Newark city council at-large candidate Lynda Lloyd chatted with developer Gabriela Levit yesterday at Lean Startup’s “Still Summer ” social, which was held in the event space at Center Stage Cuts on Broad Street. The event was an opportunity for current and aspiring entrepreneurs to get acquainted with the Lean Startup Machine organization in Newark, learn about Lean’s workshop this coming November, and participate in a 30-second pitch competition. Lloyd is running for the council seat vacated by congressman Donald Panye Jr., in a special election to be held on November 5. She was the only Newark officeholder or political candidate present at the event.
In addition to being one of the two organizers of Newark’s BrickCity Tech meetup, Jimi Olaghere is the founder of GeekCookUSA, an independent accessories brand that creates unique products which cater to pop culture and technology enthusiasts. Jimi talks about his businesses, how it came to be, and why he came to Newark.
What is GeekCookUSA?
We try to make everyday items, but make them in a unique way that stands out. We make things for people who like design, and like things that are made well. We also use eco-friendly materials. With plastics, you have to mold and cast products. With wood, all we have to do is literally just cut it, so there’s nothing emitted into the environment. Our bags are made of felt, which is also more eco-friendly.
What is your relationship with Geek Cook?
I’m the founder of GeekCookUSA; there was already a GeekCook in China. I met the founder of GeekCook China when I was still doing web design. I’d put a small design agency together and was working out of the Mission50 co-working space [in Hoboken], and the founder of GeekCook China happened to walk in — I love co-working spaces because so many of those types of meetings can happen. He came in and had a business card case I thought was cool. When I asked him about it, he said he made a bunch of cool stuff, and that he was thinking he’d love to start selling in the US.
One night I was thinking, “I’m tired of web design. I want to do something different and run a business.” I decided to launch GeekCook in the US, and I paid to license the name for US use for the first year. I bought stuff from factory and started designing things for the US market.
I eventually segued from GeekCook to GeekCookUSA, which means I don’t need to pay to license the name anymore. I’ve had a number of interns work with me, but I’ve never had more than three people helping me at once.
What’s your design process with the team in China?
There are some things I’ve designed by myself, and others with the designers, who are all based there. They design from idea to first concept, and then we start building on the concept from there, until we nail down the product.
China has a stigma of doing things fast and cheap, but there’s a design community in China that’s into well-designed, well-made things.
For GeekCookUSA, we always have to consider what an American design lover would like, because items don’t always translate from one culture to the other. GeekCookUSA does clocks with the Vetrivuan Man in the middle. Something like that would not appeal to a Chinese consumer.
And certain things don’t work in the US. Chinese characters don’t really work here anymore. Certain designs look too traditionally Chinese to have appeal for our target: our American audience isn’t going to buy items with emperors and geishas on them.
I’ve found that people love bags in America — we sell them like crazy. In China, they sell way more clocks.
How did you get your retail operation stood up?
Initially I was just selling face to face; I didn’t have a web presence in the beginning. I registered the LLC when I got everything going, and then I got a warehouse “down neck” [in the Ironbound] to store the manufactured products from China.
With our supply chain, there’s a definitely formula. We design really fast — you could call it lean manufacturing. I trust my designers, so we don’t send samples back and forth from the US to China. I trust the quality of the manufactures who make the products. So once I’ve seen the design develop online and get to a final product, I order at least my minimum quantity – which is 300 items – and have the products shipped to the States.
I used to waste a lot of money doing air freight — you can actually lose money. So now I do sea freight, which takes 2 months. It’s a process – there are three steps of letting your package go through customs because it comes from China – but it’s still worth the savings. I personally go down to the port to pick up the items and help load them on to our truck, then we take them to our warehouse.
We’re actually approaching our busy season, since Christmastime is coming up. We’ll need to start finalizing things so we can have them shipped over in time for the holidays.
Where do you sell GeekCookUSA products?
You usually need an intro to work with the bigger retailers. I met the Gilt people at an event: I just went, met the GM face-to-face, and gave him my email address. He linked me right to Gilt’s buyer.
