ROCKY HILL — Connecticut Innovations Inc. (CII), the state’s quasi-public technology-investment arm, has announced that Bio-Techne, a Minnesota company engaged in the development, manufacture and sale of biotechnology products and clinical calibrators and controls, had completed its acquisition of a CII portfolio company, Wallingford-based CyVek.

Terms of the deal included a reported $60 million in cash as well as other financial considerations.

Since 2010 CII has invested approximately $2 million in CyVek and expects a return of approximately three times that amount.

“The investment in CyVek helped generate a return for Connecticut Innovations and create jobs — two things that are core to our mission,” said David Wurzer, CII’s executive vice president and chief investment officer. “CyVek’s primary operations will remain in Connecticut, which will have a positive economic impact on the state, and the return from this acquisition will allow CII to invest in other innovative companies.”

“The acquisition of a young startup company by a reputed worldwide industry leader like Bio-Techne is exciting, impressive and a testament to the value of what we have created,” said Per Hellsund, president and CEO of CyVek.

CyVek was founded in 2010 by Hellsund and Kevin Didden, who engaged team members from CyVera, a successful startup company that was sold to Illumina in 2005. In 2014, CyVek was the recipient of the Connecticut Business Champions award for innovation as well as the Frost & Sullivan award for innovation.

Serial entrepreneur Didden, who served as board chairman at CyVek, sits on the board of directors of CiDRA, and is the former chairman of CyVera. He has worked with CII since 1997. Together Didden and CII have attracted more than $200 million of out-of-state equity funding to Connecticut.

“Our long-standing relationship with Connecticut Innovations has helped to grow nearly 300 high-tech jobs in Connecticut and has generated healthy returns for our companies and for the state,” said Didden. “This is the fourth business we’ve built and sold with the assistance of CII and I look forward to continuing our relationship and serving as a resource for other Connecticut entrepreneurs.”

 STRATFORD — The U.S. Army and U.S. Navy have ordered 102 helicopters from Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., according to the U.S. Department of Defense. The Defense Department awarded $772 million for 41 UH-60M helicopters and 23 HH-60M helicopters for the Army, and $535.3 million for eight MH-60S helicopters and 29 MH-60R helicopters for the Navy.

The work will be performed in Stratford, where Sikorsky is headquartered.

The contract awards are a continuation of an overall $8.4 billion contract, according to a statement from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal's office.

The Navy had earlier planned to cancel the purchase of the 29 MH-60R helicopters next fiscal year, which elicited a protest from Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He argued it would hurt military readiness and would have resulted in a $250 million contract termination charge to the government, according to a statement.

 Datto is still the fastest-growing technology company in Connecticut.

The Norwalk-based data-backup and disaster-recovery provider was named the overall winner of the Marcum Tech Top 40 for the second consecutive year. The annual event honors the 40 fastest growing technology companies in the state, narrowing down winners in six categories: Software, New Media/Internet/Telecom, Life Sciences, Energy/Environmental Technologies, Advanced Manufacturing and IT Services.

Datto was the overall winner as well as the winner in the IT Services category, posting overall revenue growth of 1,436 percent since 2010.

Middlebury-based global payment service iSend, which allows people living or working abroad to send bill payments and gift cards to family members back home, took top honors in the New Media/Internet/Telecom category, also for the second year in a row, with 675 percent revenue growth over four years.

Other winners included Revolution Lighting Technologies (Stamford, Advanced Manufacturing), FuelCell Energy (Danbury, Energy/Environmental), Alexion Pharmaceuticals (Cheshire, Life Sciences), and Square 9 Softworks (New Haven, Software), which beat out 13 other companies in the running with 448 percent four-year revenue growth.

For consideration for the Marcum Tech Top 40, companies must have at least $3 million in annual revenue and demonstrate growth over the previous four years. The Top 40 is a joint effort from the Connecticut Technology Council and investment firm Marcum, LLP.

Other area companies that made the Top 40 include: APS Technology (Advanced Manufacturing, Wallingford), Proton OnSite (Energy/Environmental, Wallingford), Cervalis (IT Services, Shelton), Bio-Med Devices (Life Sciences, Guilford), HealthPlanOne (New Media, Shelton), Reality Interactive (New Media, Middletown), Clarity Software Solutions (Software, Madison), Core Informatics (Software, Branford), Fitlinxx (Software, Shelton), Higher One (Software, New Haven) and Tangoe (Software, Orange).

 HAMDEN — A Quinnipiac University professor has been honored for a paper of her own.

