One Word Stands Between NJ and Its Rightful Title: Silicon Valley East

Avi Karnani at TEDxNavesink talks about New Jersey as the next Silicon Valley

Avi Karnani (c) Jose Rosado Photography

Silicon Valley is home to many of our nation’s greatest high-tech companies, including giant corporations like Google, Apple, and Facebook. But, according to TEDxNavesink speaker Avi Karnani, New Jersey has the potential to rival Silicon Valley as the next epicenter of technological innovation.

As the CEO of Thrive (acquired by Lending Tree), co-founder of Churnless, and founder of Hazards & Compass, economic and technological development are Karnani’s area of expertise. Aware of the conditions needed to foster invention and innovation within a community, in his TEDxNavesink talk, Karnani argues that the factors that made Silicon Valley the site of the technology industry boom, exist right here on the east coast: infrastructure, money and intelligence.

After growing up in central New Jersey and attending college in New York, Karnani moved to Palo Alto, CA to begin his first start-up company. While living in the center of Silicon Valley, he began to wonder why this place had risen to the top as the American capitol of innovation, leaving New Jersey behind with the rest of the East Coast.

Karnani began by looking at infrastructure as the driving force behind Silicon Valley’s success. Conveniently located between San Francisco and San Jose and home to Stanford University, discoveries and ideas flow throughout the Valley with the help of two major highways, airlines, and a commuter train.

Karnani points out that central New Jersey bears a striking resemblance to Silicon Valley; it borders New York and Philadelphia and houses Princeton University, along with several of the nation’s leading tech schools. Two major roadways (I-95 and the Garden State Parkway), airports, and railways run throughout the area. Perhaps most importantly, both Silicon Valley and New Jersey are home to “people who are well-educated, culturally diverse, affluent, and aspirational.”

Next, Karnani delved into the past of his home state for answers, only to discover New Jersey’s rich history of innovation. From Thomas Edison’s first research center to the invention of the first computers at Penn and Princeton, he found that “the culture and history of innovation, of invention, is (New Jersey’s) history.”

But what’s holding back the Garden State from being the next Silicon Valley?

Karnani realized New Jersey’s hindrance lies in neither its infrastructure nor history, but in its culture. He traces the primary cultural flaw of New Jersey back to the 1960’s, when Fred Terman, the dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering, tried to bring his culture of collaboration to Princeton University. Striving to unite his students with other individuals and companies to develop their ideas, he established one of Silicon Valley’s most important values: the idea that “companies, even the ones that compete, can collaborate, and that people, even more than money, are the most important ingredients in the system”.

When Terman tried to bring his idea of collaboration to Princeton, however, he was unsuccessful. Research at Princeton was theoretical and confined to the academic setting, lacking the real-world application Stanford implemented, and East Coast companies were too concerned with protecting their property to share ideas. Terman’s vision of “a culture where invention turns into innovation” was impossible in such a setting.

“If we want to create innovation,” explains Karnani, “we need a culture of collaboration.” To do that, he said, we need to legally and financially incentivize entrepreneurship, bring wi-fi to community spaces, and encourage those around us to build their ideas that can help us to transform New Jersey into the next Silicon Valley. As Karnani predicts, “Collaboration and openness is what’s going to take our history of invention and turn it into a future of innovation.”

Watch one of Karnani’s predecessors, who was in that very room with Terman 50 years ago, react to this young innovator’s bold call for collaboration. It’s a uniquely TED moment you can only experience here.

You can watch Avi Karnani’s full talk here.

Join us May 10 at Two River Theater in Red Bank at TEDxNavesink 2014: PLAY, where 24 presenters will share the positive power of play every day in technology, education, design and more. Limited tickets are available for this all day event, which includes a catered lunch, networking opportunities, and an evening reception. Click here to get your ticket.

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