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.

 NEW HAVEN — State government has invested in a local chemical company working to derive industrial ingredients from biomass.

P2 Science’s renewed investment from Connecticut Innovations Inc. (CII) to the tune of $500,000 (CII previously awarded a grant for the same amount in 2013) will help the company continue and expand its production of green-friendly additives.

P2 uses biomass (sourced from vegetable oils as well as from wood, grass and plant-based feedstocks) to produce consumer and industrial ingredients to substitute chemicals found in flavors, cosmetics and personal-care products.

The company produces ingredients using a pilot reactor installed at its Science Park headquarters. P2 licenses some of its intellectual property from Yale University.

 NEW HAVEN — Several area companies were winners in the most recent round of CTNext’s Entrepreneur Innovation Awards (EIA), following up a previous round in March.

Two New Haven-based startup companies and one from Hamden were among the four to each receive $10,000 for their project ideas, which were awarded at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford in April: Biomed Azitra (New Haven) is looking to develop new ways to deliver biological treatments with bacteria. EverSci, of New Haven, is developing a tool that allows scientists to access specific text in research articles with a single mouse click. Hamden’s CaroGen is developing vaccines for viral diseases. And Stamford-based eBrevia is looking to artificial intelligence to analyze and extract information from legal documents.

EverSci also won a $2,000 “Judges Favorite” award, and Hartford-based custom shoemaker the Brothers Crisp took home $2,000 as the “Crowd Favorite.”

CTNext is the name of the state’s “innovation ecosystem.” The next EIA event will take place July 17 at a location ye to be announced.

 STORRS — The University of Connecticut has teamed with Comcast to establish a facility that examines IT hardware for cyber security vulnerabilities.

UConn’s Center of Excellence for Security Innovation (CSI) pairs the school’s Center for Hardware Assurance, Security and Engineering with Comcast to analyze computer chips and other components of Internet broadband systems are shielded from cyber attacks and unauthorized access.

The CSI is headquartered in UConn’s Information Technologies Engineering building in Storrs. Its establishment comes on the heels of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s announcement of cybersecurity plan for Connecticut electricity, natural gas and major water utilities. The state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority will work with Connecticut’s major utility companies to establish security standards and measures that would shield systems from attacks and prevent service disruptions.

 BRANFORD — Brandfon Honda is going solar.

The auto dealer is installing 560 solar panels to its facility to generate electricity. The system, which includes five grid-enabled inverters, will produce 155,000 kilowatt hours per year, enough to offset 70 percent of its annual electrical usage.

The project was approved through Connecticut Light & Power’s Zero Emission Renewable Energy Credit program. It is estimated that 155,000 kilowatt hours has the environmental equivalent of planting 55 acres of trees, or removing 3,250 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.

This isn’t Brandfon’s first green initiative: The auto dealer already uses waste-oil furnaces to supplement heating, has a natural gas filling station for one line of Honda Civics, and is installing energy-efficient LED lighting throughout the facility.

 MADISON — “Brainstorm often, execute quickly and kill bad ideas fast.”

 

That’s the key to success as a serial entrepreneur, according to Ryan Duques. The Madison native has seen his share of success since the mid-1990s, when he launched Shore Publishing, which ended up publishing 16 weekly newspapers from East Haven into Rhode Island. The company was sold to the New London Day in 2008.

 

He even wrote the short book 37 Days to Launch in 2011, chronicling his own experiences into a how-to about getting a startup company off the ground in just over a month.

 

Duques, 38, then turned his attention to education, and in 2007 launched Tutapoint.com, an online portal to link-high school students with online tutors in subjects including math, science, language arts, world languages as well as SAT preparatory courses. The site features live video chats with tutors and interactive elements to assist in learning.

 

The site connects students anywhere with tutors from all over the country. This semester it is reaching 5,000 students in schools across the country. The site is utilized both by individual students as well as school systems for multiple students. The lion’s of the instruction sought — fully 75 percent — is for math.

 

“Competitiveness for college applications and the continuous enhancements and changes in curriculum are making the learning process more demanding,” Duques explains. “We’re experts at helping kids master concepts; concepts are the foundation to everything.”

 

This spring Tutapoint’s SAT prep course EdgePrepLIVE was partially underwritten by the West Haven Public Schools system for use during a session for students.

 

“Since we’ve been around — and in Internet years that’s a long time — we’ve been fortunate to get a good reputation as a place for tutors to provide their services,” Duques says.

 

Many of Tutapoint’s tutors — some 100 nationwide, with another 300 on the waiting list — are current or retired teachers or graduate students, but either way, they must have more than two years of experience. “This can’t be someone’s first time being a tutor,” Duques says.

