MIDDLETOWN — The first of the state’s nine microgrid power systems that Gov. Dannel Malloy touted last summer is up and running.

The $694,000 natural gas-powered turbine is now online at Wesleyan University. It will provide power to the emergency shelter at the Freeman Athletic Center, which will serve Middletown residents in the event of a large-scale power outage.

The $18 million microgrid program was part of Malloy’s 2012 storm bill (PA 12-148), passed after the devastating effects in Connecticut and the Northeast of Hurricane Irene and an October 2011 nor’easter, and Superstorm Sandy and Winter Storm Nemo in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

The nine microgrid projects in eight communities would provide round-the-clock power to government organizations and emergency services and facilities. 

The microgrids in the other towns (Woodbridge, Bridgeport, Fairfield, Groton, Hartford, Storrs and Windham) are expected to come online over the next 18 months.

 NEW HAVEN — The Elm City enjoys a relative abundance of resources, events and infrastructure for entrepreneurs and their startup businesses, including access accelerator programs that emerging entrepreneurs can use to workshop and hone their enterprise from the idea stage to a nearly ready-for-market stage. Even the worldwide Startup Weekend events roll into town each year.

A worldwide pre-accelerator program, NEXT, will come to New Haven in April to help early-stage startups prepare for investor opportunities and accelerators. New Haven NEXT consists of weekly three-hour sessions over five weeks from April 1 to April 29 at the Grove co-working space, which will have teams test their ideas and field advice from mentors and peers. The best NEXT teams will advance to a First Look Forum to pitch their ideas in front of accelerators, investors and other media.

Applications are accepted through March 27. More information can be found at swnext.co.


CHESHIRE — There are some new rare disease treatment updates for pharmaceuticals developer Alexion, which just entered into an agreement with two other firms and has attained approval for one of its drugs in Europe.

The company is researching and developing Laminin-111, a protein-replacement treatment for the ultra-rare merosin-deficient congenital muscular dystrophy (MDC1A) with Massachusetts muscular dystrophy pharmaceutical maker Prothelia as well as the University of Nevada/Reno. The deal gives Alexion an option to acquire Prothelia as well.

MDC1A is a life-threatening disease caused by deficiency of laminin-211 protein, which provides structural integrity to muscles. The Laminin-111 drug shows promise in treatment based on early studies. There are no currently approved therapies for the disease.

Another of Alexion’s drugs, Soliris, which prevents complications after organ transplants (particularly delayed graft function), was granted “orphan” status in Europe. Orphan drugs are made to treat rare medical conditions; getting official status aids in marketing and other potential financial opportunities.

 The state of Connecticut’s nearly 20-year-old website will soon get with the times, as a major redesign and upgrade is on the horizon.

CT.gov will be redesigned by Connecticut Interactive, a subsidiary of NIC, which develops government websites and online services. The company plans to open a Hartford office and hire ten to 12 employees there.

The redesign will make the site compatible on mobile devices, and will add interactive services to the sites of state agencies to allow residents to apply for or renew various licenses, file complaints or document hazardous conditions, as well as access information from government databases.

The upgrades will be carried out without taxpayer money, funded instead through online service fees applied to some services such as providing motor vehicle driver histories. A new Connecticut Business Portal is also in the offing, intended to consolidate the state’s various business resources and services for easy access.

The upgrades will roll out in stages throughout the balance of calendar 2014.

Meanwhile, a new website for CTNext — Connecticut’s “innovation ecosystem” — was recently re-launched, boasting a new design and links to resources and news for Connecticut entrepreneurs and startups.

 HARTFORD — The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT) has awarded grants to several technology-based startups working on orthodontic components, solar roofing and retinal implants.

The three grants, each between $30,000 and $50,000, came through the state’s Manufacturing Technical Assistance Program (MTAP) to fund research and development, fabrication methods and manufacturing processes.

