Entrepreneurs and the local startup community received fresh support, the so-called Maker community (a do-it-yourself subculture that takes here hands-on approach to building models, robotics and crafts) found a home, the city got greener, companies received due recognition, and state government stepped into to keep the Connecticut tech sector strong.
Significant resources are being invested in the entrepreneurial community. Downtown’s shared office spaces have provided co-working space, supplies and resources for small startups, which often begin with a single person. So it makes sense that the Grove was selected as one of four innovation hubs in the state by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as he launched Connecticut’s Innovation Ecosystem in October.
The public-private partnership is designed to spur the development of innovative products and technology in the state by providing budding companies with resources and outreach services. The state is providing $5 million in funding via Connecticut Innovations Inc. (CII) to support first-year operations, which will include the Grove’s expansion into an additional space adjacent to its 71 Orange Street location.
The state’s other innovation hubs include locations in Hartford, Stamford and Storrs. All will eventually be linked by a statewide network.
The services of New Haven’s hub, named the Grid, are similar to those gained during the crash-course build-a-company event Startup Weekend, a national program that had its second year in New Haven this November. Teams of budding entrepreneurs get together to generate ideas for new startups, and work in teams to make them a reality by the conclusion of a single weekend, with winners given funding and additional resources. This year’s winner was Snag It, an online and text service that aggregates online deals for products and services based on user-generated keywords.
Derek Koch, founder of the Grove-based Independent Software, was an organizer of this year’s event. He says the Grid is vital for keeping the spirit going throughout the year.
“The Grid provides the umbrella and structure to support the teams and other high-growth companies that need assistance throughout the year,” Koch explains.
And startups across the state had been shown a lot of love in 2012. CII launched its Tech Start Fund in January for the purpose of helping emerging tech companies. Competing teams vied for $25,000 each in funding, at two separate programs in the spring and in the fall. Ten of those were operating out of the New Haven area. Applivate and Merit Booster were created at 2011’s Startup Weekend. The winning Tech Start teams participated in a ten-week accelerator program to fine-tune their businesses.
Local Tech Start winners were developing technologies in areas such as facial recognition (FaceChecks, of Bridgeport), diabetes monitoring (ShugaTrak; ExerScript, New Haven) and crowd-sourced funding (MeritBooster, New Haven).
The student startup community received some attention as well: In July the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute made $50,000 investments in two student-generated ventures at its annual Demo Day, when teams presented their startup ideas generated over the course of a ten-week summer program. The 2012 winners were Panorama Education, a cloud-based school assessment platform, and the tablet-based MentalCanvas, which allows users to build 3D designs and graphics by way of simple sketches.
Launched in April, CII’s Talent Bridge Program provided funding to four state companies to take on college students for hands-on learning experience at technology companies and to increase the likelihood of state college students getting hired in Connecticut after graduation. Local participating companies included Bartron Medical Imaging in New Haven, Alan M. Dressler & Associates of Bridgeport, North Haven’s Precision Combustion and Strain Measurement Devices of Wallingford.
For the more hands-on entrepreneurs or those who subscribe to the hacker ethic, there was MakeHaven, which opened this year on State Street as a shared workspace for members to design, build and modify devices of their own invention, or collaborate with others. MakeHaven is part of the growing Maker movement nationwide; Maker Faires, sponsored by O’Reilly Media, have been held internationally since 2006; the community-driven Mini Maker Faires are non-sponsored local events, which are also becoming more regular occurrences.
New Haven has also kept up getting greener. The Elm City’s fifth fuel cell began operating this year — the most of any city in the state. The 400-square-foot cell is in place on Orange Street and powers about 200,000 square feet of City Hall and the Hall of Records, providing 60 percent of the heating and cooling energy for the buildings. Potential savings to the city have been estimated at $1 million over the next ten years.
Ikea’s Long Wharf store became the city’s leading user of solar power, thanks to its 118,000-square-foot photovoltaic array installed atop the store. The 3,920 solar panels produce enough electricity to power 95 homes annually, and is the equivalent of reducing 836 tons of carbon dioxide, or the emissions from 149 cars.
Quinnipiac University in Hamden was also recognized with a Green Power Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to the school’s purchase of 38 million kilowatt hours of green power annually — enough to power more than 3,000 homes.
Connecticut’s tech community also received its due measure of recognition in 2012.
Middlebury-based iSend was named the overall fastest growing technology company in Connecticut at the Marcum Tech Top 40 awards in September. iSend is an international payment service for people sending financial support to family in other countries in forms such as bill payments and gift-card services.
Five other companies were cited at the awards ceremony as well: Cheshire’s Alexion Pharmaceuticals won in the Life Sciences category; RSL Fiber Systems of East Hartford took top honors in Advanced Manufacturing; FuelCell Energy of Danbury won for Environmental Technologies; Norwalk’s Datta won for IT Services, and Simsbury’s eVariant won in the Software category.
The trade magazine Hospitals & Health Networks also recognized the Yale-New Haven Health System (including Yale-New Haven, Bridgeport and Greenwich hospitals), calling it one of the “Most Wired Hospitals” in the nation, a determination based on using technology to improve patient safety, care quality, service and business administration.
The Connecticut Technology Council (CTC) honored emerging technology companies at its sixth annual Innovation Summit Awards in November, where 75 “Tech Companies to Watch” showcased their businesses at an all-day poster fair.
Two local companies were among the five winners chosen at the event. New Haven-based Applivate, which emerged from 2011’s Startup Weekend with its diabetes-monitoring mobile app ShugaTrak, was named Most Promising Life Sciences Product of the Year. Guilford bio-fuel refinery company RPM Sustainable Technologies was awarded Most Promising New Green Tech Product of the Year.
Other winners included mobile HVAC controller app Emme of Bristol, Stanford language processing technology company eBrevia, and cancer diagnostics company Bioarray Therapeutics of Farmington.
The CTC also recognized its Women of Innovation in March. Two New Haven teachers, Susan Brown and Joan Feigenbaum, received Academic Innovation Leadership awards for their work in robotics and computer algorithms and security, respectively. Sikorsky helicopter engineer Elizabeth Garypie earned the award for Large Business Innovation and Leadership.
— John Mordecai
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