Computer information systems professor Wendy Ceccucci shared a win for “Best Conference Pedagogy Paper” at the International Association for Computer Information Systems conference in October, for a research paper co-written with professors from James Madison University, Merrimack College, Penn State and Appalachian State universities.

The paper, “Does Personality Play a Role In Computer Information Systems Course Performance?” measured the possible influence of Jungian personality traits as a factor in student success in computer information systems courses. Of the Meyers-Briggs personality types — extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving — the researchers found that thinking-type students performed better than the feeling types, and judging-type personalities did better than perceivers.

The paper was co-written by S.E. Kruck (JMU), Patricia Sendall (Merrimack), Alan Peslak (Penn State) and Scott Hunsinger (Appalachian State). Ceccucci has been on the Quinnipiac faculty since 1995.

 WEST HAVEN — The University of New Haven is partnering with San Francisco-based Galvanize for an accredited master’s degree program in data science.

Galvanize has a series of innovation co-working/educational campuses in Colorado and San Francisco. The one-year Master of Engineering in Big Data program will launch in January 2015 in San Francisco, and is now accepting applications via GalvanizeU.com.

Galvanize has previously offered a six-month learn-to-code program, but the accelerated master’s program, developed over the past two years, will give students access to skills, mentors and employers in the data science field.

Students will have to complete 30 credit hours covering statistics, machine learning, computer science, practical coding abilities and real-world projects. The course is targeting recent graduates in engineering, mathematics, computers science and other technical fields, and is also open to those looking to expand their skill sets.

The courses will be delivered in San Francisco by faculty appointed by UNH. The university will be granting the master’s degrees.

 BRANFORD — Connecticut’s bioscience industry has a new player.

A new genomics research facility of the New York City-based Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is setting up shop in Branford, projecting to create 142 new jobs over the next five years.

The state of Connecticut is supporting Icahn’s 16,500-square-foot facility with a $9.5 million loan administered by the state’s Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD). That loan could be forgiven by up to $7.25 million if the company hits its job-creation target.

The Branford facility will continue DNA testing, research and clinical tests for diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Genomic medicine analyzes sequencing of individual DNA, RNA, blood, tumor and other samples to more accurately define a patient’s condition, leading to more specific and presumably more helpful treatments.

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai was founded in New York City in 1963.

 NORWALK — According to the gods of Google, Norwalk is Connecticut’s “digital capital.”

The city won the 2014 eCities Award from Google, given to the “strongest online business community” in each state, where businesses are using the Internet to grow and improve local economies.

The online portal for the searching of land deeds and public records at the Norwalk Town Clerk’s office was one of the main reasons the city was chosen as an innovative and technologically advanced capital.

Google partnered with independent research firm Ipsos MORI to analyze the online strength of small businesses in cities nationwide, conferring eCity status on those with the highest scores. Ipsos used population size and AdWords data to narrow down the top five cities in each state before measuring the online presences of small and mid-sized companies in each area.

 BRIDGEPORT — The Bridgeport Regional Business Council’s online presence has gotten a facelift, with a newly re-designed website at brbc.org as part of a marketing campaign highlighting the region’s business community.

The new site features modern design with links to information for members, networking opportunities and resources. New features include a Member Spotlight Video section, currently showcasing three companies (Two Roads Brewing of Stratford, Bridgeport’s Schwerdtle Stamp Co. and the Trumbull Marriott).

The site was designed by Trumbull firm Website Republic, working in conjunction with members of the Business Council’s marketing committee.

 State’s double-whammy: Not enough schools teach programming, and even students who learn get siphoned off to NYC, Stamford and Boston

 

 

Anyone know a computer programmer?

If so, New Haven’s looking for you.

The “lack of talent” complaint has been something of a broken record in Connecticut recently, most notably in the manufacturing industry. But it’s something of a common issue in the tech sector, which poses a hurdle to New Haven’s steadily growing innovation sector.

State government officials in Connecticut have shown considerable interest in stimulating entrepreneurial activity, especially with the launch of the CTNext innovation ecosystem in 2012 that established four “innovation hubs” in New Haven, Hartford, Stamford and Storrs.

CTNext provides an array of resources to entrepreneurs and startup ventures, including access to funding, incubator space, mentors, seminars and more. But that still doesn’t put qualified candidates at employers’ doorsteps.

The Connecticut IT Job Trends report (compiled by Skillproof) for November shows job openings are growing year over year: Compare 620 IT job openings in October of last year to 690 openings this year, with the most needed skills being not just business analysis but programming know-how in languages like SQL and Java.

