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Web Design Alumni Power Newark Venture Partners’ Inaugural Cohort

Newark, New Jersey is shaking up the tech scene with the launch of Newark Venture Partners, a $50 million venture capital fund founded by Audible CEO and co-founder, Don Katz, and heavily backed by US Senator Cory Booker, with the purpose of funding startups.

The inaugural class kicked off in September and company pitches to investors were held December 7 at the Prudential Center. Startup Institute alumni Francesca Behling and Salina Mack were selected to serve as designers-in-residence during the three-month accelerator. Newark Venture Partners Director and VC, Dimitris Kouvaros, had visited Startup Institute for a fireside chat over the summer, where he first met Francesca and Salina.[bctt tweet="#WebDesign Course Alumni Power @NewarkVC Inaugural Cohort, by @editor_abruno" username="StartupInst"]

"I've known Startup Institute for a while and I knew about the types of quality people who came out of there," Dimitris said. "It was a pretty simple choice for me to go over there and ask... for interested people... ‘Accelerator people’ and Startup Institute people kind of go hand-in-hand."

"The fact that Dimitris is so connected to Startup Institute and was willing to hire us right off the bat meant a lot," Francesca said.

Over 700 companies applied to NVP, and only nine made the cut—Alphachannel, Barkly, Bowtie, Dream Forward, KiDCASE,, Navinata Health, Sales Huddle  and UpChannel .

For Francesca and Salina, NVP was the perfect segue to begin their new adventure in the tech world, having come from diverse professional backgrounds. Francesca is a former project manager for a law firm while Salina’s worked in graphic design in the print and digital markets.

"I was doing a lot of client work and a lot problem-solving, but it wasn't really what I wanted to be doing," Francesca explained.

I decided that I didn't want to go to law school, so I took some classes online and found that UX specifically was a way I could use those skills while being in a field that I wanted to be in.

During Startup Institute, Francesca served as project manager on a cross-functional team of her fellow students while working with Gist Digital—a hiring partner—on a communication and document-sharing platform for construction companies.

Salina was partnered with Roomi, a free mobile app that simplifies roommate and housing search. She designed on-brand landing pages for A/B tests that improved performance and collaborated with the marketing team to optimize Roomi’s Google advertising account. In Salina's words,

I had no prior experience in the tech industry coming into Startup Institute. Being exposed to a lot of tech companies ... and collaborating with the rest of the cohort [across various disciplines], expanded my knowledge. I went to Startup Institute because I wanted to see where my design background fit. Where in the tech ecosystem do I fit as a designer?

While working at NVP, both Salina and Francesca were kept busy, juggling multiple projects. Salina continued to build on the skills she learned at Roomi—working on branding and building Google ads from scratch. Meanwhile, Francesca redesigned a website and overhauled another company's app. Both also assisted companies in designing and building their investor pitch decks.

"They have been a tremendous value," Dimitris said.

Like any startup culture, a typical day at NVP varies. According to Francesca, the best way to describe it was "atypical."

"I worked with so many companies, and to each their own project is the most important,” she explained. “I learned to be transparent about how I prioritize my tasks so we were all on the same page.”

“Working with nine companies of various verticals helped further develop my design skills for business-to-business projects,” Salina added. “My design background is mostly non-profit and business-to-consumer. It also encouraged me to explore more ways to effectively lead design thinking sessions and better communicate design solutions.”