The Suburban Entrepreneur

Posted on April 8, 2009 in Blog, Clean tech, Communications, Entrepreneur | 3 comments

By Dwight Irving

This first blog entry is a repeat of a recent comment I made on my friend Carl Ford’s blog.   I want to start a conversation about moving from technical fields that are shrinking (at least locally) into those that are growing.  Specifically, from the world of communications into Clean Technology.

Stealing a quote I once heard: “On the east coast, when it looks like you’ll lose your job, you prepare your resume. On the west coast, you prepare your business plan.”

Why? Why aren’t we seen as entrepreneurial here on the east coast. There’s plenty of evidence that NYC has entrepreneurs galore, but in the cities and suburbs of NJ, we just don’t seem to be able to get that critical mass going.

In NJ there are programs like the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the NJ Entrepreneurial Network, Einstein’s Alley, and a limited number of Meetup groups (like working to change things. They are likely having an effect, especially around the Princeton area, but success is nowhere close to being assured at this time. It’s an especially challenging environment for the bootstrap startup relying on savings that have lost much of their value in the last few months.

The question is, what can be done to better develop NJ as an entrepreneurial zone? I have a hypothesis that the one thing NJ lacks are natural gathering places. I’ll write about that hypothesis and how it relates to the development of both entrepreneurial activities and the indie performing arts scene soon. However, with the possible exception of Princeton, where do you go in NJ to find ideas, potential partners and money? You go to New York, of course!

While the trip into the city from NJ is not a “big deal”, it is still a “deal” for most of NJ, being both expensive and time consuming for someone trying to bootstrap a new business. So I’ve decided to try a hybrid approach. I’m using NYC-based activities to build momentum that I will then try to transfer across the Hudson. One of those activities that I think will bear fruit is LaidOffCampNY.

LaidOffCampNY is a free two-day event (May 1st and 2nd) for people in a career transition who are looking to gain perspective, discover new passions, or reinvent their careers. It is run BarCamp style, meaning that there are no set speakers. Speakers will self-nominate at the beginning of the day and attendees are expected to be “participants” rather than “audience”.

One of the ideas I’m trying to line up for discussion at LaidOffCampNY is how technical skills gained in the world of voice and video communications infrastructure can readily transfer to “Clean Technology”. Think about the SmartGrid for a second. Time’s up. The SmartGrid requires monitor and control protocols similar to the SS7 and IMS networks. I’m still learning, but it seems like the big money interests in the SmartGrid don’t think any further than the Smart Meter. Limiting the SmartGrid to that domain makes as little sense as having value-add VoIP services end at public side of the enterprise gateway. We tried that dumb phone idea before, and I want something better now. I want an Asterisk-like power management server that interfaces to a Smart Meter gateway functionality.

Inside the enterprise, small or medium business, and even the home, there’s a need for a peer to peer network where additional power monitoring and management services can be added. Why do I want my exterior wall mounted meter to be the only thing in my house that understands peak hour rates? I want that information to be shared and acted upon individually by every electrical switch and outlet, and all of the major appliances.

X10 and Zigbee protocols and products have made some inroads into home and business power management, but I haven’t yet found information on where they interface into the Smart Meter. If that information is available, please send me a link! If that info is not available, we’ve got a problem.

I’ve mixed two topics that each deserve a focused post of their own, so I’ll stop here. If developing an entrepreneurial environment in NJ, or transitioning communications service and infrastructure skills to Clean Tech are of interest to you, please look me up at LaidOffCampNY on May 1st or 2nd and help me make something happen.


  1. I think you’re half-right. NYC does get all the glory for startups and entrepreneurs (S&E) but that doesn’t mean there aren’t S&Es in NJ; I know of several It’s that there is no publicity for the them. And it’s not just S&Es. It’s music, movies, and culture. NJ has that problem in general. North Jersey (by which the mean NorthWEST Jersey) is an extension of NYC, South Jersey (which is actually southEAST Jersey) is an extension of Philly. The rest of us don’t exist in the media.

    Answer the following questions: Where is the Statue of Liberty located? Where was the 1849 Gold Rush? Everyone will say “New York” and “California”.

    Now, answer these questions: Where did Einstein live when he was in America? Where did Bruce Springsteen get his start? Where was the light bulb invented? NO ONE will say “New Jersey”.

    It’s not that we don’t have S&Es, it’s that no one talks about them.

  2. With respect to the East/West or “Right/Left” coast aspect, I’m not sure I agree. Before there was Silicon Valley, there was (and still is) the “Technology Highway” (aka Rt. 128) in Massachusetts.

    On thing that seems to be missing in NJ vs. either CA or MA is the confluence of both money AND multiple high-tech universities within a small geographic locale. It also seems to help explain why Princeton is the one possible exception inside the Jersey borders. At one point, Bell Labs was the anchor point for research and entrepreneur spin-offs, but that died in the 1990′s. Failing an alternative center, the NYC magnet phenomenon is simple: entrepreneurs flock to where the money is located.

    That said, I agree there is not only opportunity but need to bring more focus and shine more light on things happening on the NJ side of the Hudson. With NJIT and Rutgers, as well as ties to Finance, Newark might be a potential center with a bit of nurturing and development, as well as more publicity.

    Lastly, I think Faber’s comments are too negative. As someone born and educated in the Mid-West who didn’t come east until after graduate school, anyone who doesn’t know where Einstein lived, where the light bulb was invented, and where Springsteen is from is simply a moron.

  3. Tom,

    You missed my point. I’m not saying people don’t know where Einstein lived (well, some people don’t but, as you pointed out, they’re morons :-) . I’m saying when asked, they will reply with “Princeton”, not “New Jersey”. When asked where the 1849 Gold Rush occurred, people will say “California”, not “Sutter’s Mill”. See the difference?


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