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Pair of new initiatives shares goal of encouraging college grads to stay in CT

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Students of the company FinTron, from left, Matthew Faste, Wilder Rumpf and Adam Pulcyn, work in the student incubator space at West Campus. Photo by Don Hamerman 2020

A pair of initiatives aimed in part at encouraging graduates of Connecticut’s colleges and universities to seek employment and residency within the state have been announced.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced the Governor’s Innovation Fellowship, which will provide job placement opportunities for recent and upcoming college graduates at nine Stamford-based companies: Arccos Golf, Curacity, Henkel, ISG, Octagon, Sema4, Synchrony, Trebel and Tru Optik.

Participants in the program will also receive access a $5,000 grant and access to mentors and staff who will help direct them into their post-college careers.

The program, which is modeled after a similar endeavor that began in Indianapolis in 2002, is scheduled to begin this spring, with the goal of expanding statewide by 2022. Funding and coordination for the program will be provided by CTNext and the initial pilot will be managed by the nonprofit StamfordNext.

Lamont said that Connecticut grads “too often” decide to work elsewhere upon graduating, “and we want to do something about that. This program is focused on tapping the most talented and highest performing students and creating incentives for them to build their careers in Connecticut. Our state has great opportunities for young people and we need to make every effort to keep them here.”

CTNext is also involved in a similar program being introduced at Sacred Heart University. Using a $200,000 seed grant from CTNext and matched by university funds, SHU and its Jack Welch College of Business & Technology will work with Techstars, a private-sector partner, in the development and execution of programs, outreach and growth.

What the partners are calling a “new creative ecosystem” is intended to facilitate entrepreneurial programming, learning opportunities, networking and partnerships aimed at developing and promoting new student-led and private startup ventures from across the state.

The ultimate aim, according to the partners, is increasing the likelihood that entrepreneurial talent will remain in Connecticut after graduation.

Activities centered on campus will assist candidates acquire or strengthen entrepreneurial skills and build the foundations of their startups, with support from mentors and coaches and the university’s incubation facilities and staff.

Program elements include a full-time coordinator, student entrepreneurial fellows, guest speakers, networking events, competitive challenges and startup weekends held at the iHub – a coworking space at West Campus, the former General Electric headquarters at 3135 Easton Turnpike in Fairfield, which was constructed in partnership with Verizon.

The CTNext grant will fund program development through the end of 2020.

SHU Crawford

“Our goal is to create a rich and open environment at West Campus – open to university students from across the state – where entrepreneurial skills can be learned and developed and where budding startups can thrive,” said Martha J. Crawford, dean of Jack Welch College of Business & Technology. “Creating an innovation pipeline and new small businesses is critical for Connecticut’s economic growth and well-being.”

Crawford first worked with Techstars – a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed through relationship building, education and access to capital – in Boston, where she was a startup mentor while on the faculty of Harvard Business School.

She joined SHU in August 2019, shortly after the university combined its Jack Welch College of Business and its School of Computer Science & Technology to form WCBT.

Through its partnership with Techstars, SHU/WCBT will focus on reinforcing and scaling its promotion of entrepreneurship on campus. University students from all Connecticut schools will be invited to participate in startup weekends and other learning opportunities. There will also be a speaker series and an entrepreneurship summit that will be open to the public.

The university has an entrepreneurship concierge service for startups based at the iHub that facilitates access to labs and research resources. SHU alumni and area businesses are already getting involved as mentors, and more than 20 SHU students are working as interns with startups based in the iHub.

Staff writer Phil Hall contributed to this report.


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