New Connecticut Technology Council boss Carlson sees opportunities to raise group’s profile
Bruce Carlson is the new CEO of the Connecticut Technology Council. Carlson had a 20-year stint as policy director at the state’s Office of Policy & Management, and ten as chief of staff at the UConn Health Center in Farmington, where he helped established the Tech Transfer Program for the University of Connecticut. Carlson is a former CTC board member before being tapped as interim and then permanent CEO. Carlson previously founded the IP Factory, a company that identified technologies in Connecticut companies that were languishing and could be brought to market.
Before we get to the Tech Council, do you think the Health Center should be a part of the University of Connecticut?
Yes. If it were located in Mansfield there wouldn’t be any question about it. The problem is the 40-mile difference between [UConn’s main] Storrs campus [and Farmington], and there’s a hospital involved. For ten years I tried to figure out ways to have the entities better connected. People in Connecticut just don’t want to travel. It’s hard enough to get faculty members to go across the street, much less 40 miles away to collaborate.
What was your initial involvement with the Connecticut Technology Council?
At UConn we were a member of the Technology Council, so I was on the board for two or three years in the mid-2000s. When I started my own company, the IP Factory, I utilized a few people I met on that board as board members for my company.
What was the IP Factory?
We identified technologies that were invented and put on the shelf of corporations. It was called the IP Factory because I thought we would do it specifically around intellectual property, but after the first year we realized there were more projects than just purely the intellectual property. A lot of the large technology corporations in Connecticut get something started and then it doesn’t meet their revenue hurdle or whatever the case may be, and then it just sits on the shelf. So we’d go through a quick process to determine which ones had commercial value and which ones didn’t.
How big of a factor would it be for Connecticut if many or all of those smaller technologies were unleashed?
Playing the networking game, I realize now that almost at the same time I started the IP Factory, UTC [United Technologies Corp.] was going through the same process, just internally. We finally had a meeting and they found they had 500 [potential] projects. It was technology that wasn’t so much on the shelf, but already on the marketplace with opportunity to be used in other markets.
Is there a role for the Connecticut Technology Council to help facilitate this out-migration of projects or companies?
We define those issues that affect the membership broadly then figure out ways to respond to those issues. There are also things we can promote. One area I feel strongly about is that there is a large company-small company relationship in Connecticut [that can be enhanced]. That large company could become the first customer of the small company; there are many ways that relationship can be defined. The idea of technology and projects coming out of corporations to create companies as well. I’m organizing our larger corporate members around a task force to look at those things they could do to help the small technology companies. If you can say, ‘Pitney Bowes is my customer,’ other people will take notice. I talked to 90 percent of the [CTC] board members and with other technology companies in the state and asked what they saw as the value of the CTC. The workforce issue was of consistent concern across every technology company in the state, so we’re working with various aspects of the workforce, connecting the deans at schools of engineering with HR people at these companies. [Also] Connecticut was falling behind the rest of the world in connectivity and broadband services. We’re looking to set up affordable high-speed broadband networks in Connecticut.
Why do we want the government in the Internet business?
These RFPs are put together by consortiums of municipalities or regional entities. The government could provide a subsidy to get the infrastructure off the ground, but the private sector is still where it’s taking place.
Connecticut has a lot of big companies who are huge users of Internet access. What is the reason we wouldn’t have a path that was already being generated in the marketplace?
It’s a question of return on investment. The Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world that have been stringing wires. They’ll string the fiber optic to Company X, and they’ll charge a significant amount of money for that access. In New Haven there might be too many impediments, and a company would delay doing it to avoid the hassle. For example, there is one company with a French parent, and [the parent company] was saying, ‘You should move out of New Haven because we need you to have the high-speed broadband.’ This RFP process is going to tell us what the impediments of being able to do this are, and last year there was a piece of legislation that was passed that provided a space on every telephone pole so municipalities can have strung high-speed fiber-optic cable. Once they understand what it’s going to take to have these networks put together, they’ll put out an RFP. Anyone who wants to come in and bid to put in the wire, there will be competition among the companies.
Why are so many viable technology companies not joining the CTC?
I think they don’t see the value of joining. If you don’t feel that that [interacting with] the larger [technology] community is important, then the services associated with being part of the CTC are not what the sale is. You need to understand that by virtue of being a member we’re creating this community, and the community itself is having an impact.
One of the things the CTC has done both well and poorly has been outreach to women. What can the council do to better identify and embrace women in the tech space?
We have to start much earlier than talking about women in [technology]. It really is an issue of what happens between fifth grade and ninth grade where girls are no longer interested in science. One of our interns is a graduate of UConn Medical School, and he tells me that 70 percent of his graduating class were women, and 65 percent of the class before his were women. It’s not that girls aren’t interested in science; they’re just going into a different direction.
Is Connecticut’s issue different than say, Brooklyn’s or Boston’s?
Boston has other issues that might make it more attractive to a young technical person, but when I talk to my counterparts around the country, this issue of lack of diversity across the board, for women in particular, is a concern.
Are you keeping all the major events the CTC does now?
We have four signature events: the Women in Innovation, the Tech Top 40, the Innovation Summit and the IT Summit.
What is the CTC’s relation to the health sciences? There is a lot of merging between IT and health sciences that didn’t exist 15 years ago.
So many companies are using IT whether in health sciences or advanced manufacturing. But within the state you also have the organization CURE [Connecticut United for Research Excellence, a bioscience advocacy and membership group]. We need to be tactful of what that organization is doing with life science and bioscience industries in the state versus what the CTC is doing.
What are companies saying they need?
There is a real concern about the transportation infrastructure. I’m trying to get more presence in the Fairfield County area. Every time I go down there, there’s always a conversation about transportation problems, whether it’s Metro North or trying to get anywhere on the highway. Depending on where you are, companies have pretty strong interests.
Because of the number and concentration of young people, only New Haven is really attractive to a certain kind of company among Connecticut cities. I don’t think Farmington is where people will establish technology companies.
You have to turn that around and ask what it is about Stamford, South Norwalk and New Haven that brings in the young people and makes them want to be there and work there, and transfer that to Meriden or other small places. We need to push our strengths, and we should capitalize on what we have in New Haven and parts of Fairfield County with the hope that it will spill over — just like a lot of the bioscience sector in New Haven is spilling into Branford, and from Branford into Guilford. They can come and get started here and grow in other parts of Connecticut.
What did you learn about state government while at OPM?
Mostly the need for collaboration. Having working with three political parties and different people in the General Assembly, the recognition that doing something on my own isn’t what’s going to get things done. You need to bring other people into the fold and work on that collaborative base to get things done.
Two years from now, what will you want to have accomplished?
To have the value proposition of being a CTC member well understood and have a significant increase in the number of members. When you have 2,500 tech companies in the state of Connecticut and only about 300 [CTC] members, there’s a real opportunity for growth. I want to have the Tech Council viewed as having a wide group of tech companies in Connecticut as its members. That helps whether you’re advocating on the public policy side or networking. It creates a lot of opportunities.