Getting to Know NVP: An interview with Allison Williams, Director of Newark Venture Partner Labs

Coming up on her 1 year anniversary as Director of NVP Labs, Allison Williams, sat down with NVP Fellow, Vishal Banerjee to talk about how she evaluates startups, what she looks for in founders and how the Labs program has evolved since its start.  Allison is currently leading the recruitment process for the Spring 2019 cohort, scheduled to begin in April.

Q: Allison, can you take us through your career to date? What brought you to Newark Venture Partners?

Originally I had more of a traditional career. I graduated Penn and was an investment banker at Lehman Brothers. I worked for a public market fund of funds and then I moved over to the tech industry after that.

For the past seven years I’ve really been an entrepreneur. I started my first company in 2012 called Yarly, which was in the photo-cloud sharing space. We were really very similar to what iCloud is today. We sold in 2015 to a company called YesVideo, the market leader in photo services. After that I had two senior level positions in different startups.

I’ve been through three fundraising events and have worked with many VCs over the years. Moving over to the VC industry was really an opportunity for me to take my experience as a founder and a startup exec and use that to identify other talented people, embolden them and empower them with capital – which is a huge barrier to young companies. I know how difficult it is to start a company and how many knowledge gaps there are, because as a founder you can’t have done it all – but you are going to have to do it all!

I’m really proud of the program we’ve built here. We identify good founders and give them the tools to scale.

Q: What is the structure of the Labs Program? What can startups expect?

It’s a 12 weeks program with three main components.

First, the NVP program includes an expert team that works with each of our companies in a one-on-one, completely customized approach.  Our experts range the entire lifecycle of the sales process. We have an in-house SDR team which our investments plug into to get their outbounding optimized and perfected. We then have Kevin Petry, our Director of Growth, who really focuses on the finesse needed to get a large enterprise sale over the finish line. In addition to this, we have experts in marketing and finance. This allows our founders to double/triple the size of their team without having to make a huge investment. So you start the program and see your business scale immediately. Our experts have done this many times over and know the right model to get you to success.

The second component is getting our founders in front of decision makers inside our corporate investors – everyone from Audible to Prudential to RWJ Barnabas Health.  We host weekly events at our office, and make personal introductions to senior execs at our LPs. Four startups in our last class are runningpilots with our corporates, giving them a foot in the door, and a great story to tell prospective customers and other investors.

The third component is around fundraising. We have a 70% success rate of getting an institutional seed round closed at the end of the program. We have two marquee events where we get our founders in front of investors.  We host an exclusive a 1:1 event that happens in Manhattan with tier 1 investors from New York metro area, the second is a traditional demo day here in Newark. We get top investors to both events.When I was a first-time founder I didn’t realize how important is was to have an existing investor advocate on your behalf, touting your praises to new investors. It’s a crucial part of fundraising, and we do a lot of it and we’ve seen the results, which are great.

Q: Are there any specific qualities you look for in a founder or founding team?

We always look for founder-company fit. With the founding team you want to see a team with experience that aligns with the business they’re building. There are exceptions to that rule but most of the time a company that has relevant experience is going to have an extra edge over someone else trying to solve that same problem.

We always like to see repeat entrepreneurs – and it could be an entrepreneur who had a failure or a success – because you learn so much going through the process. It’s important to see teams that are well rounded. I don’t want to see three co-founders who are all business or all product people or even all technical people. Part of that is the equity problem: as they bring in additional investment everyone’s going to get diluted. Running a business is so much work you worry that some of that incentive is going to dilute away as they fill in gaps. So my advice to people creating founding teams is to find people different to them with different skills.

Then it’s about meeting the team, seeing the dynamic of the team, how well they work together. That’s a bit of a sixth sense, but is something we look for in the leadership structure.

Q: What else do you look for when evaluating a startup?

One is Market Size. We’re going to want to make a 8-12X ROI so it has to be a large enough market. Then we have to agree with the vision of the market that the founder has. While we’re not experts in every market, we need to be able to feel confident that founders understand where the market is moving and agree with how they will participate in that shift.

Next is a general thoughtfulness about how they’re growing their business.  Everyone wants to shoot from the hip, but we really value measured decision making. A lot of time we’ll dig into specific areas that are critical to their success – and we want to be wowed by their response. So if their differentiation is a unique business model we’ll want to dig into that, if it’s about having proprietary technology we’ll want to know about patents and trademarks. In a competitive space we’d want to know their go to market strategy. If it’s a product that churns we’ll want to know how they keep companies engaged. So it depends on the company and where the risk factors are.

