Tag Archive: Business

  1. SOM hosts Live Pitch Competition

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    Last Thursday, Connecticut Innovations — the state’s leading source of financial support for early-stage companies and small businesses — held its inaugural VentureClash Live Pitch Competition.

    Eleven finalists competed at Yale’s School of Management for a grand prize of $1.5 million in capital and an additional grant of up to $100,000. Dream Payments, a cloud-based payment platform, took home first place.

    Participants were chosen from a pool of over 200 startup financial and health technology companies over the past six months, and keynote speakers at the event included Chief Technology Officer of Priceline.com — the “Name Your Own Price” internet service — Scott Case, who addressed the budding entrepreneurs as the “heroes” of the afternoon.

    “The entrepreneurs are at the center of everything,” Case said in his address. “There are investors here and big companies here, but none of this happens without the founders who take the risks and put themselves out there every day and build their companies.”

    When it was time to take to the stage, each finalist had five minutes to make their pitch, followed by a five-minute question and answer section. From California to France to Israel, early-stage companies from around the globe took the opportunity to present to a live audience of over 150 attendees. Among the audience was a panel of six judges, comprised of leading financial and health experts representing athenahealth, Inc., Kepha Partners, Oak HC/Ft, Point72 Ventures, Magellan Health and Canaan Partners.

    The competition started off with Hong-Kong-based company AMP Credit Technologies, which offers a technological platform that allows banks and small loaning businesses the opportunity to make automated, paperless loan origination a reality. CEO Thomas Deluca emphasized that the system would be easily integrated into already-existing banking information, making credit assessment, loan repayment and risk portfolio management easier and more efficient.

    Other competitors included Belgium-based LindaCare, which endorsed OnePulse, a remote-monitoring system that gives health practitioners a unified view of a particular patient’s history of tele-monitored health alerts and follow-up background to help improve chronic disease care. Along those same lines, CSIS Director Aengus Moran presented his company’s case for a patient-centered clinical decision support software.

    The Irish company uses a combination of integrated information systems and clinician support that results in a platform which effectively reviews patient medications, integrates into existing health care information systems and is accessible to clinicians and administrators without much training.

    Deviating from the banking and health tech companies, U.K.-based Hubbub advocated for SponsorCraft, a system focused on acquiring and retaining donors for nonprofit fundraising.

    “We’re … a little bit less Fintech, and a little bit more Funtech,” said Jonathan May, co-founder of the company. “I spent my life as a child fundraising money for charities, schools, universities and startups … Fundraising is a funnel. You need to look at engagement, acquisition, growth and retentions strategies.”

    Capitalizing on social media, he highlighted how his company has evolved and helped change the landscape and concept of giving in a revolutionary way. The company, May said, uses social data mining to subdivide databases that recognize viable prospects with white-label crowdfunding and digital-giving tools to increase donor conversion and retention.

    With costumers like Oxford University, the University of London and the University of Southampton, Hubbub is looking to expand to the U.S., first by entering the market via universities, and later expanding to nonprofit agencies.

    “When you give, you give online and what happens when you do that is you share that with other people like you,” he said. “There is a huge transition right now from direct mail and phones, to the digital space.”

    As the event came to a close, May’s end-goal came $1 million closer to being achieved as his company won first-runner-up for the contest.

    The whopping $1.5 million, however, went to Brent Ho-Young’s early-stage company Dream Payments. The system itself is a “payments cloud” that banks, small businesses and a variety of other financial institutions can use to deliver mobile payment acceptance solutions to their customers.

    “This is as powerful as a register in a retail store, but it’s mobile, it’s low-cost and it can support any type of mobile wallet, Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) chip technology,” Ho-Young said. “The key thing for us is that we see a universe of billions of devices out there that, as long as they can connect to the Internet, we can secure them and process payments from that. That could be a wearable, that could be a connected fridge in your break room, it doesn’t matter. We can power them.”

    Dream Payments is headquartered in Canada, but counts multiple American banks among its clientele, such as TD and Chase banks.

    At the end of the competition, however, win or lose, it became startlingly clear that the very presence of these companies in Connecticut sent a vital message to the rest of the nation.

    “This particular program has generated a lot of interest within our state,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said at the competition. “It’s allowed us to reach out to a lot of individuals and organizations … and it is just one more tool that we’ve used to ensure that people understand that Connecticut is not only open for business, not only inviting that business, but we’re partners in so many of those businesses.”

    Four runners-up received $500,000 and a grant of up to $50,000.

  2. Jennifer Fleiss ’05: Runway Revolutionary

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    If you’ve ever found yourself buried in a mountain of crumpled clothes and credit card debt, whining about having nothing to wear and maybe downing a bottle of Chardonnay, there’s a good chance Jennifer Fleiss ’05 could be your new best friend and/or the Messiah. (WEEKEND has had more of these moments than we’d like to admit.) Since Rent the Runway’s official launch in 2009, Fleiss and her business partner, Jennifer Hyman, have been eliminating pre-event sartorial angst with their revolutionary “designer-for-less” rental platform. Read on for the Co-Founder and Head of Business Development’s advice for young entrepreneurs, thoughts on why business plans are overrated, and the lunch conversation that started it all. 

