Connecticut doesn’t yet have a reputation as a breeding ground for new high-tech companies, but there are efforts underway to change that image. In 2008, Connecticut Innovations introduced the CTech Incubator Program. WNPR’s Andrew Huston reports on some of the companies growing there.
A traditional incubator nurses eggs into healthy baby chicks, and a business incubator performs a similar function. Peter Longo is President and Executive Director of Connecticut Innovations.
“So right now we have about seven companies here in this space, pretty small companies, but hopefully at some point these companies will be growing and providing lots of jobs here in Connecticut.”
This is the CTech Incubator at Yale Science Park in New Haven. In addition to equipping young companies with inexpensive office space, it offers access to other resources.
“We have service providers that actually have office hours here on specific days of the week. We have an accounting firm, we have a capital provider, and we have a patent law firm. They come down and they provide Pro bono support and services to the people here to help them develop grow and work through some issues, so this has been a pretty successful offering here.”
Nick Jaensch co-founded the social media site Shizzlr while in graduate school about a year and a half ago. In January, the company joined the CTech program.
"Coming into here has basically taken our reach from an inch to a foot... a mile. So, not we have all these great connections and people are willing to help from all over the state. It's just been absolutely amazing."
Shizzlr differs from larger social media sites by creating small, private networks of its users’ closest friends…like people they’ve called within the past couple weeks. The service pulls information from sites like Google and Yelp to showcase events and entertainment in members' city or town. Local businesses then have the ability to steer these groups to their location with deals and incentives.
“Then what we do, is when you see there’s something going on at Delaney’s down the street…Let me make a plan with my four friends and it starts this group text. So everyone's involved everyone can give there input, you know where are we going before, where are we going after. And it's really just to capture , these are my options, so you can then go out and enjoy whatever you've planned.”
Jaensch says his start-up has been busy since joining CTech, and being part of that business community has been helpful.
“The conversations that have gone are as simple as what payroll company do you use to what do you think of this new thing that we might be implementing in a month. So… it’s little stuff like who’s your bookkeeper that could take a few days, but now takes five minutes of conversation."
There is lots of diversity at the Science Park Incubator…the company Why Science takes an entrepreneurial approach to improving education.
"My Name is Yvonne Akpalu and I'm the CEO and Founder of Why Science."
Akpalu’s company focuses on improving achievement in an area where students in the state have typically fallen behind, encouraging them to pursue careers in STEM--Science, Technology, Engineering and Math-- fields. She says that incorporating innovative teaching practices with educational media…what she calls “hands-on” and “minds-on” activities…can improve motivation and performance in students. Why Science offers workshops to classrooms…often with underwriter support from businesses…that illuminate resources without placing a financial burden on schools.
"There is no point spending lots of time creating things from scratch...there's so much out there already for teachers. But by just learning how to innovate with the resources that are out there, many of them free, we can really improve science instruction and, you know, instruction in other areas of our education system without additional funding."
Akpalu says there is potential for growth in many areas like media development, and she has big plans for the company.
“Being in CTech has been very helpful because I have access to business professionals ranging from human resources to financial who can help me with the start-up phase. I’m not at the stage where I can hire a lot of people…the ultimate goal is I just want to hire lots and lots of people.”
Executives at Connecticut Innovations agree the goal for start ups is to grow out of incubators and to provide jobs for Connecticut residents. Because available incubator space reached capacity much quicker than anticipated at the Yale site, the institution's next direction is virtual incubator space, which would allow even smaller companies that don't need operational space yet, the same access to professional services and resources.