Why This Newark NJ Powerhouse Is Investing In Tech To Grow Small Businesses

I sat down with Aisha Glover, VP of Urban Innovation, Global Center for Urban Development to learn more about their mission here in New Jersey. Aisha & her team are collaborating with TechUnited on the TechUnited:BetterConnected Challenge Newark to empower & modernize main street businesses in Newark, NJ.

Tell me about Audible and its ties to Newark.

As the leading creator and provider of audio storytelling, Audible celebrates the art and power of performance, and we invest in our relationships with creators to provide opportunities for artists around the world. And what better place in which to work with artists than Newark, where we moved our headquarters in 2007 to accelerate the renaissance of a great American city. To expand our community initiatives aimed at advancing equity, racial justice and economic empowerment, we launched the Global Center for Urban Development (GCUD) in 2020. Based in Newark, the center encompasses Audible locations around the world and includes programs and policy initiatives that can be adopted in cities globally.

What was the first step Audible took to support Newark-based small businesses?

In 2017, Audible launched our “Lunch Out Wednesday” program to support the retail economy and increase employee engagement within our neighborhood. Through relationships with local restaurants and businesses, we subsidized hundreds of employees each week to “lunch out” at local Newark eateries and explore the city. “Lunch Out Wednesday” transitioned into Newark Working Kitchens during the pandemic when our employees were working from home, and through NWK we have sustained area restaurants and donated close to 1.5m meals to Newark residents.

How has Audible’s approach to supporting Newark evolved over the years?

Since moving our headquarters to Newark in 2007 we’ve created a local hiring pipeline, launched the Future Leaders internship program and encouraged our employees to live local by providing a $500 a month rent subsidy for Newark residents. Our initiatives in Newark create jobs, sustain businesses, attract foot traffic and result in greater employee spend, resulting in over $775m of economic activity. We also believe strongly in Newark’s innovation corridor, recruiting companies like HAX and creating Newark Venture Partners to invest in start-ups and grow the city as an innovation hub. Throughout the pandemic we’ve found new ways to work with and make an impact in our Newark community, such as Newark Working Kitchens, which helped to support 37 local restaurants and feed residents in need, and the Newark Artist Collaboration, which offers ongoing opportunities to Newark-based artists and encourages local investment in our creative community.

How has technology played a role in democratizing equity & access to financial capital for under-represented & minority business owners?

Technology opens doors to access financial capital and financial empowerment, which has been a priority for Newark Venture Partners companies like MoCaFi. MoCaFi is a Black-owned fintech company that aims to combat the predatory financial services extracting wealth from Black & Brown Americans by creating new systems and financial products. Audible collaborated with MoCaFi in 2021 to launch Audible Bucks, a stipend program for Newark-area college students and residents that provides discretionary income to help offset students’ cost of food and living, and drive spending at local businesses to support Newark’s economic recovery and overall financial wellness.

How can the tech community play a role in sustaining the growth of main street businesses?

Audible & TechUnited recently launched the TechUnited:BetterConnected Challenge Newark to inspire entrepreneurs to relocate their start-up businesses to Newark. Applicants who relocate to Newark could win $10,000 in lease support for office space in the city, and will gain mentorship from Audible executives. We’re looking for startups that are empowering and supporting community businesses to support and accelerate the growth of retailers and main street businesses in Newark. This is meaningful work that helps small businesses increase retail traffic to stay afloat and save jobs in a perilous moment where we’re working to come out of the pandemic.

Learn more about the Challenge & apply here by August 26, and catch the Challenge launch interview below!

 

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