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Created by the Connecticut State Legislature in 2016 with the goal of encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial hub CTNext has become a key player in Connecticut’s innovation scene.

Executive Director Onkeya Obiocha told the News that he looks forward to CTNext’s future and to the many initiatives that they are planning to get involved in.

“CTNext is an opportunity to reimagine how we create inclusive, vibrant communities by looking at innovation, investing in innovative sectors and cities and allowing that combination to help inform how entrepreneurs are successful in the state,” Obiocha said. 

CTNext has sought to bring this vision to life by helping several budding Connecticut initiatives, including the MakeHaven Community Center. 

MakeHaven’s Executive Director J.R. Logan said that a grant CTNext provided when MakeHaven was only 2 years old allowed them to upgrade their equipment and caused them to have growth in membership. That grant was part of CTNext’s statewide Innovation Places Grant system. as part of their largerNew Haven Innovation Collaborative.

“These funds were very important in our organizational development because they were multi-year funds connected to a five year plan,” Logan said. “This allowed us to make the decision to upgrade our facility and programming while we built revenue.” 

Logan credits CTNext for MakeHaven’s rapid evolution with MakeHaven growing from 100 members to 600 members. 

“The space has become a hub of innovation and invention and is an important public space for many people,” Logan said. 

More recently, CTNext offered support to FORGE, an organization that helps connect Connecticut entrepreneurs who are looking to build a product or prototype with Connecticut manufacturers. Obiocha highlighted CTNext’s particular focus on initiatives that offer a public service. 

“As a public funded agency, anything that can be a public good, that multiple types of shareholders can find value in is really what we prioritize,” said Obiocha. 

The decision on which initiatives to support is either made by the CTNext staff or by the Board of Directors, which is composed of 11 Connecticut entrepreneurs. The Board of Directors also determines the budget and CTNext’s annual plan of operation. 

CTNext also has an Investment Advisory Committee and a Higher Education Entrepreneurship Advisory Committee which includes leaders of major innovative organizations, consulting firms and educational institutions. 

Along with their focus on innovation, Obiocha said that CTNext wants to prioritize inclusivity and representation. On March 31, CTNext and the Yale Black Business Alliance are jointly hosting a Yale Black Venture Summit. The summit which will be taking place in Tsai Center, will give Black entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their startups. 

Obiocha said that they received about 5560 applicants from Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

CTNext also sponsored Black Futures Week which was a series of educational and entertainment events in Hartford aligning with the last week of Black History Month in February. Obiocha said CTNext has been focused on figuring out how to invest in the Black entrepreneurship and technology “ecosystem” of the Hartford area.

Obiocha added that CTNext aims to prioritize retaining Connecticut’s talented student body and workforce. He highlighted their Talent Bridge Program which offers innovative companies up to $25,000 to pay student intern salaries and accepts rolling admissions. The next selection cycle for the program opens on March 23.

CTNext’s Governor’s Innovation Fellowship also provides students with opportunities in entrepreneurship. Recent graduates are chosen to work at what CTNext deems to be some of the top innovative companies in Connecticut and have a chance to build a strong network of contacts in the field. With these opportunities as incentives to stay in the state, Obiocha said he hopes CTNext can help keep recent graduates in Connecticut.

Bridget Cordero, CTNext’s Brand and Activation Manager, works to help grow the hub’s image and brand. 

“When I think of tech startups or the venture capital space, I get a certain image in my mind of what those things have traditionally been and I think our goal with this new team is really to redefine what it means to be a new entrepreneur,” Cordero said. 

CTNext is fully funded by the state of Connecticut.

SARAH BEN TKHAYET
Sarah Ben Tkhayet covers Business. She is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs and Economics.