separately buys and owns real estate, including the building on Davidson Avenue that JuiceTank calls home.

JuiceTank has the leeway to expand to 25,000 sq. ft. in its current digs—thanks to Patel owning the place—and he has ambitions to break into other markets. Patel is exploring setting up JuiceTank coworking spaces in New York, Boston, Silicon Valley, and Dallas, but such expansion ideas are still in the early planning phase, he says.

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