tech

High Tech for All

From corporations and learning institutions to individuals citywide, Newark is committed to equitable access to bridge the digital divide.

Online health news portal WebMD’s April announcement of plans to move its headquarters and more than 600 employees to Onyx Equities’ Gateway 2 building was hailed as further proof that super-fast Wi-Fi and one of the nation’s most advanced fiber networks were game changers for Newark.

“Newark is quickly transforming into a tech hub and major companies are taking notice,” Choose New Jersey President and CEO Jose Lozano says. “We were proud to support WebMD’s move to Newark and look forward to welcoming the company as our new neighbor. Newark offers all the access to New York City at a more affordable cost, with a robust transportation system and a top talent pool.”

Translating that advantage to residents and businesses at all levels of the economic spectrum is a key component of Newark’s efforts to ensure equity and opportunity for all.

Newark Fiber is the city’s high speed internet company, managed by Invest Newark. “A key goal at Newark Fiber is to address the city’s digital divide by increasing access to free high-speed internet for underrepresented areas, to create positive outcomes like educational benefits, and to increase property values and economic growth for families,” Invest Newark President and CEO Bernel Hall notes. “In the last year, Newark Fiber has grown to include 71 buildings, 83 commercial customers, 1,500 plus residential tenant customers and several Wi-Fi points across the city with more than 10,000 people using Newark Fiber each day.”

“Newark Fiber’s goal is to provide low-cost, high-speed internet service to all residential areas, schools and parks in Newark,” Hall continues. “Invest Newark is working with other organizations to get Newark Fiber to target areas like low-income housing. The organization is conducting an audit of the fiber infrastructure to develop a four-year comprehensive plan to enable Newark Fiber to be available to all city residents and beyond.”

In 2020, while many companies shut down or limited participation in their internship programs due to COVID-19 concerns, Audible doubled down on its Future Leaders internship program, increasing the number of student participants by 100%. Today, 100% of interns in the Future Leaders program are accepted to two- and four-year colleges and universities.

Newark Venture Partners (NVP) is committed to catalyzing the tech ecosystem in Newark. During the pandemic, NVP teamed up with Audible and Invest Newark to develop a mentorship program which helped local restaurant and business owners apply for federal, state and local funding launched in response to COVID-19.

NVP works closely with local universities as well as the All Stars Project of New Jersey to help mentor Newark-based students in areas of tech, entrepreneurship and investing, and is beginning a new partnership and scholarship program with Newark’s Boys and Girls Clubs. “We believe Newark is a prime location for any startup or small business. There are incredible corporate citizens here, a huge and diverse network of young talent, thanks to Rutgers, the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and others, and we are a major hub for businesses,” NVP Managing Partner Vaughn Crowe points out.

Noting the importance of diversity to its mission, NVP has created a sourcing model that goes against some traditional venture capital models, including outbound searching and proactively looking for those diamonds in the rough. This has created more space for diverse founders: Today more than 60% of its portfolio has a female founder or founder of color, which is way beyond the industry standard. Its commitment has also helped grow hundreds of local jobs. “Our attempt is to invest in great founders from all backgrounds, [deliver] market rate returns, and give back to our community; these are not mutually exclusive,” Crowe adds.

Education nonprofit Schools That Can (STC) Newark believes the only way to ensure a prepared and effective workforce of the future is to ensure that high school students today are exposed to and prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. Nowhere is that more important than in Newark, a city home to tremendous workforce needs, many in middle- or high-skill STEM careers, which are often difficult to fill. For the past several years, STC Newark has worked with the Newark Board of Education’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, assisting school administrators and teachers with curriculum development, employer connections, and work-based learning opportunities for students, including internships.

“The youth in our city are talented, driven and ready for challenges, but too often our communities and schools don’t give them the access and opportunities they need now to compete later,” STC Newark Executive Director Erin Sweeney shares. “We are pleased to work closely with dozens of Newark CTE programs and more than 100 employer partners from around the region to not only expose students to the careers that are out there, but also to engage them with hands-on, real-world learning through which they build the technical and social skills necessary to thrive in the workplace.”

For more than 25 years, Per Scholas has been advancing economic mobility and racial equity through rigorous training, professional development, and robust employer connections that enable individuals from all backgrounds to launch high-growth careers in tech. Historically, 85% of Per Scholas learners nationwide graduate, 80% of graduates will gain at least one industry-recognized certification (if applicable), and 80% of graduates will launch careers within one year of training completion at an average starting wage of $21/hour.

“Per Scholas’ mission is to advance economic equity through rigorous training for tech careers, and by connecting skilled talent to leading businesses,” Per Scholas Managing Director Newark LaToya Ball states. “Per Scholas collaborates with industry-leading employers to build more diverse talent pools, directly connecting our graduates to new career opportunities in fields such as IT support, cybersecurity, AWS re/Start, and software engineering.”

Ball notes that Per Scholas has helped more than 250 individuals, connecting them to careers in tech from Fortune 500 companies to innovative startups. “On average, in their first job post-graduation, our alumni earn 265% more than their pre-training wage of $8,752 per year. In 2020, the average post-training wage for Per Scholas Newark alumni was $25/hour, exceeding our average post-training starting wage goal of $21/hour. We aim to rapidly and effectively expand our operations to train increasing numbers of new and aspiring IT professionals, scaling up from 120 learners in 2020 to 215 plus learners in 2021,” she adds.

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