In the last half-century, New Haven has faced two challenges: first, repairing a struggling economy, and second, smoothing over a tenuous relationship between Yale and the city. As New Haven’s financial prospects begin to burgeon, one student organization is seeking to bridge the gap in town-gown relations and to lend a helping hand in boosting the economy.
The Yale Entrepreneurial Society has formed an alliance with the city to foster economic growth and to encourage small business start-ups that form on campus to settle in New Haven. In doing so, it has established itself as a force local political leaders are courting.
“This partnership represents a new breed of Yale-New Haven interaction and a positive one at that,” YES President David Pozen ’02 said.
The partnership with the city began when Mayor John DeStefano Jr. participated in a YES-sponsored panel discussion titled “The New Economy in New Haven” Sept. 27. Since then, YES officers have been working closely with DeStefano and his advisors to establish a relationship that will be mutually beneficial.
“The facilitation of an entrepreneurial community is important for long term growth,” said New Haven’s Economic Development Administrator Henry Fernandez LAW ’94. “We try to be supportive of them, whether with advice, contacts, public relations help, or through organizations where their message can be known.”
The most notable product of this cooperation is the city’s sponsoring of the Y50K competition — the crown jewel of YES activities.
The Y50K competition awards start-up money to prospective companies with Yale ties, with the hope that they will remain in New Haven — an idea that has city administrators pleased.
“We’re always looking for young people here to be educated, and to stay here and make New Haven their home,” Fernandez said.
The competition not only funds commercial enterprises, but non-profit ventures as well, in the social entrepreneurship category.
Last year’s winner of the social entrepreneurship category was Touch Base, an up-and-running resource and support network for New Haven’s homeless people. This year, 32 out of the 90 business plans submitted to the competition were not-for-profit.
YES continues to assist winners after the competition through a support network intended to ease their transition from an idea into reality.
Fernandez added that he hopes the organization will expand its activities and services to further benefit the city.
“We would like to see YES expand to be available for residents of the city as well,” he said.
Part of the city’s sponsorship this year included the enlisting of a New York-based marketing firm to promote the competition, which will culminate with the April 14 announcement of winners. Starting mid-March, the city will hang banners at prominent viewing spots around New Haven announcing the upcoming announcement of winners.
While Y50K is the main focus of the city’s alliance with YES, broader partnerships are on the horizon.
In addition to DeStefano, who is up for re-election in the fall, two other mayoral candidates have expressed interest in working with YES.
Joel Schiavone ’58, a Republican challenger, delivered a speech titled “How YES is Going to Save New Haven” on campus Nov. 15. Democratic challenger Martin Looney is working with YES officers to schedule a speech in the upcoming weeks.
Pozen said his organization is being very careful not to endorse any candidate. Though YES has a solid relationship with the current city administration, Pozen is confident the organization can work with any eventual mayoral winner.
“Whoever is going to be running the city, we want to work with,” Pozen said. “Which ever administration is in, we’ll try to figure out a partnership that makes sense.”
Pozen said his organization is attracting a lot of attention in the campaign because of the tremendous possibilities entrepreneurship presents.
“Entrepreneurship is a hot topic right now, and it’s a hot ticket item,” Pozen said. “We’re a young energetic group that has had great growth in last year and a half, and that’s an attractive thing to associate yourself with.”
Looney said YES’ promotion of small business growth is what draws candidates’ attention.
“I think that any group interested in the vitality of the city, looking at a fresh approach to economic development or the growth of small businesses is very important,” Looney said.
Looney said New Haven has missed opportunities in recent years for dramatic economic growth and can no longer hope for large factories to rescue the economy, but should instead focus on small ventures. Enter YES.
“If these companies are going to develop from within New Haven, realistically, they’re going to come out of Yale,” Pozen said. “And if they’re going to come out of Yale, a lot of times that means they’re going to come out of YES.”