On Market Street in Camden there is a newly established graphic design company called Penji, an unlimited graphic design service. Co-founder of the company Johnathan Grzybowski graduated from Rutgers–Camden in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in business management. Though his degree is unrelated to design, the coursework brought home to him his inherent love of business and entrepreneurship, and that fed directly into the start-up of Penji.
Khai Tran, Johnathan’s co-founder at Penji, was raised in Camden and graduated from Rutgers–Camden in 2010 with a general science major and a psychology minor. His major taught him how to manage multiple roles and juggle challenges when it came time to start a business, and he describes the psychology minor as, “the best thing that could happen to [me] as it allowed [me] to better understand [my] customers and [my] team members.” Since graduation Khai has proved himself a serial entrepreneur, being, among other things, the CEO of Waterfront Ventures, an organization dedicated to bringing over a hundred businesses and start-ups to Camden.
When asked why they chose to start a graphic design company when neither of them have a design background, the pair replied that, “What we wanted to do was less important than why we wanted to do it.” For both of these men Penji is not, primarily, a company, but a tool which they are using to facilitate the growth of Camden and its people. From day one the goal of its founders has been to provide jobs and internships for over one hundred residents and students of Camden.
Penji ended up as a graphic design company primarily because it allowed Johnathan and Khai, “to better align with the needs of our community” and provided, “the most flexibility in terms of providing internships and jobs to students in Camden.”
One of Johnathan’s primary memories of his time at Rutgers–Camden is the sense of community and inspiration that he always got from walking around the campus, and Penji is, in part, an attempt to continue and to aid that inspiration and community. It was conceived as a “community conscious organization that would set the example for other startups to come to Camden and open their door to our students.”
Penji is a young company, established in October 2017, yet it recently celebrated acquiring its 200th client, and the company is growing. The current staff consists of twenty-five people world-wide, with thirteen people in the U.S. all residing in Camden. This roll-call includes current Rutgers–Camden students Steven Nguyen and Anesis Kim, and one Rutgers–Camden alumni, Naciye Cakir. Johnathan and Khai intend to hire three more students in the near future.
Though Penji’s primary clients are marketing teams and agencies, their flat-rate fee system allows them to help non-profit organizations and new start-ups. This means that the work itself, as well as the hiring policy, is feeding back into Camden. This is part of what makes the job so exciting for employee Naciye Cakir. She lived in Camden throughout her four years at Rutgers–Camden, juggling two jobs and a full-time class load. During that time, she developed a love for Camden which the graphic design company allows her to express.
Current student Steven Nguyen discovered Penji through Rutgers–Camden and through his friends. He shares interests with many of his fellow employees, and finds the company a fun and exciting place to work.
Graphic Designer Anesis Kim arrived at Penji in a most serendipitous fashion. Anesis has lived in Camden for a few years. Her frequent walks to the Market Street Pizzeria took her past the Waterfront Lab, where Penji shares space, and she often remarked to her boyfriend that she wanted to work there. On one of these walks, she spied a poster in the window for a Camden Tech Meet-up. In researching the Meet-up to see how she could get involved, she found an opening at Penji for a Graphic Designer and immediately applied. She continued to send in her resume every few days with admirable persistence until, at last, she was hired.
Penji came into being following an event called Camden Catalyst. The event focused on the tech scene of the re-emerging city, and both Johnathan and Khai were in attendance. At the time Johnathan was running a high-end design company, working with Fortune 500 companies, and Khai was running a business magazine called Owners’ Magazine. Both were asked by members of the press how they could ensure that the tech companies coming into Camden would hire locally, and if they themselves were hiring locally. Their answer was no, and the following day, Penji was born with the specific mandate of hiring within the city of Camden, whether it be residents, students, or literal walk-ins like Anesis. Their hope is that the company will act as a model and encourage other start-ups to open their doors in Camden.
Written By Victoria Wroblewski