Connecticut’s most innovative entrepreneurs are being given another chance to shine.
CTNext, the state’s “innovation ecosystem” initiative, is launching its Entrepreneur Innovation Awards (EIA; formerly known as the Voucher Program), a competition that will allows small companies and entrepreneurs to compete for awards of up to $10,000 by pitching ideas for initiatives to help their companies grow, such as prototyping, product or service development, market research, licensing and IP assessment.
Companies must be headquartered in Connecticut and registered with CTNext to apply. Finalists will give a five-minute pitch to a panel of judges (made up of CEOs, mentors, investment professionals and the like) at monthly pitch events throughout the state. (The first takes place February 27 at the Bijou Theater in Bridgeport.)
This likely isn’t the only pitch event you’ve heard of; Startup Weekend, an annual event held throughout the U.S. that takes place in New Haven and elsewhere in the state, has potential entrepreneurs pitching startup ideas for cash.
The Connecticut Innovation Ecosystem was launched in fall 2012 to foster the creation and growth of innovative companies in Connecticut, with hubs in New Haven, Hartford, Stamford and Storrs.
ROCKY HILL — The Connecticut Academy of Science & Engineering (CASE) is once again seeking nominations to honor technological achievements.
CASE’s Medal of Technology recognizes innovative work performed in Connecticut that demonstrates achievements in process/product innovation, technology transfer, advanced manufacturing and technology management.
Medal winners are permanently memorialized in a Hall of Fame at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford; other award recipients will have their profiles permanently on display at the center.
CASE awards a Medal of Technology and a Medal of Science bi-annually on alternate years. Nominations must be received by March 14, and can be made through the CASE website at ctcase.org.
NEW HAVEN — Some clever Yale entrepreneurs want to help doctors bust you for skipping appointments. And they’re a step closer to making it happen.
NoShowFix was the name of the team and potential software platform that won a $500 first prize for best business plan at the Connecticut Business Plan Competition last month. The competition was sponsored by the Fairfield-based Entrepreneurship Foundation at Gateway Community College.
Held twice annually, the event has student teams from Connecticut colleges and universities pitching business plans for retail/service or tech startup companies to a panel of investors and entrepreneurs. The most recent event saw four of the 12 teams walk away with $500 awards.
The winning student team came from the Yale University School of Management, led by Suzanne Lagarde of Hamden. Once developed and deployed, NoShowFix would help doctors and other health-care practitioners keep track of patients who skip appointments.
Second prize went to a University of Bridgeport School of Engineering team for its pitch of a sign-language app for mobile phones that converts sign language signals into text messages to help the hearing-impaired communicate with those who don’t know American Sign Language.
MusicVault, a cloud-based music storage system that accepts downloaded music from platforms like iTunes and Spotify, won an award for the best written business plan submitted online. The team hailed from Quinnipiac University; its leader, Nicholas Hakim, won third place at Startup Weekend New Haven in 2012 with “MusiciansVault,” which was developed as an online platform for virtual collaboration among musicians.
Central Connecticut State University student Ryan Piraneo won the Best Oral Presentation award for the pitch for his plan to develop a hockey-themed sporting goods store in his school’s New Britain home.
Several other “in-kind” awards were conferred as well, including from a Housatonic Community College team developing an automated robotic lawn mower that stores grass clippings as it mows; a U.S. Coast Guard Academy team developing a rubber golf club; and a Manchester Community College team developing garden designs consisting of medicinal plants, herbs and vegetables.
The next Business Plan Competition will take place in late April.
NEW HAVEN — New Haven is among 126 Connecticut municipalities that will split a $24 million state grant to introduce more computers into public-school classrooms and improve Internet connectivity.
The grant was announced by Gov. Dannel Malloy and the state Department of Education to help schools transition to the Common Core standards and administer computer-based assessment tests.
New Haven will receive the largest single share of the grant (which totaled $24,401,841) with $2.6 million; the next highest sum ($899,797) was awarded to Bridgeport. As for other area school systems: Hamden was awarded $674,278, East Haven received $603,875, West Haven got $446,969, and Milford received $230,474.
Proposals were sent to the state in July and the total value exceeded the originally allocated $10 million. The Common Core Standards were adopted by the state Board of Education in 2010 to re-align expectations of what students should know by a certain grade.
For the 2014-15 school year, schools in the state will do away with the paper-and-pencil Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) for the math and English subjects in favor of the Smarter Balanced Assessment System, which will be given on computers, hence the need many school systems discerned for more hardware and better Internet. The CMT and CAPT tests will still be used to test science.
