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.”

 

 For the hardware business founded by Joseph Sargent during the Civil War, success was never a lock

 

One hundred and fifty years ago Joseph Bradford Sargent came to New Haven with a pocketful of ambition and ample determination. His goal: establish a successful hardware business.

Today the company that bears his name thrives as a manufacturer of door-opening solutions (what the average person might call “locks”), since 1996 under the flag of Swedish conglomerate Assa Abloy. Sold to the Walter Kidde Co. in 1967, Sargent passed through a series of ownership changes before being acquired by Assa Abloy. The name was then changed to Sargent Manufacturing Co.

Although the parent company is headquartered in Stockholm, Assa Abloy’s American division calls New Haven home. Approximately 600 employees work at the 30-acre, 360,000-square-foot site. Assa Abloy also has a facility in Berlin, Connecticut with an additional 400 employees.

Although incorporated in New Haven in 1864 as Sargent & Co., the firm actually traces its roots to New Britain. Joseph B. Sargent had become a major stockholder in Peck & Walter Hardware in New Britain, ultimately gaining control. But when, several years later, he attempted to purchase new property to expand the business he was met with opposition.

Soon wearying of the conflict, Sargent looked for new location. A harbor with four steamboat companies to bring in raw materials and the availability of a railroad for shipping finished products made re-locating to New Haven particularly appealing. Although most people thought building a manufacturing facility for anything other than weapons during the Civil War was little short of insane, plans proceeded to construct a hardware plant.

Joseph Sargent and his brothers, George and Edward, purchased property at Water, Wallace and Hamilton Streets (land now occupied by Sports Haven and the two Long Wharf Maritime Center buildings).  Relocating 100 employees and their families from New Britain, in May 1864 Sargent & Co. opened for business. In 1866 a fourth brother, Harry, joined the company.

In later years Sargent brought many workers from Italy, most of whom settled in what today is the Wooster Square neighborhood of New Haven. That location was appealing because it allowed workers to walk to work.

The new factory was strikingly modern for its day — with running water on each floor for washing, manufacturing and fire-fighting purposes and, oh yes, suitable bathrooms. Taking advantage of the harbor, which in those days came right up to Water Street, a dock on the property was renovated to accommodate coal barges as well as other ocean-going vessels. The old Pavilion Hotel was converted to house workers and their families. The company grew rapidly and by 1871 it employed 2,000 workers. Sargent workers earned 15 cents an hour for a ten-hour day, six days a week. Considered progressive, Sargent issued weekly paychecks, a rarity in those days.

By 1871 Sargent was producing approximately 1,000 items. Lock production began in 1884. By 1914, the Sargent product catalogue listed some 60,000 different items, making it one of the largest hardware manufacturing plants in the United States. The 1889 catalogue contained 1,100 pages of products. The product line has varied tremendously over the decades, including everything from cowbells and wood planes to decorative hardware for the home, such as fancy doorknobs.

To keep up with the increased production needs, plant expansion occurred at a breakneck pace. Letters of the alphabet were used to identify each new building and by 1882 the company had reached the letter V for a grand total of 22 structures on the Sargent property.

By 1907 Sargent was one of the three largest hardware manufacturers in the United States. Joseph Sargent had remained president until that same year when he passed away at age 84. During his career he also served three terms as mayor of New Haven, serving from 1891 to 1894. He also ran for governor on the Democratic ticket but was defeated.

As did nearly all American manufacturers, Sargent retooled during World War II, producing hand tools for the military as well as fuses, projectiles and bomb shackles, used to suspend bombs inside bomber bomb bays. As men went off to war, women began to enter the workforce and by the end of the war, 40 percent of Sargent’s workforce was female.

Eventually there simply was no more room to expand at the Water Street location, so in 1964 the company moved to its present location. In commemoration of Sargent’s first 100 years in New Haven, the new plant was awarded the address of 100 Sargent Drive.

Today Sargent specializes in institutional and commercial products, having abandoned the residential market altogether. All products are made to order and although some components are resourced, final assembly is done in New Haven.

It’s a long way from cowbells and padlocks to high-tech electronic door-access devices. To stay competitive, Sargent has refined its manufacturing processes, concentrating on the development of new and innovative products. Today’s product line includes bored locks, exit devices, mortises locks, electronic access controls, to name just a few categories.

Approximately 95 percent of Sargent’s products are sold in the United States and Canada. One production challenge involves the codes that dictate design and vary state to state. All products are made to order with anywhere from 300,000 to 350,000 items produced each year.

