A $50,000 state grant to the Elm City will help grow its technology innovation scene.
New Haven was one of 12 communities or regions in the state to receive a late October reward from CTNext Innovation Places — a program funded by this year’s Senate Bill One and co-sponsored by State Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven). The money will be used to hire planners who have experience building entrepreneurial hubs around the country, allowing the city to access new ideas and data, said Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81, New Haven’s economic development administrator. The city now moves on to an application phase for implementation grants, said New Haven Mayor Toni Harp.
“We want new companies, new ideas and budding entrepreneurs to gather in New Haven and interact,” said Harp in an Oct. 26 press release. “This funding will help New Haven provide more fertile ground for those interactions.”
Harp said the city is partnering with both private sector and educational groups, including the Yale School of Management and Gateway Community College. These partners are critical to providing a knowledgeable, qualified and experienced workforce to the city, she said.
Looney said the aggregate amount for all grants, statewide, will total roughly $4.9 million per year for five years. He added that New Haven is particularly well-suited to take advantage of the program, given its high rate of entrepreneurship — including high tech and academic spinoff companies — compared to other cities in the state.
“Senate Bill One will provide grants for creative businesses that are looking to expand and grow, and which might need governmental assistance to do that,” Looney said. “We’re finding that it’s not older, established businesses and it’s not necessarily small businesses that create the most jobs, but that a larger number are created by young businesses that have a need to expand and a capacity to do that with help.”
The grant will help New Haven build on its reputation for world-class education, quality medical services and as a growing tech hub, said city spokesman Laurence Grotheer. He added that Harp and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy recently initiated the renovation of a vacant building into a startup incubator.
Nemerson said the application process for the state grant involved assembling a committee of diverse players in New Haven’s innovation ecosystem — representatives from businesses, incubators, institutional partners and educational institutions.
“It’s the difficulty of [quantifying success] that makes having an innovation ecosystem that works so difficult,” Nemerson said. “Our goal is holistic. We want to be seen as one of the most attractive places to start and grow a tech business in New England.”
The city must have a flexible strategy toward growing the ecosystem, which might mean investing in incubators one year, IT in another and then accelerators in the year after, Nemerson said.
Sukh Grewal, CEO of Veoci, a technology firm that Harp has called one of the city’s superlative companies with a global impact, described New Haven as exceptionally supportive to his venture. The Elm City government even implemented the company’s emergency management software.
Though downtown New Haven is home to some computer technology companies, an expansion to four or five times that number is necessary to create a more vibrant tech scene, Grewal said.
He added that Yale growing its computer science program would help the technology environment in New Haven, as Stanford University has done for Silicon Valley.
Molly Zeff ’07, Veoci’s program manager for social impact organizations, said tech startups can play an important role in the city’s broader community.
“Our software and staff work to coordinate the efforts of organizations involved in supporting New Haven’s high risk youth,” Zeff said.
The CTNext entrepreneurial support program launched in 2012.