It’s also good to see advisors and investors that have jumped on board – who are the people they’ve surrounded themselves with, help them get special access and get their phone calls answered.

Q: What makes the Labs Program different to other accelerators?

We’re a unique program in that we are incredibly customized to our founders and we have an expert team that works specifically for the company. There is no set curriculum or set lesson plan that we deliver to founders, it’s really about getting our hands dirty – building out that operational, internal know-how so they can scale rapidly during program. I think if you talked to any of our founders they’d say that’s the best thing about NVP.

The other unique thing is our corporate LP community. Our corporate relationships are investors in our fund, so they are incentivized by the success of our fund. They invest in NVP because they want to support startups that are addressing pain points for their businesses – but also because they see potential in the City of Newark and want to see it thrive.  Newark is going through a renaissance right now, $2BN of real estate is being built in the city, it’s only 18 minutes away from New York and the cost of living is so much better. The way to get to the next level is by transforming the city into a tech hub – and our corporate investors really want to see that happen. So they want our companies do well from a financial perspective but their also engaged in helping to grow the tech ecosystem here in Newark. You won’t find a program that has better motivated corporate investors than NVP.

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to companies applying?

If you’re thinking about it, just do it! You can apply on the website – we review every company in the same manner. Take a moment to apply, even if you’re not sure you’re the right fit – we’ll help you understand if you are.

Then be ready for that initial 30 minute screening call. We will be looking for the criteria I mentioned earlier, the areas of your business that are necessary to be successful. Be ready to dive into those. Whether or not we decide to move forward it’s always great forming those relationships.

We also host a ton of startup events at Newark – we want people to get to know us! Subscribe to our newsletter to learn about our events, then come here to one of our roundtables. We have a very inclusive atmosphere. It’s not just for our portfolio companies but its really a community for people in Newark and beyond and we want people to participate in that.


Newark Venture Partners is now accepting applications to the Spring 2019 Labs Program. You can apply here or by emailing


2018: A Year In Review

With 2018 in the rearview mirror, our team at Newark Venture Partners wanted to share some reflections from our best year yet, as well as some predictions for what’s on the horizon.  First and foremost, a thanks is in order: To all of our corporate Limited Partners and our network of hundreds of mentors who have supported our work and that of our startups, and to all of our founders who gave Newark a chance. The NVP community is thriving alongside and within the City of Newark – and it’s all thanks to you.





NVP continues to offer unprecedented mentorship opportunities with over nearly 500 different individual, engaged, expert mentors across our corporate investors.  In 2018, our weekly roundables series was opened to the public, and brought in experts such as Anne Erni, Head of People at Audible (an Amazon company), Fritz Desir, Design & Strategy Director with Fuel by McKinsey, and Allison Fass, VP of Digital Growth for Inc and Fast Company among many others.   We’ve covered topics from building corporate partners to fundraising to hiring and PR. We also were proud to host Governor Phil Murphy on two occasions to talk about the future of venture capital and how we can accelerate the growth of New Jersey’s startup economy.

The Newark community continues to be the backbone of our network. We were proud to have participated in the All Stars Project of New Jersey, supporting high school students with corporate internships, and we enjoyed sponsoring the The Voice Summitt at NJIT.  We also rolled out a new fellows program and look forward to engaging Rutgers, NJIT and local Newark high school students in new ways in 2019.

In 2019, we plan to expand our local partnerships as well as corporate engagement.  We hope to work closely with our elected officials at every level to ensure that Newark and the whole of New Jersey continue on its path to becoming a beacon for innovation and a hot spot for founders.  Most importantly, we hope to continue to see more and more of our portfolio companies, like 1Huddle, Industrial Organic, AeroFarms, ModelShop, LendingFront, Upsider and many more put down roots and create jobs here in Newark.  Stay tuned for job and office openings on our twitter and linkedin pages!

NVP Labs:

Over the last 12 months under the leadership of our NVP Labs Director Allison Williams, we invested in 14 startups thru NVP Labs across the Spring and Fall programs.  Fall 2018 was our fifth accelerator class since our launch in 2016 and the program and its participants have since been acknowledged in Inc. Magazine, TechCrunch, GlobeSt, NJ Business Magazine, NJBIZ, ROI-NJ and more.

We are proud at how well the NVP Labs companies have performed in the market, including a 67% follow-on funding rate, and a number of exciting new funding announcements including LendingFront’s $4 Series A financing and CircleLink’s $5M Series A Round in Q4.  