But New Haven’s blessing and curse of proximity to the major cities and technology hubs of Boston and New York means it’s easy to lose the talent that is incubated here. A notable example of “startup flight” is the Yale-spawned Panorama Education, which decamped last year for Boston, citing a lack of sufficient talent in south-central Connecticut.

Bruce Seymour is managing director of MEA Mobile, an Elm Street software company that develops apps such as Printicular, which allows users to send photos from their mobile phones to Walgreens stores for high-quality printing. The app recently processed its four millionth print, and the company is going public next year.

Seymour is dedicated to New Haven and wants to keep his company here, but that doesn’t mean recruitment hasn’t been a challenge.

“There’s definitely a shortage [of qualified technology workers], and one of the issues is that the universities aren’t teaching the skills that are required,” he says. “It’s a challenge because the technology landscape changes so fast you can’t keep up with it.”

Nevertheless, he adds, students are still learning the fundamentals that straddle multiple disciplines — it’s just a matter of translating those into real-world experiences.

Seymour has taken advantage of Connecticut Innovations Inc.’s (CII) Technology Talent Bridge program, which links small tech companies with undergraduate interns in what is supposed to create a win-win: the company fills positions, and Connecticut retains its talent.

“There should be more programs like it,” he says. The Talent Bridge program gives a $25,000 grant to offset the costs of training the interns, thereby reducing the burden. “I can train people all day long, but I can’t afford to,” he explains. “I have to make money.”

Getting the real-world experience necessary to be a viable job candidate is an especially daunting obstacle when you’re fresh out of school. The A100 apprenticeship program tries to bridge that gap, giving promising computer-science grads a chance to work in real-world settings on real projects. The program is run by local development firm Independent Software. Its founder, Derek Koch is also head of The Grid, New Haven’s branch of Connecticut’s statewide Innovation Ecosystem initiative designed to stimulate entrepreneurism.

Koch has been one of the most visible figures in New Haven’s growing startup scene; he says hooking up students and recent graduates with rewarding work experience will help them not only to learn but want to remain here and build careers.

“A lot of people immediately leave [after college] but if they stay in the local environment they put down roots. Even if they don’t stay forever, it roots them long enough for something else to take shape. At minimum it creates a larger community,” he says. Nevertheless, he adds, “It’s not fair to say the workforce is where it needs to be, because it’s definitely not.”

A100 Program Director Krishna Sampath says the initiative’s apprenticeships provides that extra world experience that a student won’t necessarily have with just school alone, particularly when it comes to collaborating and working with others.

“To get a job and be successful on day one, you really have to have a lot of work experience,” he says. “That’s why we’re doing it this way in a simulated job-like environment. You’re always going to be working with other people. This gives [apprentices] those experiences they can talk about in a job interview.”

There is still an in for those who aren’t the right candidates for A100 though. Independent Software hosts a weekly Study Hall event that allows beginners and experienced programmers alike to discuss and work on projects together.

Rob Steller is founder and CEO of West Hartford-based Stellar Learning Innovations, which develops educational programs and Web apps. He has benefited in hiring a software developer from the A100 program but bemoans the lack of similar resources in the Hartford area, and the challenge in getting funding as an educational startup.

“I don’t think we have a shortage of talent, but a lot of it may go to Boston or New York — which then causes a vacuum here,” he says. “It’s more an issue that Connecticut is not the best place for startups. The state tends to invest more in biotech and pharma companies. A lot of startup people I meet outside Connecticut always ask me why the hell I’m still there.”

The answer to that quandary is that Steller, like most who chose to remain in Connecticut, love living here, have set down roots and built networks here, but in the meantime the promise of greater opportunity in New York and Boston can be tempting.

 

 

 Jonathan Hochman is the founder of Cheshire-based marketing and technology firm Hochman Consultants, which specializes in Web development and performance. The 1990 Yale computer science graduate says some of the blame for the lack of tech talent can be laid on his alma mater. Acknowledging that the number of computer science majors at Yale has increased in recent years (he says there were only about 50 when he was a student), the department has barely expanded.

“The talent pool is weak because our top university in the state isn’t training as many computer scientists as we need,” says Hochman. “Imagine what Connecticut would be like if Yale was putting out as many [computer-science grads] as Stanford. MIT was responsible for all the technology companies on Rt. 128 in Massachusetts; they’re anchored around universities. I’d say it’s a missed opportunity for Connecticut and Yale.”

