New Jersey

New Jersey Innovation Fellows Program Will Provide Grant Funding and Mentorship to First-Time Entrepreneurs

TRETON, NJ – The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) today announced plans to create a competitive program – the New Jersey Innovation Fellows (NJIF) – that will offer teams of young entrepreneurs mentoring and grants of up to $400,000. The program will provide income replacement so entrepreneurs can devote their full attention to building their startups. The announcement follows yesterday’s approval of this new program by the NJEDA Board.

“New Jersey is committed to providing passionate entrepreneurs with the resources they need to turn their innovative ideas and visions into viable businesses,” said Gov. Phil Murphy. “By supplementing the income of startup founders, we help break down all too often barriers to success. The NJIF program will be game-changing by helping innovators overcome the financial barriers associated with nurturing early-stage companies.”

Through the NJIF program, NJEDA will support teams of at least three entrepreneurs over a two-year period with mentoring, training and income replacement capital. Grant funding is intended to replace an income stream that an entrepreneur may forego in order to start an early-stage business. The NJEDA anticipates that support from the NJIF program will attract innovative ideas and entrepreneurs who otherwise would not be able to start a new business due to income needs or, in the case of a graduate, looking for employment would decide instead of entrepreneurship due to socio-economic constraints.

“Building a successful business requires both financial resources and the guidance of experienced subject matter experts,” he said Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who sponsored the legislation establishing the NJIF program. “Funding and mentorship are the two most sought-after commodities of entrepreneurs, and NJEDA is packing both into the NJIF program to help New Jersey’s innovators succeed.”

NJEDA Managing Director Tim Sullivan cited the high correlation between socio-economic background and entrepreneurship as one of the main reasons for developing the programme.

“Under the leadership of Gov. Murphy, we are working to level the playing field for prospective New Jersey entrepreneurs by ensuring they have access to capital and mentoring regardless of their socioeconomic status.” said Sullivan. “Providing grants through the NJIF program will give more individuals the financial flexibility to take calculated business risks and achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.”

The NJIF program awards $200,000 in scholarships per team. In line with Gov. Murphy’s vision for inclusive economic growth, teams can access an additional $50,000 bounty on top of the $200,000 bounty when an entrepreneur resides in a designated opportunity zone in New Jersey approved. Teams may receive an additional $50,000 for each entrepreneur leader who identifies as a minority entrepreneur, entrepreneur, or is a graduate of a New Jersey college or university. Qualified teams can receive additional bonuses totaling up to $150,000 for certifying team members, resulting in a total reward of $400,000. To qualify for the NJIF program, at least half of the team must be certified as “First-time Entrepreneurs” and at least two-thirds of the entrepreneurial team must be directly from the workforce.

In addition to the financial benefits of the program, all Entrepreneur Fellows participate in a mentoring program. The NJEDA plans to enter into agreements with the New Jersey Innovation Institute of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Rowan University for these universities to design and implement mentorship programs for the grantees. The initial curriculum will train entrepreneurs in subjects such as financial management, accounting and preparation of financial statements; human resources development and management; business model design; marketing and customer development; and more. The mentoring lasts for the duration of the two-year NJIF program.

“The personalized expertise that participants in the NJIF program receive from NJIT and Rowan University will position them well for future success,” he said NJEDA Chief Economic Transformation Officer Kathleen Coviello. “Through the mentoring and financial commitments of the NJIF program, we are opening up opportunities for entrepreneurs to pursue their passions and turn their ideas into startups and ultimately thriving businesses that we hope will grow and thrive in New Jersey’s innovation ecosystem.”

Coviello noted that the NJEDA expects to open the NJIF program application semi-annually in 2023 and 2024.

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