Connecticut Innovations Inc.’s (CII) ongoing support of and investment in the state’s technology and startup sectors has earned it a spot on Entrepreneur.com’s list of the Top 100 Venture Capital Firms in the country.

 

CII came in at No. 66 on the list with 70 investment deals totaling $63.3 million. The top spot went to Silicon Valley firm Andreessen Horowitz, which had 82 deals in 2013 valued at $667.4 million.

 

The VC100 ranks the top venture capital firms based on total capital invested in seed or early-stage deals in the U.S. in 2013. The figures were sourced from global private equity and venture capital data firm PitchBook.

 

 NEW HAVEN — The Elm City law firm of Reid & Riege has launched an “M&A Deals Insider” blog, madealsinsider.com.  The blog’s purpose is keeping readers connected to the world of mergers and acquisitions, including recurring issues and current developments.  Blog posts are authored by attorneys in the firm’s Business Law Practice Area. In addition, “M&A Deals Insider” allows readers to perform their own due diligence on members of R&R’s M&A team.

“M&A Deals Insider” is intended to provide practical and timely advice for entrepreneurs, closely held and family businesses, publicly traded companies, and those who finance all of them, to help guide them through business transactions. R&R partners say they hope business brokers, investment bankers, accountants and attorneys in the M&A bar will use the blog as a resource for their own needs and those of their clients.

 SHELTON — FitLinxx, a provider of enterprise health and wellness technology that motivates people to live actively and improve their well-being, has unveiled the FitLinxx Pebble+ activity tracker.

The Pebble+ is an all-day wireless activity tracker that motivates people to be active any time, anywhere. It is a small, waterproof device that clips to an individual’s shoe, belt, waistband, pocket or bra, blending seamlessly into daily life, the company says.

The enhanced Pebble+ device offloads exercise and activity information to Apple iOS7 mobile devices, with Android devices to follow. Benefits include frequent data offloads to mobile devices enables consumers, patients and employees to receive feedback quickly within health, wellness and fitness mobile applications.

 SHELTON — FitLinxx, a provider of enterprise health and wellness technology that motivates people to live actively and improve their well-being, has unveiled the FitLinxx Pebble+ activity tracker.

The Pebble+ is an all-day wireless activity tracker that motivates people to be active any time, anywhere. It is a small, waterproof device that clips to an individual’s shoe, belt, waistband, pocket or bra, blending seamlessly into daily life, the company says.

The enhanced Pebble+ device offloads exercise and activity information to Apple iOS7 mobile devices, with Android devices to follow. Benefits include frequent data offloads to mobile devices enables consumers, patients and employees to receive feedback quickly within health, wellness and fitness mobile applications.

 

With a Barrage of creativity, young designer Alysia Southern is rapidly building a brand

 

Don’t let a period of restless uncertainty get you down. It may be more helpful than you realize.

Such was the case for interior designer Alysia Southern, whose Barrage Designs — now barely two months old — opened in Westville this spring after she spent a long time trying to find her place.

Southern, 31, grew up in Cheshire (a “white-bread” upbringing, she says), and while she always loved the arts, never had much exposure beyond participating in some student theater at Cheshire High School. But she struck out on her own at age 16 to move to Manhattan, earning her GED along the way and landing a theater scholarship to Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. (where she also studied psychology and history). It was there where learning the basics of set design and costumes would ultimately prove useful.

“I was watching how an exterior, via a costume, can take someone to a different level, and how your external can create the internal,” Southern says. “That had a lot to do with my flair for the dramatic now, and my belief that you can change the way you’re living by redesigning the space you’re living in.

“That,” Southern adds, “is a powerful relationship.”

She ultimately spent just two years at Manhattanville before settling into work in the city, where in addition to getting started by working in design teams for restaurants and nightclubs, she also tried her hand at commercial and residential real estate, and even more briefly, in the recording industry (“I was searching for what I wanted to do,” she acknowledges).

Southern eventually left New York City and made her way back to Connecticut. In 2010, in New Haven, she found a renewed focus and started working independently as an interior designer, working with residential and small commercial clients, going so far as to price her services barely above cost to help get her name out there.

“It was like a revelation; everything I had done up to that moment was like a ten-year learning process,” Southern says. Not to mention that “Starting your own design firm in Manhattan with very little direction just isn’t feasible.”

Southern estimates she’s worked on more than 30 spaces in various capacities since she started designing, running the gamut from apartments to homes and retail spaces, which she says can pose the biggest challenges. She’s current re-designing Westville’s Simonae Boutique.

