Former head of the NJ Tech Council (now called TechUnited), and now the founder and CEO of Innovation+, a curated global community of entrepreneurs and innovators, James Barrood is continuing his work of cultivating the high-tech ecosystem by engaging the academic and corporate communities, advising companies, and helping startups get funded, grow, scale and much more.
Among the primary leaders of the East Coast’s innovation ecosystem, having helped nurture the region’s entrepreneurial, innovation and technology communities, Barrood shared his thoughts on where New Jersey’s innovation ecosystem currently stands.
“New Jersey has an amazing legacy of innovation,’’ Barrood tells New Jersey Business. “From Einstein to Edison to Bell Labs and everything in between, we are so fortunate to have that history.”
On top of its history, the state boasts some well-documented attributes, such as its top-ranked school systems, nation-leading diversity, and pipeline for globally coveted talent.
“There are a lot of factors that make New Jersey such a special and dynamic state, and they all contribute to the state’s future of having an innovation economy,” Barrood says.
While regional stalwarts like New York and Massachusetts remain atop the innovation heap, it is clear New Jersey has all the qualities needed to match their prowess in reinventing and growing its own innovation ecosystem.
Pre-pandemic, the New York Metropolitan area ranked second in the nation behind only Silicon Valley when it came to VC funding, but Barrood says that the pandemic has forced a shift in mindset for investors.
“The pandemic has actually helped the situation for entrepreneurs everywhere – especially in this region,” Barrood says, adding that remote work has made investors more comfortable investing in companies they are not in close physical proximity to.
“Now is the best time [to secure funding], probably in history, because there is so much more money and it’s not relegated to regions … it is global, and just a Zoom call away,” Barrood says.
According to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, $3.7 billion in angel and VC investments have been raised for 129 companies since Oct. 1, 2020.
“We have been nurturing our innovation economy for decades now. We are better than we’ve ever been before, but we still have a long way to go,” Barrood says.
New Jersey’s road to reclaiming its stature as the Innovative State is not without its challenges, as its tax climate and inability to retain its top talent remain issues, but Barrood remains optimistic that the state is on the right track.
“If we can continue to nurture entrepreneurs and innovators more thoughtfully and effectively – without all the bureaucracy – in a more friendly ecosystem where everyone is helping each other collaborate even more, then I think we will be positioned for an even brighter future,” Barrood says.
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