New Ortho Polymers is a UConn Ventures company developing equipment to produce clear filaments to be used in orthodontic braces that may having an impact on future product designs.

SolVilla Energy is developing a solar energy roofing shingle, and will be utilizing CCAT’s 3D plastic printer system to assemble strings of photovoltaic cells.

Another UConn Ventures company, LambdaVision, is developing a high-resolution retinal implant to restore vision for those suffering age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

UConn Ventures is an offshoot of the UConn Office of Economic Development, and aims to turn faculty- and staff-developed technology into new startups.

 Connecticut consumers who purchased an electronic device between 1998 and 2002 may be entitled to a piece of a $310 million pie.

According to a class action lawsuit over Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) components (typically chips and modules responsible for data storage) in devices such as DVD players, printers, video game consoles and other electronic devices were subject to price fixing by manufacturers (including Samsung and Toshiba), resulting in inflated consumer prices.

Receipts and paperwork aren’t required to file a claim, and those who do file will get at least $10.

More information can be found at dramclaims.com.

 HAMDEN — Want to learn more about Google Apps? Then you’re in luck.

Hamden’s Economic & Community Development Department is hosting a two-part Google Apps workshop geared toward members of the local business community. The sessions will be led by Mike McCabe, director of technology at New Haven’s Foote School, and Joe LaMacchia of the Foote School Technology Team.

The sessions, which are free and open to the public, will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. February 25 and March 4 in the Friends Room of Miller Library, 2901 Dixwell Avenue. For more information or to register (required), phone 203-287-2680.

 NEW HAVEN — MEA Mobile is one of a number of burgeoning startups in New Haven’s already burgeoning startup culture.

 

Managing Director Bruce Seymour has seen his company grow from a one-man operation to a ten-person team of designers for Web and applications for mobile devices and desktops. 

 

In 2012, the company signed an exclusive agreement with drugstore chain Walgreens for its Printicular app, which allows users to send photos electronically from their phone, computer or social media platforms to be printed and picked up at their nearest store.

 

Seymour, 38, has been in business for himself since 1997, when he was a 19-year-old marketing student at Central Connecticut State University and opened a chain of Funstuff Video stores (which eventually grew to six before closing in 2008) with a partner to help pay his way through college.

 

MEA Mobile was founded in 2010 under the auspices of local innovation-management firm Macfarlane Engel & Associates (where Seymour worked at the time) before being spun off as an independent entity in 2012.

 

MEA both produces its own applications in-house and takes on contracted software development for hundreds of clients: websites, apps, Roku channels — if it involves code, MEA can do it. To date it has produced more than 200 applications (and has had ten No. 1 apps).

 

The firm’s strategy, Seymour says, was to not spend all of its time focused on one product but a large portfolio of different technologies. He’s ads that he’s been advised many times to build his company around one platform, but the virtual world is far too vast for him to specialize, especially mobile devices that can hold as much data as a computer, but with far greater input sensors like GPS, touchscreens, microphones and cameras.

 

“I’m a mobile believer, that’s my bread and butter.” Seymour says. “The potential for development is unlimited.”

 

One of the company’s early successes was the iSupr8 app, which allows users to take high-definition video and process it to look like vintage film footage. Other apps include iLapse (a time-lapse photography app) and Part (a photo manipulation app that uses colors and shapes).

 

“We love imaging, we love video, and we love working on cool, strange things — and the physical manifestation of the digital,” Seymour says.

 

An assortment of some of those things lie around the MEA Mobile’s Elm Street office — including Bluetooth-operated train sets and phone-linked proximity meters for the blind that vibrate when an object gets too close.

 

That physical manifestation of digital is where Printicular comes in. The app has transmitted tens of thousands of images to Walgreens’ servers and, Seymour says, does so faster than the company’s own photo-ordering app. Customers can have printed photos (on photo paper or even on square canvas) held for pickup at the retail location of their choosing or delivered to their homes (a service added last autumn). Seymour says he plans to add features for printing photo books or on coffee mugs.