Our NVP Labs application is currently open for the Spring 2019 cohort. Our areas of focus remain FinTech, HealthTech, Future Of Work, Voice, and AI-powered applications.  If you fit into one of these verticals, and you have $10k – $50k in monthly recurring revenue, apply here today!

Direct Investments:

In 2018 NVP made 12 significant seed investments including into existing NVP Labs companies as well as direct investments outside of the Labs program.  We welcomed companies like Orbita, LendingFront, ClassTag, Veritonic, CircleLink into our seed portfolio.

Our investment focus is on business technology companies that can benefit from locating in Newark or access to our corporate partners and as such we’ve invested in companies in our backyard here in Newark all the way to SF, Tel Aviv, Raleigh and New Orleans.


NVP got a shout out in INC. Magazines “50 Best Places in America For Starting a Business” under the New York City section, where writer Burt Helm mentions that Newark is “carving out its own startup identity.”  Meanwhile, NVP companies participated in top competitions such as Startup DreamPitch at Salesforce Dreamforce (Radius8), and BMO Harris/1871 Innovation Program (RankMiner), and our founders were spotlighted at high level events like the Bloomberg Sooner Than You Think technology summit (MoCaFi), and Morgan Stanley’s multicultural day (Floss Bar and Upsider). 1Huddle received the Franchising Innovation and Impact Award on behalf of their work to upskill residents in the City of Newark; Claim It! was named one of Time Magazine’s Top 10 Apps for “Scoring Free Food, Gift Cards and Money”; Galactic Fog was named as Top Enterprise Seed Start-up to Watch in 2019 by Work-Bench; and Vydia has been recognized by Inc. 5000 as one of the fastest-growing private companies in America, distinguished as the #12 in Top Media Companies and #15 in Top NJ Companies.

What to Watch For in 2019:

As we enter 2019 we continue to focus on finding great entrepreneurs that are building business technology companies.  Our team is continuing to mine areas where we see long-term valuation creation potential over the next 5 years. Some of these themes include Healthtech, Future of Work, Voicetech and Insurtech.  A great example of our corporate partner model in action is our partnership with RWJ Barnabas Health. RWJ’s senior engagement with our NVP Team has opened up a unique opportunity to translate real-world health system feedback into areas of investment opportunity in areas such as consumerization of healthcare, remote patient monitoring and clinician productivity.  

As 2019 progresses we’re excited to support our existing companies, find some great new Founders and add to the tech ecosystem in Newark.


New Sources for Human Resources

By: Tom Wisniewski, Managing Partner, NVP

Human resources is one of the last corporate functions to fully adopt data-driven decision making. However, as the labor market continues to tighten, and traditional recruiting channels (e.g. Job Boards, LinkedIn, etc) continue to lose effectiveness, more and more HR executives are looking to HR tech to provide new solutions that can fit within the already complex and crowded suite of 20+ HR applications most corporations are already using.

The daily operations and responsibilities of an HR manager have shifted in the last decade.  Workforce needs now require HR teams to maintain flexibility and evaluate employee potential and success with new – more exacting – metrics.  There are also new demands of HR: teams are required to be more diverse; employee engagement has become integral to job satisfaction and long term commitment; and millennials have proven to be a hard generation to recruit, and even harder to retain.  These trends, which we think are likely to stick around, have caused a surge in HR tech startups, and have made it an exciting investment vertical, with new solutions taking shape.

Upsider, for example, is an HR Tech platform that turns candidate sourcing into a science. Instead of relying on traditional overused channels–LinkedIn, Job Boards, etc– focused on recruiting from the same tired set of competitors, Upsider uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the job recruitments more deeply and identify key characteristics/needs of company to create a robust proprietary 100+ data point job profile.  Upsider then uses AI and NLP to compare this detailed target profile to jobs and people within its proprietary database of 70 Million companies, to both surface new target companies, and locate higher quality candidates. The candidate list and target profile is further improved based on input from hiring managers use a “tinder-esque” approve/deny one-tap to refine the machine learning model. The result is a data-driven sourcing system that helps their clients find more higher quality candidates and get them  5x faster. It’s not only saving companies money and time on fruitless job-board advertising, its helping them to match with quality candidates that are the most likely to produce and become long term assets.