I also sell directly. It’s currently a pretty small channel, but it feels so gratifying to go straight to the buyer. I want to start expanding the retail aspect of business because it gives me more control. With some of these relationships, I have to have exclusive deals where if I’m selling an item through one retailer, they’re the only one that can carry it. Other times, I have to give up some control on pricing.
Are you glad you chose the partnership route to start?
I think it’s the only way to do it. I didn’t have investors, and didn’t have boatload of cash, so this was the way to get started. You find partners that already have the audience. It’s especially important for someone that’s selling a business with tangible goods. You sell and get money coming in – it kind of validates the idea. So eventually I can start selling direct-to-consumer.
And now the money question. Why Newark?
I used to live in Central Jersey. I met my then-girlfriend [now-wife] and moved up to Essex county to be closer to her parents, and I fell in love with Newark.
I really wanted to get involved with tech scene. When I was living in Belleville, I went to the NJ Tech Meetup. I thought it was cool, but it had so many people, you couldn’t really feel connected to the scene. When I moved to Newark, I said to myself, “There’s gotta be something like this here.” I saw the meetup at Audible, went to it, saw Anthony [Frasier, founder of the BrickCity Tech Meetup] and said “I know this guy”.*
I fell in love with the community. I think it’s the fact that we’re the underdogs and we’re trying to come up. I love building a community and seeing it grow. Newark’s also great just because of where it is. You have New York right here. You have the [sea] port here. You have the airport here.
I’m invested in Newark for a while. If it was up to me solely, I would be in Newark forever — I’m sold.
How would you pitch Newark?
Newark in itself is appealing because this is where I can foster a lot of the things I want to do. The mentality for me right now is that you can get in on the ground floor. If you go to the city [New York], you’re going to be saturated by so many people. Newark is the place right now where you can stand out. You can grow with Newark. Newark is a great place to invest in yourself.
* Jimi recognized Anthony from CNN’s “Black in America 4, The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley”
Image credit: GeekCookUSA
Darrin Sharif officially declared his candidacy for Newark mayor during an evening rally at the Robert Treat Hotel yesterday. Sharif worked for Cory Booker as his chief of staff during Booker’s Central Ward council days, before ascending to the role himself in 2010, and becoming one of Booker’s key legislative adversaries on the council. He is also the son of long-time Newark political consultant Carl Sharif.
Sharif took to the podium to make his pitch in front of a group of about sixty people. Here’s what he covered:
- Business development: The Central Ward is home to the the key political, business, and educational institutions in Newark, as well as the transportation infrastructure that makes parts of the ward so accessible by other parts of the city and the region. Sharif took partial credit for projects throughout the Central Ward, including business development along First Avenue, Halsey Street, and Springfield Avenue.
- Community learning: Sharif touted his role in the development of “Learning Centers” in residential communities throughout the ward. The purpose of the centers, he said, is to help kids without computers complete school assignments, and to enable adults to complete job applications and prepare for the GED.
- Accessibility and rehabilitation: He discussed his bringing NJIT’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, Newark Public Schools, and “hopefully” Panasonic together to create a video game that helps Newark kids with disabilities improve their dexterity.
- STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) career training: Sharif said he’ll be visiting MIT in two weeks to discuss the possibility of creating partnerships with Newark Public Schools to teach interested kids computer programming skills.
- Innovation incubator: Sharif described a project in the works called the “Center for Human Development and Civic Engagement”. It’s an idea that has been percolating for some time for him: when I interviewed Sharif two summers ago, he described it to me in very similar terms to the program he laid out last night. The center, which he said will be located in the basement of the Renaissance Towers on Market and Mulberry Streets, would be an incubator for “projects that will move the city forward”, and a co-working space for residents, small businesses, non-profits, professors, students, and other Newark stakeholders to work on those projects. He also said the center would house a tech company that would manage Newark’s IT needs, and that a majority of its employees would be Newark residents.
- Port jobs: Sharif said one of his key priorities as mayor will be to create a “comprehensive, strategic plan for engaging the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey”. He noted that he has long understood the job-creating power of the port, and that former council president Donald Payne, Jr. did take his suggestion to create a “port opportunities committee” and name him chair. But he also said it was a challenge to get the administration to put together a comprehensive port strategy. The mayorship, he said, would give him the power and authority to engage the state governments in New York and New Jersey, as well as our federal and state legislative delegations, to push a comprehensive plan that will benefit Newarkers.