 

For New Haven, the fear of “startup flight” — when a locally germinated startup relocates to more fertile environs — has not been unfounded, with those who leave typically citing a lack of available talent to hire. That was a primary reason given by Yale startup Panorama Education, which debarked for Cambridge, Mass., last year. (The fact that it had a $4 million investment from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t hurt, either.)

 

“Recruitment is a challenge: One of the issues any company struggles with is competing against the magnets of Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley [New York City],” Seymour acknowledges. “If you’re at the top of your computer engineering class, you’re going to be heavily recruited. The demand far outweighs the [number of] qualified applicants.”

 

MEA Mobile itself has been the beneficiary of the state’s continuing efforts to nurture small business and entrepreneurship. The company received a $150,000 Small Business Express Loan in 2012, which Seymour says had a substantial ripple effect: he could hire new people, which made the company able to compete for and win larger contracts, which accelerated further expansion.

 

“I’ve been in business for myself for 20 years in Connecticut and I’ve never seen the support at the level it’s at now,” he says. “They want you to start businesses, they want to help you start businesses, and they’ll put their money where their mouth is. It’s awesome.

 

“We went from just me to ten people in a year and a half, and we can do that again in another 18 months — no question,” Seymour adds.

 

A Plainville native and current Elm City denizen, Seymour decided not to decamp to a larger city such as Boston or New York to grow the business, opting instead to stay and expand in New Haven (he even called a press conference last fall to announce such), not just for its supportive business environment that includes infrastructure and access to venture capital, but for its “vibrancy.”

“There isn’t another city in Connecticut with the culture [and of course the pizza],” he says. “It’s a quality-of-life issue — and New Haven has an outstanding quality of life.”

 CHESHIRE — Alexion Pharmaceuticals is teaming up with a Cambridge, Mass. firm to develop rare disease treatments.

Alexion will pay $100 million to acquire ten gene therapy platforms from Moderna Therapeutics to develop messenger RNA (mRNA), which naturally enables production of proteins within cells and in the bloodstream to restore functions to the body — a process that could accelerate the development of therapies for a host of rare — and presently untreatable — diseases.

Alexion, which also acquired a $25 million equity stake in Moderna, will lead discovery, development and commercialization of treatments, while the latter company will design and manufacture the treatments.

Alexion receives millions in state funding as part of the Malloy administration’s “First Five” initiative, including a $20 million loan, a $6 million grant for lab construction and equipment, and up to $25 million in tax credits. The company has announced plans to relocate from Cheshire to New Haven in 2015, following completion of the Downtown Crossing project at 100 College Street.

 BRANFORD — Those at risk for strokes and cardiovascular events may have more treatment options in the future, as a Branford drugmaker attracts a new round of financing.

New Haven Pharmaceuticals has been awarded a $361,695 follow-on investment from Connecticut Innovations Inc.’s (CII) Eli Whitney Fund to advance development of its drug Durlaza, which is being developed as a prescription anti-platelet therapy for secondary prevention of stroke and acute cardiovascular events.

Acid reflux disease isn’t too far behind, either; the company is also in development of compounds based on Yale research that will lower stomach acid.

The CII’s investment is part of a $1.6 million funding round for the company that included several other investors. CII initially invested $1.5 million in the company in 2012.

 Got a problem with Metro-North Railroad? Take a number.

The commuter rail line has had a rough year on the rails, with a long list of setbacks that include technical malfunctions, derailments and even fatal accidents, which have led to delays and frustrated commuters.

The newly christened Commuter Action Group, led by long-time commuter rail advocate James Cameron, has launched a new site and Facebook page that gives riders a direct link to make complaints to Metro-North for substandard service, as well as a list of Connecticut lawmakers and tips for making the most effective complaints.

The site can be accessed at http://ji503.wix.com/commuteractiongroup.