Hochman argues that turning out more computer science graduates from Yale would have a profound impact on the economy of the region and state. It’s those graduates who would put their ideas to use and start new companies. Connecticut already has a strong presence of venture capital on its side.”

And then would come the ripple effect: “They will go and become professors in other universities in Connecticut, they’ll become the hot startups, the mentors and the angel investors that will then fund a new generation,” Hochman says. “Even if the community colleges wanted to train people in coding, you need qualified instructors — and those are few and far between.”

Data-management software developer Core Informatics, however, doesn’t seem to have had a problem finding qualified programmers. The company has not only found talent through such programs as A100, but through Connecticut universities as well. He says Core may be at an advantage since it works in the bio- and life sciences — both surging industry sectors in the state — but whether there are sufficient qualified workers depends on the employer.

“It depends what your requirements are: If you’re looking for general-purpose programming experience and computer sciences, there’s plenty of that available,” he says. “But if you’re UBS and you want a programmer who also has an MBA in finance or any domain experience in your industry, that does make it more challenging. You’re shrinking your pool of possible candidates” by remaining in Connecticut.

New Haven Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson, longtime president of the Connecticut Technology Council, says that regardless of fluctuating talent availability in New Haven, businesses here will still get things done even if it means outsourcing.

“If a business person wakes up this morning and has money to develop a new product, one way or another they’ll get it done,” he says. “They might be annoyed that their developer is 3,000 miles away, but it gets done. Otherwise they can’t compete.”

But that doesn’t mean New Haven doesn’t need to up its game.

“Having said that, we absolutely need to have more great developers here,” Nemerson says. “If a businessperson wakes up and there’s no electricity, they’ll think ‘I have to move to a better town.’ Labor is the same way. Anyone who can’t get the job done will have a board of directors telling them, ‘Move 70 miles [to New York], you dummy.’ We’re trying to avoid that.”

When it comes to avoiding that circumstance, the universally accepted solution is to ramp up efforts in high schools and universities to churn out tomorrow’s developers. Nemerson would like to see an institution that takes the idea of A100 and expand it to allow newcomers, career-changers and others a chance to join the pool.

“People are looking for that great developer and we need to make sure they’re here,” says Nemerson. “Everyone understands what we should be doing, but I’m not convinced we’re doing it quickly enough.”

 

 

 Koch would like to see that too, but it remains to be seen how the idea will come to fruition. In the meantime, he stresses that schools need to start teaching programming at earlier ages and in ways that provide not just theory, but experience. Corporate engagement is key, too.

“In a lot of the successful apprenticeship programs around the world, the corporate community is involved,” Koch notes. “If we have a strong community and can build on corporate involvement and university involvement, and there were a real sense of working together. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say we’d be a leader in developing talent locally. That’s a real prescription for moving the needle.”

Some argue more talent leads to more opportunity. Hochman says if there were more computer-science graduates moving through the local incubators, that would function as a catalyst.

“The state should look at its job-training program and see what can be done to get people into the field, and the universities need to think of what they can do to get more graduates — and Yale is at the top of that pyramid,” he says.

That could in turn lead to more vigorous businesses development, which Gregory says is the key element.

“Business activity begets more business activity,” he says. “If I know I can always get another job in my field just a short drive away, it’s less risky for people. If we can build that critical mass, we’ll not only retain the talent coming out of UConn and Yale, but they’ll actually want to stay and won’t feel like they’re forced to go to Manhattan or Boston.”

But in spite of all these concerns, many industry observers maintain a positive outlook for New Haven and Connecticut, thanks not only to its location and resources, but to a palpable buzz in the startup community and a growing sense of vitality in the city that wasn’t there even a few years ago.

“The fact that you can jump on Metro-North and be in New York in an hour and a half, or Stamford in 45 minutes, makes New Haven an ideal location for startups. You’re close to big money,” Hochmann explains. “The state is also willing to put money into startups.”

It helps for some that Connecticut is an attractive place to live, too.

“One thing we really have going for us in south-central Connecticut is quality of life. The shoreline is a great place to grow up and raise a family and the cost of living is much less relative to the suburbs of Manhattan or Boston,” Gregory says. “That message may resonate more with people who are a little older than with kids who are just out of school and want to go where they can have a good time. But we have things in our repertoire that are attractive even against New York and Boston.”

“We have everything we need to keep and attract people,” Seymour adds. “New Haven has a very bright and lively tech scene and the outlook is excellent. We just need to get the message out.”

Koch agrees, and says it’s merely a matter of time before it all comes to fruition.