“Changing a 5,000 square-foot space, you’re not just deciding if you like gray curtains or white curtains, you’re getting into branding, marketing, merchandising and legalities with a retail space,” she explains.

Southern wants clients to be “as involved or uninvolved as they want,” but aims to seek out the feeling they want, using fabrics and color as a foundation to build on. Her own personal style illustrates a “flair for the dramatic,” she says, and Southern decided early on that she’d rather be recognized for having her own unique touch than a please-the-masses approach.

“It’s a question I spent a lot of time on during the development stages of my business,” she says. “I would want people to come to me specifically because they love what I do and they trust that I can transform a space. Without that, I think it’s just a job.

I wanted to design spaces that were absolutely magical and people would be attracted to that,” Southern adds.

It was while designing a space for Project Storefronts in Westville this spring that local designer Lesley Roy discovered Southern’s talents. Roy assumed a mentoring role by offering her own Whalley Avenue storefront to showcase Barrage Designs, which Southern uses to display the various elements of home décor she now sells to retail clients, including custom-made pillows with vintage fabrics, antiques and various other wares, repurposed and redesigned.

“Young entrepreneurs need a place to showcase their wares,” explains Roy. “Providing my storefront to Barrage Designs is my way of giving back by mentoring a young entrepreneur in the art of business.

“Alysia possesses a unique talent to beautifully stage the home décor items she creates with a crisp, inviting sense of style and panache,” adds Roy. “She can make a closet look cool.”

Hunting relics, antiques or simple discarded pieces and bringing them either back to life or breathing new life into them is something Southern has been used to for most her still-young career, whether she picks up her finds at estate sales, or from the guts of soon-to-be-closing warehouses.

“I’ve been decorating and designing on the fly since I moved into my first apartment,” she says. “When I was 16 and living alone I didn’t have much money, so I had to learn to get whatever I could find and put them together in some cohesive way.”

These transformed artifacts might be as mundane as an old lamp given a new custom-made shade, or a jewelry case repainted and re-purposed as a display case for the likes of sand art or accent pieces.

“There’s a call to designers right now to use the goods that are out there,” says Southern. “You want to reuse something so you’re not making new junk out of old junk, but making it more beautiful and more functional that it was originally.”

While returning home to Connecticut at first fraught with a sense that she had failed to “make it there” in New York, it soon became hard to overlook the positives, such as reconnecting with family and friends and having affordable space to live and work.

“It’s been another mark in a series of successes,” she says. “Being back here has allowed me to have 3,000 square feet for the amount that would get you a closet in Manhattan. I can drive to get new things and I have resources here I could never have found there.

“Coming back to the place you were born is powerful, too,” Southern adds. “Seeing it last through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl with a fake ID trying to get into bars, and then coming back and seeing it as a woman is transformative in a way.”

Southern acknowledges she probably won’t get “1,000 people from the streets of Westville pounding down the door for my pillows,” she does hope the storefront can work in tandem with her design business, acting as a gallery for potential clients to get a feel for her style.

Ultimately she’d like to see a design community flourish here to produce and provide unique objects.

“Interior beauty should not be exclusively for the rich,” she says. “I think luxury is a feeling that should be available for everyone.”

 

 UTC to ‘present’ renamed Connecticut Open for two years

 

NEW HAVEN — The Elm City’s signature sporting event has a new identity.

Again.

The professional tennis tourney once known as the Volvo International, then the Pilot Pen Open, then the New Haven Open at Yale, has a new identity: the Connecticut Open presented by United Technologies.

United Technologies Corp. has agreed to become presenting sponsor of the newly named event, Tournament Director Anne Worcester announced June 10. The annual Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) event will be held August 15-23 at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale University.

It is hoped that the tournament’s new name will broaden the event’s overall appeal to fans and sponsors and appropriately reflect the state of Connecticut’s investment, Worcester said.

The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last year agreed to spend $618,000 to buy the Women's Tennis Association sanctioning rights to the tournament and keep it from moving to North Carolina.

"With an economic impact of approximately $26 million annually, it goes without saying that this tournament is good for Connecticut," Malloy said in a statement. "Each year, the tournament draws tens of thousands of spectators and volunteers from across the country, many of whom eat at local restaurants, stay at local hotels and shop at local businesses."

Hartford-headquartered United Technologies agreed to become the presenting sponsor for the next two years. Financial terms of the deal were not announced.