Similarly, Talentegy is tackling recruiting from the candidate experience side – which is becoming more and more important. Talentegy sits on top of the increasingly complex HR tech stack to monitor a candidate’s progress through the application. How many times has a recruiter pursued a great candidate, only to have them disappear halfway through the hiring process?  It’s beyond frustrating – and can even be damaging. Leading industry research indicates that over 50% of candidates will sever a business relationship with a company due to a poor candidate experience and over half will abandon an application process because of a technical issue. Not only will you lose a candidate, and potentially a customer, but it’s nearly impossible to know what caused the change of heart.  Talentegy shows recruiters why a candidate abandoned their application and how to fix it.

Beyond recruiting, we are seeing more solutions that can help understand and direct employee performance, like RankMiner.  RankMiner is an AI tool currently being marketed to call centers to analyze staff/customer conversations, beyond the spoken word. Unlike speech analytics, which analyzes conversations based on word use and frequency, RankMiner’s patented algorithms analyze 383 voice features.  By monitoring and measuring qualities like energy, intensity, and frequency, RankMiner is able to extract the emotions and behaviors expressed during a conversation with more preciseness and a greater sense of authenticity. (Adheres to the old adage, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”) From here, RankMiner is able to predict future outcomes, such as employee attrition, as well as customers likely to be up sold, collection agency success, and more. RankMiner is the only company in the market today able to provide predictive insights from voice data – and their clients have realized business improvements of up to 200% over previous methods.

To further explore the outlook of HR Tech as an industry as well as an investment vertical, we invited Daniel Chait, CEO of Greenhouse Software to speak with our current cohort of founders.  Greenhouse Software, a Series D startup, which has raised just over $100 million since its launch in 2012, makes software tools that help companies automate all aspects of hiring throughout their organizations, helping them compete and win for top talent.  

Chait said, “With over $2.38B of venture capital investments in HR tech so far already this year, and new entrants from Google and Microsoft, there’s a huge amount of energy in HR Tech right now. Greenhouse has always understood the massive opportunity in helping companies grow quickly, and a major part of that enablement comes when companies have the right hiring capabilities to help business leaders make better, more informed hiring decisions. People and talent are what make companies succeed which is why there is so much interest in the HR Tech market right now.”

Competition to hire and keep top talent today is fierce, and the growing HR Tech market is making it easier for HR teams to identify, hire and retain the highest quality candidates.  In the cases mentioned above, these disruptors are changing and updating traditional processes, but they are also helping employers and employees work more efficiently and to greater satisfaction than ever before.  As the HR Tech market expands, we can expect to see companies in the space empower more people to excel at jobs that they enjoy, while allowing companies to enhance their balance sheet and build better communities for those on the payroll.


Disclaimer: Upsider, Talentegy and RankMiner are part of NVP Labs Fall 2018 cohort.  


3 Reasons for Founders of Startups to Choose New Jersey

By Joanne Lin, Senior Investment Associate, Newark Venture Partners

Last week, Governor Murphy made his second visit to NVP to talk about the important role that startups have to play in New Jersey’s expanding economy.  In a room full of “Founders & Funders,” Governor Murphy, along with representatives from the NJEDA talked about the resources that are currently available to startups and small businesses, and their vision for how innovative founders and strategic venture capital can change the game for job growth, the regional talent pool and the revitalization of cities like Newark.  Governor Murphy also spoke about his new Economic Development Strategic Plan and the $500M NJ Innovation Evergreen Fund (NJIEF) which has the ability to create a multiplier effect for companies that want to put down roots and grow in New Jersey. (If you missed it, the NYTimes highlighted the NJIEF in this article.)  

It’s been great to see NJ’s start-up scene finally getting the prime-time attention it deserves, but a recurring question from skeptics is whether or not founders actually want to come to New Jersey.  Our current NVP Labs cohort of eight companies was chosen from a pool of over 1,800 contenders who chose to come here from North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana and even San Francisco, so the short answer is yes!   However,  if you still have doubts here are 3 reasons entrepreneurs want to grow their companies in New Jersey:

1)    New Jersey is home to more scientists and engineers per square mile than anywhere in the world.

If you’re a CEO looking for a technical co-founder, or are a CTO building your dev team, NJ has more technical talent packed per mile than anywhere else.  In fact, there’s a strong pipeline of STEM graduates to help keep the state at the top of this list. According to data from the National Science Foundation, New Jersey has a higher percentage of science and engineering degrees as a percentage of overall degrees conferred (33%) than New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, or Massachusetts. With Princeton, Rutgers and NJIT as the leading higher education institutions in the state, the quality of this growing workforce is exceptional. When a tech company has little to show in terms of traction, early-stage VCs and angel investors look to the next best indicator of future success, a strong team. Where will you find your next tech hire?

2)    Access to NYC, without paying NYC prices.