NEW HAVEN — Connecticut’s bioscience industry conferred its inaugural Entrepreneur of the Year award to a doctor with years of experience in the local startup culture.
Craig M. Crews, a professor of biology, chemistry and pharmacology at Yale, received the award from Connecticut United for Research Excellence (CURE) for his dedication and for translating research to new medicine.
Crews founded Science Park pharmaceutical company Arvinas in 2013; the company develops therapies for cancer, pro-inflammatory, autoimmune and rare diseases. His 2003 startup, Proteolix, developed the FDA-approved multiple myeloma drug Kyprolis before being sold for $851 million in 2009.
The ten-year, $200 million Connecticut BioScience Innovation Fund (CBIF) was created last fall, and now as its 13-member leadership board is in place, it’s looking for a few good ideas.
The fund was signed into law last September to provide financial assistance to startups, early-stage businesses, non-profits, and accredited colleges and universities statewide. It’s seeking projects in development that will lead to commercial products or services that will improve health-care quality, coordination or efficiency, reduce costs or stimulate job growth.
An open period for applications began January 2, and there is no deadline date at present. Applicants must be based in Connecticut and operating in fields including bioscience, biomedical engineering, health-information management, medical care, medical devices, medical diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, personalized medicine or related disciplines.
Applications may be for projects of no more than three years’ duration, should not exceed $500,000 and must demonstrate a quantifiable return on investment.
Thirteen individuals were named to the Bioscience Innovation Advisory Committee last month to administer and supervise the money. The panel is chaired by CII CEO Claire Leonardi, and includes state Department of Public Health Commissioner Jewel Mullen, and Department of Economic & Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith, the latter two serving as ex-officio voting members.
The 10 appointed members of the committee make up a who’s who in Connecticut’s medical and bioscience sector, venture capital groups, and even the gaming sector. They include Peter Farina of venture capital firm Canaan Partners; Steven Hanks of Hartford HealthCare; Joseph Kaliko, CEO of Gaming Innovations International; Marc Lalande, Health Net professor, chair of the Genetics and Developmental Biology department and executive director Genomics and Personalized Medicine at the University of Connecticut; William LaRochelle of Roche 454 Sequencing Solutions International; Charles Lee of the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine; Alan Mendelson of Axiom Venture Partners; Edmund Pezalla, medical director for pharmaceutical policy at Aetna; Carolyn Slayman, deputy dean and professor of genetics, cellular and molecular physiology at the Yale School of Medicine; and Novatract Surgical device startup founder Eleanor Tandler.
HAMDEN — If you ever considered taking a graduate program in business without leaving your computer, Quinnipiac University seems like a good place to do it.
The university was ranked in the top ten — No. 9, to be exact — for the Best Online Graduate Business Programs in the United States for 2014 by U.S. News & World Report. The ranking was based on factors including student engagement, admissions selectivity, peer reputation, faculty credentials and training, student services and technology.
The QU School of Business employs the same faculty online as in the classroom, and offers online graduate programs for master’s degrees in business administration and master of science degrees in information technology and organizational leadership.
A new master of science in business analytics will be introduced in the autumn 2014 semester.
EAST HARTFORD — The Connecticut Technology Council seeks nominations for its tenth annual Women of Innovation Awards Dinner slated for next March 27 in Southington. Do you know a woman who should be celebrated for her accomplishments in science, technology research, engineering, mathematics, business analytics or technology education? In additional to adult professionals with at least three years of managerial or technical experience in a technology, engineering or science-related company, nominees may also be young high school or college women who have excelled as young inventors, are academically proficient in a science or technology curriculum or have accomplished an extraordinary technology feat. Visit CT.org for criteria and nomination form (deadline January 13).
STORRS — The University of Connecticut’s School of Engineering has partnered with United Technologies Corp. (UTC) to launch the UTC Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering on UConn’s main Storrs campus.
The institute was launched with a $7.5 million contribution from UTC — one of the largest corporate donations the school has ever received.
The systems engineering center will focus on educating future engineers on components and subsystems integral to the functions of aircraft, buildings and other highly engineered structures.
UTC will pay out the $7.5 million over five years, with a goal for $2.5 million more to fund sponsored research projects for UTC.
FAIRFIELD — The Connecticut Technology Council (CTC) presented its 2013 Innovation Policy Leadership award to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy at its annual meeting December 5 at Fairfield University.
The CTC also presented its annual Innovation Excellence Award to member company Alexion Pharmaceuticals of Cheshire. A public company, Alexion is a global biopharmaceutical company focused on developing and delivering therapies for patients with severe andrare life-threatening diseases.
