State increasing efforts at nurturing startups and early-stage businesses

By Kevin Zimmerman

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Connecticut Innovations (CI), the state’s venture capital firm, is being expanded to help promote new startups and early-stage businesses in the state, as part of the approved budget.

As part of that expansion, CI’s subsidiary CTNext will grow from its current size of two full-time employees and several outside consultants to include a new governing body helmed by a yet-to-be-named executive director. CTNext will also be further empowered to support and improve the business climate for companies investing in technology and other processes, and will create and run the Connecticut Small Business Innovation Research Office to provide additional support and assistance.

CTNext is described as “Connecticut’s innovation ecosystem,” offering guidance, resources and networking to help startups accelerate the growth, connecting them to collaborative work spaces, universities, vendors and suppliers, and other entrepreneurs to help new companies scale their own businesses.

Glendowlyn Thames, director, small business innovation group at CI and CTNext, said the latest legislative development “will have a very positive effect on entrepreneurs and will solidify CTNext’s efforts as we continue to evolve. We will be able to double down on our efforts to move the needle along faster and further.”

Thames added that CI envisions CTNext as being a key component in establishing the state as a hotbed of innovative startups, which in turn will help put Connecticut on the map for both new and established companies looking for the sort of welcoming atmosphere that has been established over the past few years in such locales as Cleveland and Boulder, Colo.

Though staffing issues have yet to be finalized, she noted that “we had to downsize a lot last year, as well as losing some people to retirement.” New hires could be made in as little as a couple of weeks, she said.

Also greeting the expansion of CTNext was Joseph McGee, vice president of the Business Council of Fairfield County and co-chairman of the state’s Commission on Economic Competitiveness.

McGee noted that playing into the decision to expand CTNext was the Connecticut Economic Competitiveness Diagnostic report, prepared by McKinsey & Co. and presented to the Commission last month in Hartford. “One of its findings was that older companies tend to do relatively well, but younger companies in Connecticut are not when compared with other states,” he said. “It became clear that we needed to focus on that.”

“This is a very positive development,” he said. “It sends a signal that Connecticut really wants to grow. As they progress, I expect over the next year to see much more small business activity and growth in jobs creation.”

McGee has in the past been somewhat critical of Gov. Dannel Malloy and other state-level lawmakers for not doing all they could to support small businesses. “Fiscal stability is a very big part of confidence-building as part of Connecticut doing business,” he said. “Constant deficit spending sends a damaging signal.”

More broadly, he applauded the new budget’s elimination of a nearly $1 billion deficit while avoiding tax increases.

“We have had to get our fiscal house in order for some time,” McGee said. “This is a first step, a good step … but there is still more work that needs to be done.”

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