“United Technologies is proud to support the Connecticut Open as its new presenting sponsor,” said UTC Chairman and CEO Louis Chênevert. “Our partnership with the tournament, the state of Connecticut, Smilow Cancer Hospital and the other corporate sponsors will ensure a world-class event and build on UTC’s long history of supporting leading organizations in our community.”

 

“The tournament is a large-scale international sporting event and we are thrilled to be partnering with a global leader in United Technologies,” said Worcester. “Together, we can take the tournament to the next level, and continue to give back and positively impact our local communities.”

 

A men's, women's or combined tournament has operated in New Haven since 1990. But the tournament has not had a title sponsor since Pilot Pen left in 2010, along with the male players.

 Connecticut has in recent years looked to entrepreneurs and startup companies as the principal engine of prosperity. There are now “innovation hubs” statewide and countless pitch events that give budding talent a chance to get out there, and more importantly, attract investment capital.

 

But even with a solid idea and a decent team, you could almost blow it if you don’t efficiently give prospective investors a compelling reason to say yes.

 

That’s where Bill Kenney comes in.

 

The Ivoryton-based serial entrepreneur, 51, knows a thing or two about pitching; he’s helmed six startups in the past 17 years and has been to at least 100 pitch events such as Startup Weekend in the last year alone. His latest venture is Test My Pitch, an online platform that allows entrepreneurs to draft scripts and post videos to get feedback from fellow entrepreneurs, business owners and mentors.

 

“At most of these events, I’ve sat next to someone who had an idea but didn’t feel they were ready to pitch; the idea was good but their confidence wasn’t,” Kenney says. “[With Test My Pitch] you’ll learn something about scripting, but more than that it delivers confidence.”

 

It’s that confidence that’s needed when in the stressful situation of pitching a startup to investors, since often you only have about five minutes at most to get the point across. Kenney says instilling that confidence may motivate those who otherwise might be reticent to put their ideas out there.

 

Test My Pitch allows users to create their own pitches from scratch, or make use of the various templates into which they can plug their own information.

 

He says even for those who do pitch well, keeping on point is the real challenge. Kenney says an over-emphasis on the product has been one of the most common mistakes he’s seen from pitches.

 

“The entrepreneur is so overwhelmed with pride and fixated on the product, but the investor audience isn’t focused on the product. They’re focused on the team, what they learned, and customer validation,” he says. “Understand who your audience is and align everything to who that is. The assumption is that the idea will change; the investor is looking for that kind of intelligence and nimbleness, and the humbleness to listen to the market.”

 

You’d imagine that the guy who knows all about how to pitch must have blown away the crowd at the Startup Weekend in Storrs that birthed Test My Pitch in 2013. Not quite; Kenney’s idea didn’t even place in the top three.

 

Enter Score My Pitch, an online platform that allows judges and mentors at pitch events to score pitches and provide valuable feedback to each presenter or team. Kenney launched that platform earlier this year.

 

“If you don’t get in the top three, you have no idea how you did. As we were traveling around, the weird observation was there was no mechanism for feedback, not even that it was just poor feedback,” Kenney says. “Ninety-six percent of the pitch events gave no feedback other than anecdotal oral feedback; you had no sense of importance or how to prioritize it.

 

“The No. 1 complaint from participants nationwide is that after completing their 54-hour weekends, they don’t know how they did and what to do next.”

 

The data stored on Score My Pitch is archived and accessible for users to access in the future.

 

Score My Pitch is being used in about 40 pilot programs and has been used by judges at several Startup Weekends in Connecticut and at Mass Challenge, the world’s largest startup accelerator competition taking place in Boston each year.

 

As a whole, Kenney hopes to see the users on Test My Pitch and Score My Pitch stick with it through their endeavors to help build an online community; “Today’s entrepreneur is tomorrow’s mentor or sponsor.”  Test My Pitch can even log data on the mentors, keeping track of which are having the most positive influence on entrepreneurs and teams.

 

Kenney says there’s a bright future and big market for these tools to grow, especially as the startup culture continues to grow and pitch events continue. But Test My Pitch has even sparked the interest of other outlets like career coaches and online dating sites — anywhere confidence and successfully selling yourself are important.

 

“Part of the goal is to find good ideas that have commercial potential, but even more so, building the culture of innovation is teaching people how to do better next time, and that’s where our tool works well.”

 

 A handful of Connecticut companies are looking to the stars.

 

Seven state firms were among the nearly 400 companies nationwide awarded contracts by NASA to conduct feasibility studies for new technologies.

