JuiceTank — Innovation Lab, Accelerator and Coworking Space — Takes Shape in Somerset
Photo: Murals and art adorn the walls at Juice Tank. Photo Credit: Clark Lagemann
Murals and art adorn the walls at Juice Tank. | Clark Lagemann

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NJTechWeekly.com recently had a chance to tour the new JuiceTank idea lab, startup accelerator and coworking space in Somerset, which has both a mission and a philosophy.

Entrepreneur and founder Mukesh Patel told us the 7,000-square-foot location (with an option to grow to 25,000 square feet) emerged from the management team’s desire to both “juice” entrepreneurship and do social good.

Each company JuiceTank incubates or brings on board is encouraged to advance the mission by committing to taking a percentage of its profits, when it becomes profitable, and sharing it forward to help other entrepreneurs, Patel noted.

Patel said the founders live that philosophy. They provided scholarships to many students to attend their entrepreneurial “JuiceTank Conference 2012” at Kean University last summer. They are now giving local and inner-city artists a place to showcase their work.

The JuiceTank facility is inspiring, housed in a glass building that once belonged to AT&T. There are private offices, cubicles, open areas for meetings, lounges, conference rooms, idea rooms, a venue for community meetups and huge murals with amazing art, not to mention the kitchen, bar, pool table, Ping-Pong table, video game space and on-the-premises fitness center and cafeteria.

public_meeting_rooms_at_juicetank_with_captionThe walls are peppered with quotations from entrepreneurs. The huge area reminds you of what some smart, cool, well-funded Silicon Valley startup might have in its offices: plenty of places to work and also plenty of spaces to blow off steam, collaborate and get those creative juices flowing.

Yet, Patel noted, to provide the right mind-set for startups, “we used minimal smart capital to get this going.” Almost all the equipment was donated by sponsors. For example, Juniper Networks donated the Internet router. The facility is supported by an enthusiastic volunteer staff.

JuiceTank’s founders are all serial entrepreneurs. “We’ve done a number of ventures through private equity or venture capital and had successful exits. We want to give back to the next generation,” Patel said.

In addition to Patel — an attorney who is also a serial entrepreneur, the founding principal of a private equity firm, a business adviser, an angel investor and a mentor — JuiceTank was founded by Anish Desai and Charlie Patel.

Desai is a seasoned executive with 25 years’ experience in technology, business process outsourcing and risk management. His prior experience includes founding a successful VC-funded company and serving as president of a high-growth global technology firm. Charlie Patel, a serial entrepreneur, founded a successful project management firm providing consulting services to senior executives at Fortune 100 companies. He has launched various online startups and serves as an adviser to young tech companies.

The idea for JuiceTank grew out of the Kean entrepreneurial and mentorship conference, which the founders initiated during the summer. The gathering drew some 60 high school and college students, who stayed on the campus for three days.

“Thanks to American Express sponsorship, we took them all on a train ride to New York City, to American Express headquarters, where an executive vice president talked to them about how to think about the future, opportunities ahead, world issues and how to think like entrepreneurs. We also went to McGarry Bowen, a creative ad agency in New York that demonstrated how it puts together commercials in such a short period of time.”

The conference was very successful, and the founders received great feedback about how inspiring it had been to students, Patel said, so “in three months we went from holding a successful conference to opening an entrepreneurial space.”

“We are also connecting students from innovation and idea labs all over the country and putting them together on an online platform,” he added.

The founders want to move very quickly from conceiving this idea to hosting accelerator companies. Startup entrepreneurs in early to growth stages are invited to fill out a simple application on the company’s website to submit an initial pitch. “It’s essentially an executive summary,” Patel said. “If it passes that screening process, we’ll initiate a conference call with the startup. If we get past that stage, we’ll have an in-person meeting.”

After that, the founders will do their due diligence, because, after all, they are making an investment in these companies. They are looking for great ideas and great teams and companies that want to proceed quickly, initiate their startups with urgency and execute their plans with agility.

Initial seed investment starting at around $25,000 is available for startups, while more significant follow-on funding of up to about $150,000 is available for later-stage companies. The amount of money JuiceTank invests in the companies will vary depending on their stage of development, Patel said, and be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. “We have extensive contacts with investor groups, including angels and venture capital firms, who are interested in supporting and investing in the startups and growth companies,” he noted.

JuiceTank won’t be all tech. The accelerator is looking for startups focused on technology (Web and mobile products or services), healthcare, sports and entertainment, hospitality and travel, fashion merchandising, art, green initiatives and innovative consumer products and others. “We expect to have 10 companies within the next 12 months,” Patel said.

The accelerator will feature the usual ingredients, including strategic networking, mentoring and guest speakers, to enhance leadership, entrepreneurial and technical skills.

According to Patel, “JuiceTank will build an essential ecosystem around the entrepreneurs, including advisory boards and smart capital. The company is also actively affiliating with top universities to bridge domain expertise with the intellectual capital of academia.”

What will make JuiceTank different? The creative environment and the founders’ philosophy: never forget the next generation, and always step up to do the right thing.

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