Industry Veteran Casabona to Spearhead NJ’s First Tech Accelerator

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N.J. is getting its first tech accelerator, called TechLaunch, funded by a partnership between the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) and private equity and founded by tech industry veteran and angel investor Mario Casabona. Casabona’s proposal was selected from a field of six prospects interested in starting a tech accelerator in N.J. after the EDA announced last year it would be seeking proposals. A competitive solicitation for a fund manager was released in October 2011. While the field was narrowed to two competitive bids, Casabona’s proposal was the only one deemed complete, EDA CEO Caren Franzini said in a memo to the board. Casabona’s company, “addressed all evaluation criteria and was the highest-scoring application,” she added.

Hosted by TechLaunch, the LaunchPad intensive business boot camp-type program is prepared to sponsor its initial class later this year at Montclair State University. The accelerator expects to mentor 12 companies in its first year, making average investments of $18,000 per company. The EDA is contributing $150,000 annually for three years, while TechLaunch will add $300,000 in matching funds each year. In exchange for its investment, TechLaunch will receive a 10 percent equity position in the fledgling companies.

A conference will be held to introduce the 12 company teams to the entrepreneurial community, then the 12-week LaunchPad boot camp will provide the selected startups with business training, networking with mentors and potential strategic partners, talks by guest speakers, exposure to panel discussions and professional development and technical help to develop their products. After the three months, the companies will demonstrate their products and make an investor pitch for potential follow-up funding. TechLaunch will follow the successful model of other tech accelerators, such as Dreamit Ventures, TechStars and Y Combinator.

While there is no requirement for LaunchPad graduate companies to remain in N.J., it is clearly the state’s hope that they will settle here. Franzini said, “We are embarking on a competition for innovation to reveal N.J.’s entrepreneurial strengths, using a model that provides a potential return on the EDA’s investment and allows N.J. to compete with neighboring states to maintain and attract technology talent.” Casabona said entrepreneurs with great ideas who want to compete for an accelerator spot do not have to come from the Garden State, “but we want them to be in N.J. and will try to provide incentives for them to stay.”

In an interview with Casabona was extremely enthusiastic about this new project, pointing out that he came out of retirement to take it on. He successfully sold his own company, Electro-Radiation (Fairfield), to Honeywell in 2004 and then continued on at Honeywell until 2007. Since his retirement, he has been involved in angel investing through Casabona Ventures (Kinnelon) and is chairman of Jumpstart NJ Angel Network.