 

The companies were each awarded contracts of $125,000 under NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs new technologies.

 

The seven Connecticut companies — all of which work on energy creation, generation, technology and research, are: Proton Energy Systems (Wallingford), Precision Combustion (North Haven), Flightware (Guilford), Materials Technologies Corp. (Monroe), Qualtech Systems (East Hartford), Sustainable Innovations (East Hartford) and Thoughtventions Unlimited (Glastonbury).

 

The areas of research include development of high-pressure oxygen generation systems for greater air storage, energy-efficient carbon dioxide storage and automated inspection processes for component materials.

 

NASA selected 383 small businesses and research institutions from 37 states for these six-month, Phase I contracts, for which $125,000 was the maximum amount given.

 

 A new series of grants is helping Connecticut municipalities expand their online services.

A total $1.78 million in state funds have been doled out to 58 town and regional offices statewide to make more town services available to residents online, as well as to help with infrastructure costs for those towns to connect to the state’s fiber-optic Nutmeg Network, which delivers high-speed Internet to its users. It is already offered to schools, libraries and emergency services.

Local towns receiving funds include Ansonia ($39,100), Guilford ($6,000), Milford ($11,000), North Branford ($24,800), Seymour ($36,100), Wallingford ($36,800) and the Greater Bridgeport Council of Government office ($35,050). Lyme received the greatest amount of funding for this round, with $143,000.

A second round of grants will be awarded next year.

 WALLINGFORD — Biomedical developer Z-Medica is expanding its array of hemostatic wound dressing products by acquiring a Dutch brand.

The company acquires Novacol, a collagen fiber dressing that is reabsorbed by the body and used primarily in surgeries, a brand developed by Netherlands-based Taureon. The product is already sold in Europe and South Korea.

Z-Medica products have also become essential to New York’s finest; the company’s Belt Trauma Kit, which includes Quick-Clot Combat Gauze, is now standard issue for all New York state police officers in the largest statewide standardization of advanced first aid kits. The kit contains gauze, tourniquets, gloves and a CPR shield.

 CHESHIRE — A pair of business technology service providers have been bought out and consolidated.

Cheshire’s Business Electronics, which was founded in 1976 and provides telephone systems and call-recording technology to businesses, has been acquired by East Hartford’s Total Communications, which also provides IT, Internet and phone services to businesses. Total Communications will sell its services to Business Electronics’ existing customer base.

In related news, Hamden’s CriticalEdge Group, a Microsoft Dynamics business provider, was acquired by national firm SBS Group, which offers similar services. SBS is seeking a greater presence in the Northeast; CriticalEdge will continue to serve its clients as SBS Group.

 HAMDEN — Quinnipiac University students won $15,000 in prize money at last month’s “Dream it. Code it. Win it.” contest.

 

Gabriela Gualpa, a sophomore industrial engineering major from Naugatuck, won the $5,000 Prize for Innovation for her web app “Unbreak,” while “Kricket” co-founders Connor Croteau, Stanley Martone and Thomas Nassr led a team that took home $10,000 for placing third overall.

 

“Dream it. Code it. Win it.” was started by TradingScreen, the MIT Club of New York and The MIT Enterprise Forum of New York City as a contest to celebrate creativity and diversity in the computer-science field.

 

One hundred college and high school students from across the country entered the contest. Winners were announced April 30.

 

Gualpa said she came up with the idea for “Unbreak,” which helps property managers more efficiently create and process work requests from tenants, after numerous dinner conversations with her parents. Gualpa’s father, Guido, is a property coordinator for the city of Danbury.

 

“I listened to the issues and struggles my dad went through,” Gualpa said. “He always complained, ‘I’ve got so much paperwork to do.’ This app makes life easier for tenants and property owners. It allows them to keep track of work requests, such as a leaky faucet or broken door. The app basically cuts out the paper work.”

 

Gualpa said she intends to use the prize money to make “Unbreak” more intricate and involved and to create a mobile app.

 

Launched March 1, “Kricket” is a free online service that allows users to send anonymous texts to noisy neighbors asking them to “Please Quiet Down.” Croteau, Martone and Nassr originally created the service to alleviate stress between residents of the town of Hamden and Quinnipiac students.

 

The prize money will be used to hire two full-time people to improve design and coding over the summer as well as to send the co-founders to regional and international conferences for college and university housing officers.

 

“A lot of schools are really receptive to the idea,” Nassr said. “There are not too many things like it. We’re trying to move as quickly as possible.”