 

Much of the good will the company has built stems from Tutapoint employ only U.S.-based tutors, which goes a long way in establishing trust with parents, something Duques says has been one of the key challenges to offering services like these online. Tutapoint will also provide informational videos and interviews, and will even phone parents to have them engage with a real voice.

 

“Developing that sense of trust is easy to do in an offline environment,” says Duques. By contrast, “Online there’s a sense of anonymity that can be challenging to overcome, especially when you’re dealing with someone’s child.

 

“We have found that parents are cautious about [offshore instructors],” he adds. “We really believe in using tutors based in the U.S. because the rhythm of instruction is hard to duplicate if you haven’t come out of the same system the students are in.”

 

The logistical aspect of finding a tutor through Tutapoint is also a key factor compared with the time-consuming process of finding a tutor the way Duques recalls from his own high-school days.

 

“In the ‘90s there were many steps to finding a tutor: You had to find one, call and get their rates, get references, meet with them and see if it works — all these logistical components are gone now,” he says. “Half the students we work with come into our system and are getting help within 30 minutes.”

 

With all the instruction happening live, Tutapoint can track students’ progress in real time to ensure they’re learning — which has obviated the need for Tutapoint to open a bricks-and-mortar tutoring center, something Duques says he’s had the opportunity to do.

 

Duques says Tutapoint has been grown steadily especially over the last six quarters. While 90 percent of its business is in online tutoring services, the remaining ten percent is from the modest number of books, e-books and instructional DVDs it publishes.    

 

While the company keeps an office location in New York, the bulk of operations still are housed in Madison, and Duques finds Connecticut to be more and more a welcoming state for other entrepreneurs, given its Innovation Ecosystem, wide range of large companies and educational infrastructure

 

“The ecosystem has evolved positively over the last 10 to 15 years,” he says. “It has become trendy to a certain extent [to be an entrepreneur]. The state on many levels has embraced the idea. There is a lot of firepower here that I think a lot of people forget about.”

 

 Three local bioscience and medical-device startup companies were among the seven to split a $1 million investment from Connecticut Innovations Inc.’s (CII) Pre-Seed Fund, which has now assisted more than 50 companies since its launch in 2010.

The seven companies each are receiving up to $150,000 which mainly will be used for research-and-development expenses.

Woodbridge-based GlyGenix Therapeutics is developing cures for metabolic disorders caused by genetic mutations. Its pre-seed money will be used to help develop a drug to treat glycogen storage disease type 1A; those with the disease are unable to convert glycogen to glucose in the liver, resulting in hypoglycemia. The drug, G6Pase, has already received orphan status.

InboxHealth, of Madison, is developing software to simplify doctor-patient communication, including digital bill delivery and online payments. Branford’s Tangen Biosciences is developing portable instruments and methods for molecular diagnostics. Its first product will analyze DNA in patients with active pulmonary tuberculosis.

Stamford-based EvoLux Transportation was the winner of the 2013 Sikorsky Innovations Global Entrepreneurial Challenge, and is building an online marketplace for the helicopter and aviation industries.

The other three companies include financial planning company Cashpath Financial and online audience data analytic software firm Tru Optik Data Corp., both of Stamford; and Weatogue-based Yingo Yango, which is developing a platform to link health-care and wellness resources provided by employers to individuals.

 The entrepreneurial community likes to honor its own. CTNext, the state’s government-initiated innovation ecosystem honored six startups with some cash to grow at its first ever Entrepreneur Innovation Awards, which had the companies give five-minute pitches of their upcoming projects.

The six finalists were FaceChecks (Bridgeport), a software maker developing facial recognition software for security systems; AdapTac Games (Stamford), developing action and strategy games for tends with ADHD; Dura Biotech (Storrs), a biotech developing technology to improve functionality of transcatheter aortic valves; Green Buildings Online (Ridgefield), an online company developing the Poplar Network social network connecting architectural, design and construction professionals with LEED and green building practices; Secor Water (Vernon), developing a portable water filtration system as an alternative to bottled water; and VAL Health (Greenwich), a behavioral economics firm building an online platform that uses incentives to change health-related behaviors.

Each company received $10,000 for their projects, while FaceChecks won an additional $2,000 “crowd favorite” award. Secor Water scored an extra $2,000 as the “judges’ favorite.”

The pitches were judged by a five-person panel that included David Tomczyk, professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at Quinnipiac University, and Edward Goodwin, president of the Angel Investor Forum and research scientist in genetics at the Yale School of Medicine.