#StartupsEverywhere: Newark, NJ

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Jacob Katsof, COO and Co-Founder of UpChannel

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.


A Tale of Two Cities

With offices in Newark, New Jersey and Park City, Utah, Jacob Katsof, chief operating officer and co-founder of UpChannel, understands diversity in startup ecosystems. There are unique challenges and advantages in each market: In Newark, the talent pool is outstanding, but with New York City just 15 minutes away, it can be hard to keep talent in New Jersey.  Park City has a loyal talent pool with appealing tax credits, but the talent pool is much smaller. Despite the stark contrast in landscape, climate, and culture, these two cities have one thing in common. They are both hubs of American innovation with players that can offer policymakers perspectives from the country’s startup ecosystem.

What is UpChannel?

UpChannel is a B2B SaaS business, that helps smartphone manufacturers create and manage relationships with their customers. UpChannels solution is deployed in over 105 countries with 100 million smartphones under contract.

Tell me about you. What is your background?

I have a background in telecommunications. From 2011 to 2012, I was the Entrepreneur in Residence at IDT Corporation, based in New Jersey. From 2012 to 2014, I worked at PCS Wireless as the Director of Mobile Applications. I identified a need in the market and knew I had to start UpChannel. I quit my job, sold my house and moved back in with my parents. Believe it or not, my wife did not even divorce me!

How did you get started?

I wanted to find an advisor to guide me through the process. I looked on LinkedIn and found someone with a similar background. I just reached out and told him about UpChannel. He began advising me and made a really good point. I had a great idea, but didn’t have a technical co-founder.

To find a technical co-founder, I snuck into a hackathon. That’s where I met Charlie Hulcher, UpChannel’s chief technical officer and co-founder, who has been with me ever since.  Charlie actually won first place in that hackathon.

Why Newark, New Jersey?

We got started in Newark because of Newark Venture Partners. Don Katz, the founder of Audible, founded Newark Venture Partners to connect Newark to the east coast technology ecosystem and create an early-stage fund and accelerator for New Jersey. Newark Venture Partners has really turned Newark into a technology hub. It is only 15 minutes to New York City, with excellent talent in New York City, Jersey City and all around. Newark has excellent public transportation and the traffic is not that bad. It’s even a finalist for Amazon’s HQ2.

So why the move to Park City, Utah?

Well, remember that advisor I found on LinkedIn? Ron Williams, recently quit his job and joined UpChannel as chief executive officer. He lives in Park City and we thought it was crucial for the team to be together during this stage of our company.

As an entrepreneur who has lived in Newark and Park City, can you share some differences between the two cities?

Newark has a larger talent pool. Due to the proximity to New York City, there is really great talent in the area.  However, its biggest strength is also its biggest challenge. While there’s great talent, there are many opportunities and turnover can be a problem. Newark needs help recruiting talent. It’s certainly growing and it is the Cinderella story next to New York City.  Newark is taking some time to blossom, but it is getting there.

Park City, on the other hand, has beautiful mountain views. There is very little traffic and as a result, there are just less stress factors. Despite the smaller talent pool, it is easier to retain employees in Park City. There is a culture of loyalty amongst midwage workers. For distribution, Park City serves as a great central location. Not to mention, there is an affordable cost of living.

From a policy perspective, do you have any wishlist items for Newark’s startup ecosystem?

We plan on staying in Newark, and I wish there were more accessible technology startup credits. Employee tax credits would be helpful, as well, to encourage more hiring. Many of the existing government programs were not made for technology/software startups - they were made for small businesses with storefronts. New Jersey and New Jersey Institute of Technology has an investing program for startups that offers tax credits to investors, allowing startups to get more cash. However, the program requirements were so draconian; it was obvious that the requirements were made with just lawyers in the room, not with any input from entrepreneurs. The intentions are right, but it was easier to get capital from angel investors and venture funds.

Engine works to ensure that when policymakers look for insight from the startup ecosystem when they are considering programs and legislation that affect entrepreneurs. Together, our voice is louder and more effective. Many of today’s lawmakers do not have first-hand experience with the country's thriving startup ecosystem, so it’s our job to amplify that perspective. To nominate a person, company, or organization to be featured in our #StartupsEverywhere series, email jen@engine.is.