Alexion’s inaugural commercial product, Soliris (generically known as eculizumab), is the world's first and only approved terminal complement inhibitor and is approved in nearly 50 countries as a treatment for patients with paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH), and in the U.S., EU, Japan and other countries as a therapy for patients with atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS).
Alexion is building a new corporate headquarters in downtown New Haven and will relocate there in 2015 when the structure is completed.
Alexion joins what is now a long list of winners of CTC's Innovation Excellence Award. Previous winners have included ATMI Inc. of Danbury, Stamford’s Pitney Bowes, FuelCell Energy of Danbury, Open Solutions (now Fiserv Inc.) of Glastonbury, Sonalysts Inc. of Waterford, United Technologies Corp, Bristol-headquartered ESPN, Tangoe Inc. of Orange and 2012 winner Rogers Corp.
Also honored at the 2013 CTC confab was Patricia Fisher as Volunteer of the Year. A CTC board member, Fisher’s company, Janus Associates in Stamford, is an IT security consultancy with a large federal government client list.
Much attention has been paid in recent years to nurturing New Haven’s (and Connecticut’s, for that matter) startup tech community. Whether it’s through state initiatives like CTNext, such events as Startup Weekend, or simply nourishing the technology ecosystem and innovative atmosphere at co-working spaces, those looking to start companies in the area find themselves with tools and resources at their disposal.
But there have also been success stories from those companies that have advanced to the next level. Higher One, SeeClickFix and Tangoe are among the most notable examples. But what about the others on the cusp of commercialization that have started landing real customers and generating real revenue? Some simply don’t advertise their presence or they operate beneath the radar, but their success is no less significant for New Haven’s entrepreneurial culture.
Founded in 2010 by Raj Jalan, software developer Device42 has created a data center infrastructure-management platform that allows users at data centers of various sizes to manage servers, IP addresses, VLANs and physical infrastructure like patch panels and switches complete with Visio diagrams, through a single portal rather than a sea of spreadsheets.
Today the company has in excess of 100 customers in more than 20 countries, with a client roster that includes Symantec, Western Digital, Cox and Teva Pharmaceuticals. This fall the Device42 offering was named Most Promising Software Product of the Year by the Connecticut Technology Council.
“When companies start out with their data centers they keep track of things in a spreadsheet,” Device42 co-founder and COO Steve Shwartz says. “But they have a hard time keeping them up-to-date, and as they grow they can’t correlate information between spreadsheets. If you get to be a $10 million [in annual revenues] company, you’ve really outgrown spreadsheets.”
A former CTO at Tangoe, Shwartz says his company began with small to mid-sized data centers in mind but soon started taking on larger companies, which he credits to Device42’s simplicity: Users can install the software themselves in a few minutes and can price out their packages via the company’s website.
“[With our competitors] you don’t get any information until you talk to a salesperson, you don’t get pricing until the fourth call and maybe two on-site demos. As former IT professionals, we hated going through salespeople. We wanted to be straightforward and easy to do business with,” Shwartz says.
Device42 (its name based on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where the number 42 is the answer to everything in the universe) is based out of the Grove, which Shwartz says helps the company feed off the startup energy there while keeping lean. He says the company has a “handful” of New Haven employees as well as an offshore development and support team, but hopes to grow local operations over the next 12 months. Not bad for a company that until now hasn’t done any marketing. “We want people to find us when they have the need,” Shwartz says.
Founded in 2008, Elm Street-based Continuity Control has developed a software platform designed to help banks and credit unions maintain compliance with the seemingly endless regulations to which they’re held via a step-by-step automated process.
The company now has 140 banking customers nationwide, one of the most recent being the National Bank of Alaska. Co-founder and CEO Andy Greenawalt says simply keeping up with the volume of regulations is daunting: There were 65 changes in the past quarter alone.
“There are thousands of requirements, and traditionally the way to [process] this has been lots of Word documents documenting policies and procedural activities, and checklists,” Greenawalt explains. “That’s the conundrum community banks and credit unions find themselves in: The systems to manage these regulations are circa 1984.”
He says Continuity Control takes “90 percent of the noise” out of the equation, with workers no longer having to worry about whether they’re processing things correctly.
Greenawalt certainly couldn’t predict the start of his company would coincide with the biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression (although since no one was buying anything “It was a great time to write software,” Greenawalt notes) and the resulting package ended up serving as a timely response to the banking crisis.
Greenawalt projects that his company is likely to double its 26 employees over the next 12 months, by which time he projects revenues will have tripled.
