The paradigm has changed. Businesses these days run on different levels of manpower than they used to, and workers who once commanded high salaries are willing to work for much lower pay just to get some experience in a new area.
Sometimes they are even willing to work for free. And when it comes to small and early-stage tech companies, this availability can be a boon to both halves of the equation. For Lou Wagman, principal consultant at RES Partners and entrepreneur-in-residence at the NJIT Enterprise Development Center, it is the matchmaking between these two halves that can spark great futures for all concerned.
Wagman is one of the architects of the NJ Talent Network’s People to Business (or P2B) Meet-Up, an occasional event that matches qualified volunteer candidates with early-stage and small technology companies.
The next P2B, which has been held three times before, will be on Wednesday, May 16, from noon to 4:30 p.m. at the NJIT Campus Center in Newark. The event is free, but registration is required. Visit www.p2bcompany.eventbrite.com or contact Wagman at 609-688-9252, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The program is funded by grants to NJIT, Newark Alliance, and the NJ Technology Council from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development for the Advanced Manufacturing, Financial Services and Technology/Entrepreneurship Talent Networks. Wagman says he is merely “the implementer” of the grants and that it is his job to get the right people together.
Wagman, who is about to celebrate his 70th birthday, earned his bachelor’s in electronics engineering from George Washington University and has been in the corporate, Fortune 100, and tech sectors for decades.
He was one of the founders of Princeton Lightwave, a Sarnoff spinoff for which he served as chief operating officer. He had been a consultant at Sarnoff on an opto-electronics project at the end of the 1990s that eventually led to Princeton Lightwave. He oversaw the 2003 sale of the company to Trumpf Photonics, based at 2601 Route 130 in Cranbury, and served as its vice president and general manager.
Having gotten a taste for tech startups, Wagman decided he liked the entrepreneurial world better than the corporate. Since the 1990s he has served as a consultant and executive in several areas, helping to promote small and early-stage companies. Since 1997 he has operated his own business, Technology Management Associates, based at 161 Autumn Hill Road.
The company provides consulting services to early-stage tech companies, particular in the areas of strategic planning, executive summaries, business plans, financing advice, exit strategies, go-to-market planning, and intellectual property commercialization.
All of those areas of focus have translated into what Wagman is looking to do through P2B. He wants to make sure qualified workers who are out of work or who wish to change directions get a chance to get valuable experiences, and he wants startups to get the help they need in problem areas.
Experience counts. “I swear, I’ve never met an early-stage company that doesn’t need money,” Wagman says. “All small companies need help in marketing and sales.”
Wagman says he is looking for as many as 350 volunteers (about 335 already have signed up) and about 100 or so companies looking for highly qualified executives who can help them with those areas that often hang up small tech start-ups.
When putting companies and candidates together, Wagman (who calls himself “the matchmaker”) says he likes to move beyond the merely technological. Tech companies, he says, are almost always started by tech people. These people are very good at the science and technology, but they often lack the ability to market, sell themselves, or raise funds.
So Wagman and the NJTN screen candidates to see who can help small tech companies with areas such as marketing and finance. The organization also likes to match companies to candidates who know management, project management, business development and operations, another area in which many entrepreneurs lack understanding.
For Wagman it is less important to have experience in a specific project area or technology than for a candidate to show an aptitude and demonstrated ability in leading teams and projects. “The skills are transferable,” he says.
The dating scene. The constraints of the P2B process are quite loose, on purpose, Wagman says. NJTN did not want to get involved in specific placements and perfect matches. Instead, he says, the plan is to introduce as many candidates and companies as possible to each other.
“We don’t want to get into very precise matching,” he says. “This is more along the lines of speed dating. Companies and candidates can sit across from each other, get to know each other, and see if there is any mutual interest.”
Wagman adds, “We do a rough match. We invite as many jobseekers to meet up with as many companies as possible. “
There are no time restraints placed on how long someone can work with one company and nothing stopping candidates from brokering deals with multiple companies (or vice versa). “We want to let people work out their own deals,” he says. NJTN does, however, inform companies when a candidate is introduced to other companies.
The only limits placed on the process are that companies must be small and early-stage tech firms. “This is not for the local dry cleaner or anything like that,” Wagman says. “It’s not intended to get you someone for free to do menial tasks. There has to be value to people.”
While he does not have numbers, Wagman says the previous incarnations of the P2B have led to permanent positions at small tech companies. On May 16 there will be at least one speaker from a company that found and hired workers through the P2B and at least one worker who found a job through the event.
“For the companies it’s a hell of a deal,” Wagman says. “They get qualified workers they don’t have to pay for.” For individuals, he says, the benefits are plentiful. “This can help fill a resume gap, it gives them a solid reference, they can learn new skills, do meaningful work, expand their networks,” Wagman says. “It really is a win-win for everybody.”