Sharif’s campaign Facebook page is now online.
This week, we’re thinking about the latest mayoral debate, a holistic vision for revitalization in Newark, stop-and-risk transparency, the changing shape of Broad Street, and startup networking.
1. Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries debated Saturday in Society Hill
How did they frame themselves and their candidacies?
- Jeffries introduced himself by laying out his tough early childhood in the South Ward, and his subsequent ascendance to high school, college, and a distinguished legal career here in New Jersey.
- He attributed his success to the Boys and Girls Club of Newark and, more broadly, to the “people of Newark”.
- He cited his career as a civil rights attorney, his presidency of the Boys and Girls Club, his involvement in the creation of Team Academy school, and his management experience at the state level as experiences that demonstrate his commitment to Newark, and qualify him to be the chief executive of the city.
- Jeffries also emphasized the need for “new leadership” in city hall.
- Baraka framed his time as a high school principal, which has required him to manage, as he put it, “hundreds of employees, millions of dollars, and thousands of kids,” as leadership, management, and executive experience relevant to the mayoral position.
- In a rebuttal to the emphasis Jeffries placed on his credentials, Baraka also added: “Our history and our resume are not running for office. What we think, and what believe that we want to put in place,” are what voters should consider when picking a mayor.
- Baraka emphasized that he, not his well-known family, is running for mayor. He took pains to note the positions he’s held within the city for the past 20 years, and argued that his candidacy should be assessed on his own record and ideas.
- Baraka also emphasized his evolution from 20 years ago. He was still a public figure then, but pronounced some ideas on which he’s since evolved.[/toggle]
Video of the full debate is below.
2. If you like Shark Tank, you’ll love Thursday’s networking event
Have you heard of Lean Startup? It’s the business philosophy conceived by entrepreneur Eric Ries, and it prescribes a method for testing and validating startup and product ideas over time.
The benefit? According to the Lean philosophy, following their program helps entrepreneurs 1) get to market faster, 2) for less initial investment, 3) all while increasing the likelihood they’ll create products customers actually want.
Lean now has an outpost in Newark, and they’ll be hosting a networking event this Thursday at Center Stage Cuts on Broad Street. It’ll be a chance to network, find out more about Lean Newark’s Fall 2013 workshop, and pitch your venture for the chance to win a free ticket (worth $300). Check out our event page for more information about the event and how to register.]
3. The new Prudential Financial tower will look like this
According to an artist’s rendering, the construction site currently spanning Halsey Street (to the west), New Street (to the north), and Broad Street (to the south), will look like this (below) when it’s all done. For perspective: this is a northwest view of the new tower; that’s PSE&G Plaza in the foreground. According to NJ.com, the tower might be finished as early as 2014.
4. Where to find Newark stop-and-frisk statistics
The Newark Police Department now publishes statistics for stop-and-frisk, use of force, complaints (internal and external), and disciplinary action on its website. The stop-and-frisk and use of force reports are cross-tabulated by precinct, age, race, gender, and reason. In July, for example, there were 2,109 stops, of which just over a quarter resulted in a summons or arrest. (In New York, where stop-and-frisk was recently ruled unconstitutional, police failed to find evidence of an offense 90% of the time.)
Newark has been heralded for being one of the first cities in the country to be transparent about its stop-and-frisk data. While the ACLU conceded in remarks to NJ.com that stop-and-frisk is “an intrusive practice,” they nonetheless gave the NPD credit for offering “an important look at who is being stopped-and-frisked in our community and why.”
In comments recently made to MSNBC, mayoral candidate Ras Baraka distinguished between the practice as applied in Newark, and the version of it recently ruled unconstitutional in New York City: “The name of the policy or program [with respect to Newark] is misleading. When people hear stop-and-frisk they think of New York City where the police are randomly stopping and frisking people without probable cause, and that is a violation of people’s constitutional rights, especially if you are targeting high minority areas.” He said he thinks the NPD is more judicious in its stops.
5. Why bringing tech to Newark is great, but not nearly enough
What city was this sentence written about?