“We have all the right ingredients,” he says. “I think in two years we’ll look back and say this was an amazing time that we all got to be a part of, and New Haven will be an example for other places.”

Sampath is himself a transplant to New Haven who fell in love with the community once he got here.

“There’s a vibrant community and sense of place in New Haven,” he says. “It represents what Connecticut is all about. We wouldn’t settle for just ‘all right.’ I don’t think Connecticut is the type of place that settles for mediocrity. It’s pushing for something excellent and glorious.”

 

 But taxes, regulatory environment remain drags on growth

 

WALLINGFORD — Connecticut’s fastest-growing technology companies are bullish on the future. So found an annual survey of CEOs from this year’s Marcum Tech Top 40 companies, by the Connecticut Technology Council (CTC) and Marcum, LLP.  Results were revealed at the 2014 awards ceremony at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford.

More than three out of four companies (77 percent) expect to continue growing at their current fast pace. They credit their success to 1) workforce, 2) products, 3) intellectual property and 4) business strategy.

Thirty-one of the 40 finalists (78 percent) point to quality of life as Connecticut’s key attraction as a business domicile, while the other nine companies (23 percent) say location is what they most appreciate.

When asked their key worries about the future, finalists named:

• Availability of talent

• Government regulations

• The possibility of another economic slowdown

• Geographic limitations

• Foreign competition

 

In addition, given the opportunity, finalist CEOs said would ask Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to reduce the corporate tax burden and to provide more direct incentives to technology companies.

“This year’s survey findings underscore the great success Connecticut’s technology sector is experiencing and the challenges facing the state’s fastest growing tech companies,” said Bruce Carlson, CTC’s President & CEO (see related story, page 3).

Now in its seventh year, the Marcum Tech Top 40 recognizes technology leaders with at least $3 million in annual revenue and a four-year record of growth, in six industry sectors. Both privately held and publicly traded companies are eligible.

At the 2014 event on October 2, Norwalk -based Datto Inc. took top honors as the overall winner for the second consecutive year, with revenue growth of 1,436 percent since 2010, It also won in the IT Services category.  Other category winners included:

• Revolution Lighting Technologies Inc., Stamford (Advanced Manufacturing)

• FuelCell Energy, Inc., Danbury (Energy/Environmental Technologies)

• Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Cheshire (Life Sciences)

• iSend, LLC, Middlebury (New Media/Internet/Telecom)

• Square 9 Softworks, New Haven (Software)

 

For more information, visit ct.org.

 Mall-based portrait services now in Trumbull, Westfarms

 

Newton, Mass.-based start-up EverPresent, which helps families digitize and share media collections, continues its growth and expansion this fall with new local business partnerships, additional hiring and increased investment. The company’s services are now available in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

 

The two-year-old company recently closed its second round of angel investment, bringing its total current investment to $1.2 million. Prominent investors include former Facebook executive Chris Kelly, former Reebok CEO Frank O’Connell and Bessemer Venture Capital partner Chris Gabrieli. It also recently hired its 50th employee, after expanding to a new production facility in Watertown, Mass., earlier this summer.

 

This month EverPresent announces three new alliances:

 

• Portrait Simple — With seven locations across New England, the mall-based portrait will now provide convenient consultation and drop-off locations for EverPresent services. In Connecticut, the service will be available at Portrait Simple in Westfield Trumbull Park Mall as well as Westfarms Mall in Farmington.

• Geek Housecalls — This in-home personal and home technology support company,will offer EverPresent clients free 30-minute support calls when they finish a digitizing project, along with in-home pick-up of old photos and videos for EverPresent projects. Founded in 2001, Geek Housecalls has served more than 20,000 families, helping relieve frustration caused by technology.

• The New England Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO-NE) is collaborating with EverPresent on a four-hour training program, focused on organizing and preserving family history; more than 40 members have already received training at EverPresent’s Newton, Mass., headquarters.

 

The partnerships expand EverPresent’s in-person services from its home base in Massachusetts to Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, via the Portrait Simple locations. In addition, 60 new employees are now trained to educate clients on the company’s services and products through Geek Housecalls and NAPO-NE. 

 

“The digital age has created amazing advertising opportunities, but I think we too often forget the power of small businesses working together to bring old-fashioned customer service directly to clients,” EverPresent CEO Eric Niloff said.  “When preserving irreplaceable photos and videos, families want local, trust, convenience and customization. By bringing together trusted, respected local companies, we’re going to make a lot of families really happy.”