All design work is done in New Haven. Company management, which considers Sargent a technology leader, employs words such as “durability,” “variety” and “esthetics” as some of the qualities that characterize the company’s successful product line.

Of course, there is no magic formula for success in any industry — but there are some words and phrases that successful businesses seem to share — flexibility, willingness to embrace change, ability to adopt new technologies. And understanding what the market wants and developing products to fit those needs seem to be a company philosophy that has kept Sargent going for 150 years.

 

 NEW HAVEN — New Haven, meet the Rest of Connecticut. The Rest of Connecticut, meet New Haven.

 

That’s the idea behind the Startup Roadshow, a new event by the Whiteboard, the online magazine for entrepreneurs (created by local software company Independent Software), to connect the widespread entrepreneurial community across Connecticut.

 

The event launched in New Haven in April and will continue in a different city each month (it hit Stamford at the end of April) through year’s end to give blossoming startups a chance to tell their story to other aspiring entrepreneurs and, it is hoped, inspire them to stay in Connecticut.

 

“How can we build cohesion? Building awareness and getting people together so they can build relationships and feel like they’re part of a community,” explains Suzi Craig, director of community development for Independent Software.

 

“Connecticut is different from other startup communities,” she adds. “It’s not just one scene; it’s a variety of pockets across the state, and each one is different. We’re physically going to each community and getting to know who’s there and what flavors one community to the next.”

 

Updates along the way will be published on the Whiteboard to keep everyone informed. Craig stresses what many in the startup community stress — that building relationships and contacts is often a critical factor in finding talent or hashing out new ideas and ultimately building successful companies.

 

An entrepreneurial network has already been established on an official level: the state’s innovation ecosystem, dubbed CTNext, was launched in 2012 to establish “innovation hubs” in five locations statewide. New Haven’s hub is Chapel Street co-working space the Grove.

 

Craig says the spread of activity in the state both makes it unique and poses a challenge that, in a perfect world could be fixed by efficient public transportation.

 

“The biggest challenge for us is geography,” she says. “People in Hartford have no idea what’s going on in New Haven, and they don’t come here. It’s a 40-minute ride up and down Manhattan, and it’s a 40-minute ride from Hartford to New Haven, but it doesn’t happen — not as often as it should.

 

“Putting in the extra effort to be engaged in the community, that’s what leads to opportunities,” Craig observes. “Now that the activity level is so high in Connecticut, it’s important to up the game in terms of community building.”

 

Locations for upcoming Roadshow events are still being confirmed, but typically are held where activity is already happening; the last event, for example, took place as part of the monthly Stamford Tech Meetup. Ultimately Craig would like the Roadshow to help remind budding entrepreneurs that they don’t have to leave town to make things happen.

 

“I want people to walk away with compelling reasons to start something in Connecticut and stay here,” Craig says. “I don’t want them to be here because they happen to be here, I want it to be an intentional choice. And ultimately I want people from outside Connecticut to think, ‘Maybe I should move there.’”

 

The Startup Roadshow will hit Hartford’s reSET Center on May 27, and will return to New Haven in June (date and location TBD). Through December, it will visit Bridgeport/Fairfield, New London/Norwich, Storrs/Windham, Danbury/Waterbury, Middletown/Meriden and wrap up in Torrington. More information is found at TheWhiteBoardct.com.

 

 BRANFORD — A desire to maintain and build upon Connecticut’s growing software industry has prompted the state to chip in $3 million to let a Branford company expand.

Core Informatics, which creates Web-based data management software for the biotech sector as well as for research and development in many others, is embarking on a $8.4 million expansion to its headquarters that the company says will create or retain 84 jobs through 2019. The company currently has 25 employees.

The state’s $3 million investment in the project comes from the Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD) in the form of a $2.75 million loan (at two-percent interest for ten years), and a $250,000 grant. The company may benefit from $1 million in loan forgiveness if it reaches its jobs goal over the next five years.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement that software companies attracted the most venture capital dollars of any industry in Connecticut last year.

 

 The launch of a new data portal may make it easier for the average Joe Citizen to get useful information about the state.

The newly launched Data.CT.gov collects and presents raw government statistical data in a publicly accessible online database of lists, tables, graphs and other forms. The data comes directly from executive agencies, and includes figures on economic development, business, government, education, environment, health, housing, public safety and transportation. Users even have the option to suggest new sets of data.

Data.CT.gov was created by Socrata, a software-development company that specializes in open data sources for governments, and is managed and administrated by chief data officer Tyler Kleykamp of the state’s Office of Policy & Management.

The site comes as a result of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Executive Order No. 39, which mandates that data from state government agencies be made available to the public.