Downtown [?] used to feel empty, he says, especially after 5 p.m. when corporate office workers left for the suburbs. The city lost residents throughout the 1970s and 1980s, after its manufacturing base began to decline, and [?] did not have a great reputation nationally…Years later, huge swaths of the city now seem like catnip for the creative class…But [?] still faces challenges, especially when it comes to finding decent jobs for its less-skilled workers. The city’s poverty rate remains higher than the statewide average, and those without college degrees say they feel left behind by efforts to become a tech hub or revitalize downtown.
If you guessed Newark, you guessed wrong. In a recent article about a resurgence in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nancy Cook makes the point that although the growing tech sector there is effective at galvanizing certain of its residents and newcomers, it hasn’t yet put much actual money on the table. While tech and startups might be an important part of the mix for Chattanooga’s revitalization, what will really buttress the local economy for the long term is having diverse local job opportunities – in industries that aren’t all as “sexy” as tech – but that people at many skill levels can do .
Cook’s article on Chattanooga’s revitalization is worth reading in full.
You’ve heard of the sports agent. You’ve heard of the music agent. But what about the fragrance agent?
Entrepreneur Bart Schmidt’s Newark-based company, Brands With Purpose, is a fragrance agency. “I used to work for one of the fragrance houses that just created the fragrance – the juice,” he said during our recent interview at the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership (IFEL) co-working space where he runs his company. “The bigger ones have an internal agency, but not many folks do it as an independent agent.”
Schmidt, who spent years as a fragrance industry executive in New Jersey, works with celebrities who are looking to round out their brand persona. He advises them on whether fragrance licensing opportunities are a good idea in the first place, and brings his fragrance production and distribution relationships to bear on deals if they choose to go ahead.
We talked about how Schmidt identified his business opportunity, why Newark is a great place to run a sustainability-minded businesses, and his exciting, upcoming fragrance launch with Chef Roblé. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to catch the full interview.
Update: Brick City Live’s full interview with Tiffany Aliche is now live.
If you succeed in Newark, it puts you on the map.
So says Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche, the best-selling author of The One Week Budget, media personality, public speaker, and personal finance educator who has seen her success and reach mount steadily year after year. We sat down over macaroni at Newark’s Elbow Room Brooklyn (go figure) to discuss her vision for the Budgetnista brand (hint: Budgetnista “B”s on bang for your buck brands) , the ways in which Newark itself is a great talent incubator (hint: community, access, location), why she loves living here (hint: community, community, community), and how the recession turned the idea of “risk” on its head for an entire generation (hint: many who followed prescribed paths and did everything “right” were left in the cold anyway).
Miriam Farkas is a Columbian-born former food service industry executive who launched her own event planning and marketing businesses right here in Newark a couple years ago. Farkas, who operates her businesses out of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership’s (IFEL’s) member co-working space at 550 Broad Street in Newark, said her food services career has seen her work with food manufacturers, distributors, brokers, and as a salesperson, without ever seeing the people in those functions interact effectively. Like a true entrepreneur, she turned that deficit into an opportunity.
Learn more about how Miriam leaned on her food industry experience, intuitive knowledge of ethnic food restaurants’ opportunities and struggles, resources from IFEL, and even a close reading of the law to carve out a unique entrepreneurial opportunity in Newark when we post our full interview. Join us on Facebook and Twitter to stay on top of all our original articles and other content.
BrickCityLive’s full interview with Jimi Olaghere is now live. You can read it here.
We continue preview week with a first look at BrickCityLive’s conversation with Jimi Olaghere. The Newark resident’s story is more than a tale of one person’s entrepreneurship. It also demonstrates the extent to which Newark is at the world’s crossroads.
In addition to being one of the two organizers of Newark’s BrickCity Tech meetup, Jimi is the founder of GeekCookUSA, an independent accessories brand that creates unique products which cater to pop culture and technology enthusiasts. Because his partners in China design and manufacture GeekCookUSA’s products, Jimi does tons of virtual collaboration. But as a person who sells tangible goods, he’s also had to oversee the logistics of shipping by air, shipping by sea, and warehousing. Although he admits supply chain management can be painful, with the airport and seaport right here in town, he almost literally has the world at his fingertips (Jimi rides to Port Newark and helps load shipments himself).