Connections: Creating an entrepreneurial community, on a statewide level
By Tim Coates, Managing Director of CTNEXT
Great business ideas are popping up across the country thanks to the ingenuity of smart and determined entrepreneurs. Cities like Austin and Boulder are fostering communities that help burgeoning companies access resources and a skilled workforce. So, how does an entrepreneur in Storrs, Connecticut, compete with entrepreneurs in these more mature and dense locations? By accessing an emerging community of entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, experts, and public officials who have come together to develop a vibrant and supportive ecosystem in Connecticut, called CTNEXT.
Connecticut is made up of large cities and small communities. We’ve got a lot of colonial villages too. Entrepreneurs in startups and stage two companies across the state are learning that growth can happen when you access the power of the community. It does, in fact, take a village. And what’s unique about the work that the CTNEXT network is doing is that it’s not just in New Haven or in Hartford, but in Danbury and Naugatuck, Storrs and Groton.
The partners involved with CTNEXT are committed to opening up statewide and local networks so entrepreneurs can access the knowledge, resources and opportunities they need to succeed. They do this by supporting and mobilizing a network of economic development organizations, large corporations, serial entrepreneurs, mentors, service providers, community leaders and many others who work together to assist Connecticut’s most promising early-stage companies.
Take, for example, the Launch X pitch events, where ‘X’ represents a local community mobilizing their own entrepreneurs. LaunchManchester held an event recently billed as ‘a pitch contest that’s a fusion of competition and learning experience, designed to get would-be entrepreneurs thinking about their ideas, and to simulate the process and competitiveness entrepreneurs go through when they pitch their businesses.’ During the event, entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to a supportive group of mentors, got feedback, and then pitched the idea again. These events are so well received that they are being replicated throughout the state. The original pitch event, LaunchHaven (in New Haven), is now being replicated not only in Manchester but soon to be in Bridgeport and other locations in the state.
Encouraging Students to Get Involved
The student population is also plugging into the community. For example, University of Connecticut student Mark Smith was the recent winner of the 2013 Innovation Quest competition, which provides monetary prizes and support for student entrepreneurs. Mark worked with experts at UConn, a CTNEXT Partner organization, and mentors from the community on his proposal for a high-tech startup company called Macropod Imaging Solutions, which won accolades as well as an additional $10,000 innovation voucher from CTNEXT.
Providing Necessary Resources
Perhaps the most innovative new resource available for the entrepreneurial community in Connecticut are Growth Company Advisors, experienced entrepreneurs and executives who identify and support high potential early-stage companies. This group doesn’t just hand you a contact name and send you on your way. They take the time to help startups and stage two companies find necessary resources and work though the web of obstacles that often stymies company growth.
Janis Collins, a Growth Advisor in the CTNEXT network, recently helped a business looking to access new markets. The company, Lightning Buy, had a great product but was having difficulty navigating the state’s Small Business Express Program application process. The company had received other offers of funding but the terms offered by the state were far superior. CEO Carissa Ganelli then met Janis who put her in touch with the right people at the Department of Economic and Community Development to help shepherd their application through the process. Janis’s passion and tenacity enabled Lightning Buy to secure state support and funding.
Every city and state has businesses that manage to get off the ground and succeed without the help of others. But as in the most successful entrepreneurial communities, we’re seeing in Connecticut that companies grow faster when a community organizes itself to provide their companies timely access to the necessary resources.
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Before joining the Connecticut Technology Council to lead the development of a new system of entrepreneurship support in the state, Tim Coates co-founded of 21inc, an “action tank” building a community of entrepreneurial leaders among Atlantic Canada’s most promising young people under age 35.
Editor’s Note: Connections is a Q&A series with business and government leaders involved with building entrepreneurial communities in areas not traditionally considered to be startup hubs.