Full disclosure, I live and work in New Jersey now, but I was born and raised in NYC. There is no place like New York.  Full stop. Period. However, that doesn’t mean a start-up needs to subject itself to sky high NYC office prices to succeed. If anything, a start-up that elects to pay $900 to sit at a desk in Midtown when they can, for example, pay $0 to work from our 25,000 sqft co-working space in Newark may need to revisit their priorities. It takes 20 minutes to get from our office to Herald Square. I can’t even say the same when traveling from Brooklyn.

For growing companies looking for their own private office, New York city has the highest office asking rent in the country at $74.88 psf/year according to a report by CBRE. The Newark annual average asking lease rate was $26.24 per square foot.  

3)    Innovation climate trumps tax climate

Business tax climate is important to the state’s overall economic health, but poll any early-stage entrepreneur for their top five business concerns and I highly doubt their state’s tax rate will make the list. To the Governor’s point, taxes are a non sequitur when it comes to start-up activity because you can’t tax profits that don’t exist yet. Perhaps a better ranking to reference would be CES’ US Innovation Scorecard. The annual ranking grades every state on 12 qualitative and quantitative criteria that indicate how strongly a state supports innovation including technology-related jobs per capita, percentage of the population with advanced degrees, tax friendliness, small business job creation, VC & Corporate R&D spend per capita, innovation-friendly laws/policy, fast internet, etc. New Jersey ranked 17th in the nation jumping into the “Innovation Leader” category, ahead of New York and California.


If that’s not enough, come to NVP and talk to the founders that are growing their companies here, like Sam Caucci, Founder and CEO of 1HUDDLE.  He founded his company in New York and moved it to Newark in 2016 when he was chosen for NVP Labs. NVP went on to invest in their Seed round and 1Huddle moved into NVP’s direct investment portfolio. He now employs 12 New Jersey residents and four of them have relocated to Newark.  

Sam says: “When I moved the company here I immediately made it an initiative for our team to be a part of the community, and that’s paid dividends.  The atmosphere at NVP really encourages collaboration and community, and the corporate partners and local government officials have welcomed us by mentoring our team, helping us to connect with decision makers, and cheering us on as we grow.”


Newark Venture Partners Hosts 55 Newark Youth as they Begin Innovative 12-Week Leadership Program with All Stars Project of New Jersey

The All Stars Project of New Jersey (ASP of NJ) kicked off its Fall 2018 Development School for Youth (DSY) program in Newark on Tuesday, September 18 at an event hosted by Newark Venture Partners.

Fifty-five young adults from Newark and 25 from Jersey City are enrolled in DSY – an innovative afterschool development program that includes 12-weeks of workshops run by business professionals that will use the All Stars’ unique performance-based approach to help them learn new things, build community and connect to the mainstream.

Tuesday’s event began at the All Stars Project of New Jersey’s Scott Flamm Center for Afterschool Development in Newark’s Washington Park cultural district, and concluded one block away at Newark Venture Partners, where entrepreneurs from BoxCar, Industrial/Organic, LeadBird, MoCaFi, Modelshop, and Vydia held breakout sessions with the new DSY students.

“Since we began our efforts here in Newark in 1999, nearly 2,000 youth have graduated from DSY, where we use performance training to help them develop a wide set of skills – everything from conversation and building resumes, to job interviews, hosting events, giving presentations, and much more,” explained Shadae McDaniel, Director of Youth Programs for the All Stars Project of New Jersey. “There was no better way to begin the fall 2018 class than with the help of Newark Venture Partners and six of their entrepreneurs. DSY has a transformational impact for both our young students and the business leaders involved – and that was truly evident from the energy and excitement shared by all on Tuesday.”

Graduates of the program will also become part of the ASP of NJ’s successful summer internship program, where business partners provide paid internships that continue to help these young adults develop and grow. This past summer in Newark alone, 33 different companies sponsored 109 paid internships.

“The All Stars has connected Newark Venture Partners and our portfolio companies with an amazing group of interns from their program. Part of Newark Venture Partners’ mission is to help catalyze development within Newark’s technology sector – and having the opportunity to mentor Newark’s future workforce and its aspiring entrepreneurs has been a rewarding experience for our companies and our community,” said Dan Borok, Managing Partner for Newark Venture Partners.

The All Stars Project is a 100% privately funded national nonprofit organization, and a national leader in the field of Afterschool Development, a new way of engaging poverty. The All Stars Project believes that afterschool is the best way to bring youth from poor communities into the mainstream and spark their desire to learn and grow.

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