The episodes of severe weather that hit the Northeast in 2011 and 2012 have done nothing if not teach some lessons about how emergency services and municipal departments should communicate in times of crisis. That’s where Grey Wall Software’s Veoci platform comes in.
Veoci uses messaging to link different departments — fire, police, EMTs, public works, government — over the Internet on laptops and mobile devices to provide a coordinated approach to addressing and keeping on top of the various scenarios and situations that present themselves in emergencies. The city of New Haven used the app in its response to Superstorm Sandy, and it is used extensively by Tweed-New Haven Airport even in normal operations, as well as other municipalities across the state and country, even as far away as New Zealand.
For CEO and co-founder Sukh Grewal, the platform stems from his years spent at GE Aircraft Engines, where responses to crises — whether a payroll drop in Japan, hurricanes and tsunamis in branch locations, or plant accidents — was less than optimal.
“Technology creates opportunities; we felt that with new technologies there was room for something to make the response to a crisis much better organized,” Grewal explains. “We saw the need at GE — when there was a crisis people were running around with their heads cut off. It was panic every time.”
Veoci logs emergency calls, complaints and procedures. If police or Public Works needs to erect a roadblock on Grove Street, all interested parties are informed of who’s doing it and when it’s expected to be completed. If five people call 911 about a downed tree on Mansfield Street, all those calls are logged together and forwarded to the appropriate authorities.
“People limit dreams to what is possible,” says Grewal. “Our goal is to give people what they didn’t think was possible.”
Clarity Software Solutions is a name mostly unknown even by the very people who most benefit from it. But is used by a number of medical providers — including Bluegrass Family Health, Colorado Access, Cox Health Plans, Health Alliance and Select Health, to name a few — to communicate between and among members.
The Connecticut Technology Council and advisory firm Marcum affirmed Clarity’s growth trajectory over the past few years by naming it the fastest growing software company in the state in the 2013 Marcum Tech Top 40.
Started in 2007, the company created a platform that integrates with health plan data for document management and to produce and distribute communications for members, including printed invoices, ID cards, EOBs or digital portals to access information online.
“Health plans manage all these communications through a cobbled-together network — maybe a printer or online service,” says chief marketing officer Steve Mongelli. “We offer a comprehensive platform so the business only has one point of contact to work with.” Today Clarity has more than 60 employees — double its workforce less than 24 months ago. The company recently relocated from its original Guilford headquarters to larger digs in Madison. Clarity’s focus on health-care communications, Mongelli says, has been a key part of its success in the software industry.
“It’s really an incentive when you can speak [clients’] language and understand their challenges and goals,” he explains.
For nearly all these companies, being born in greater New Haven hasn’t meant that finding local talent isn’t as difficult as some cases of “startup flight” in the news might have suggested. The most recent example is Yale-incubated Panorama Education, whose 22-year old founder Aaron Feuer and team left town for Cambridge, Mass. after attracting a $4 million investment — the first — from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Among the primary reasons for Panorama’s exodus, Feuer has said, is that New Haven simply doesn’t have a large enough pool of programming talent.
Not everyone agrees.
“I hear a lot of people say it’s hard to get good people in Connecticut, and I have to tell you that is so wrong,” says Device42’s Shwartz. “I’ve seen companies with offices in Boston and New York, Austin [Tex.] or the West Coast — every single time we find in those major areas it’s harder to get good people. There are plenty of good ones here in Connecticut — and there’s less competition.”
In fairness, both Shwartz and Grewal acknowledge that for a budding entrepreneur fresh out of school, it’s not so crazy an idea to want to relocate to Silicon Valley or Cambridge. “That’s where the kids hang out,” Grewal says, adding that those who choose to stay in or base themselves in New Haven or any city are likely do so because they have roots or a strong connection to the place (he and his family have lived in southern Connecticut for nearly three decades).
Such is the case for Clarity, whose founder and CEO Sean Rotermund is from Madison. Mongelli says it was important both out of loyalty and to tap into the native talent pool that the company stays put and base its entire operations here.
“It was really important to establish our roots on the shoreline, to grow and become an employer here,” he says. “It’s an area with a lot of folks with good education and experience in large centers like Hartford, Stamford, New York. The talent we’ve brought here is great because there’s a lot of diversity in people’s experience.”
Greenawalt says New Haven has the potential to keep native talent close to home, but will need more exciting and highly visible companies going forward in order to attract them, pointing to current examples like Higher One and SeeClickFix.
“We need companies that are interesting enough to capture the energy that comes through this town, and we know amazing energy comes through this town,” he says, specifically referring to the Yale students who call the city home for most of the calendar year. “There are a lot of ideas that are quaint — but quaint ideas don’t get it done.”