     

    Q. You co-founded Rent the Runway in 2008–2009. Tell us a little bit about that experience, and how you arrived at this concept. 

    A. My friend in business school, Jennifer Hyman, came over to me one day and we had a lunchtime conversation about how her sister wanted to purchase a $2,000 Marchesa gown to wear to a wedding. She said that all the dresses in her closet were “dead” to her, because she’d already worn them. … [Hyman] and I realized that this wedding was a very high stakes event for her, and that she wanted something new she could look and feel great in. At the same time, we were also looking at trends like the rise of social media, and talking to women. [It was] by talking to women [that] we kind of evolved the concept of Rent the Runway. We’re big believers in not writing a business plan. For this concept, that meant purchasing dresses at retail price and bringing them to undergraduate college campuses like Yale and Harvard for some of our testing. We tested the different aspects of the concept, to see if women would actually pay to rent a dress.

     

    Q. Have you always had a desire to work in a fashion-related industry, or did Rent the Runway really just emerge from that lunchtime conversation?

    A. I’ve always been very entrepreneurial and wanted to be an entrepreneur. I don’t think of myself as working in fashion. … My actual job function and the majority of what [Rent the Runway] actually does is all business-oriented. We have eight people here who go to fashion shows and live and breathe that, but for the majority of the business there are a lot of other components that are really important.

     

    Q. Now, over five years since its founding, you’re still working with Rent the Runway. How have things changed?

    A. Things are always changing. … In typical startup fashion, there are new challenges every day. We’ve grown very quickly, which is exciting, [but] just managing that growth is a challenge. We’ve implemented things like renting accessories, and we’ve launched products for sale like stockings, underwear and bras, so the styling services that are part of Rent the Runway can give our customers that head-to-toe look. And we now have three retail locations — two in NYC, one in Las Vegas — that allow the customer to actually interact with the brand in a physical setting. We’re constantly listening to consumers’ thinking about what to offer, how we can expand.

     

    Q. Could you tell us a little bit about Rent the Runway’s business strategy?

    A. Never before have women been able to access designer fashion at 10 percent of retail price. When we started, fast fashion was emerging and growing but they didn’t really have an economical way of bringing what was on the runway to the average woman. Many of the ways of accessing fashion were eating away at the value of these amazing designer brands and the quality of their products, which was something we wanted everyone to be able to experience. By changing the price point and using the rental model, we’re able to do that. … We hope it’s an experience that will help our customers make better-informed purchasing decisions in the future — even if they can’t buy these brands now, down the road when they can make a purchase they’ll be more informed. Collaborative consumption has entered many industries, but we’re definitely the core innovator in retail in terms of how you think about your wardrobe.

     

    Q. What does a typical day at the office look like?

    A. We have over 230 employees now, about 80 of which work in our warehouse. … We have so many different departments — there’s fashion, analysis, technology, marketing — we’re touching practically every area of expertise. It’s been a really fun learning opportunity and has enabled me to “live” in a bunch of different areas. Across the business, we’re very focused on retail, and we’re always funneling the customers’ ideas back into evolving existing concepts and services. I currently spend most of my time with brand management, talking to key partners [Rent the Runway] could work with.

     

    Q. What are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had since beginning Rent the Runway?

    A. One is just when we started the concept, and seeing what an emotional impact our product had on women. And that has continued, with women sending us handwritten notes and photos of them wearing their dresses. Those have always been really memorable for me — it makes us realize that our product is so much more than just a dress.

    A second would have to be the fundraising process, just meeting with VCs [venture capitalists] and having them believe in your idea — and seeing how (often male) VCs identify and relate to a “female” product.

    I would say, as well, talking to all the designers responsible for creating the dresses we carry. Each breakthrough of getting designers excited about our brand has been memorable. It was exciting to have one of those “wins” each time we signed on a new designer. It’s not easy to sign on designers, so getting them to work with you is a success.

    And, finally, our warehouse. We have a 50,000 square foot warehouse right now and we’re moving to a larger one soon. We’ve vertically integrated our own dry cleaning, repairs. … Every time I step into that warehouse and see its work and flow that’s a big achievement; a moment that really wows me.

     

    Q. What’s the best part of working in fashion (or, at least, with a company that participates in the industry)?

    A. It’s definitely a fun and very creative industry. … Going to fashion week and all the shows is always fun and enjoyable, and being able to see the transformative effect that fashion can have on a person, the bounce that it can put in someone’s step or the confidence it can give. I guess the best part is getting to know the creativity behind that.

     

    Q. And the worst part?

    A. It’s a really hard industry to break into. You have to be persistent, and maybe a little bit naive. [In fashion], no doesn’t mean no — it just means “not right now.” Sometimes designers will tell you they don’t want to work with you. You just have to be really persistent and not let them deter you.

     

    Q. What’s next for Rent the Runway?

    A. We’re still just staying very focused on providing these kind of magical experiences for women; letting women access designer brands. We have over 4 million members right now, and we’re just focused on providing better and better experiences and getting even more members.

     

    Q. Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?

    A. In general, I think the concept of testing your idea out and bringing it to a market — making sure that your concept “has legs,” and seeing the different challenges and getting feedback — is key. Putting yourself on a timeline is important too, setting different “milestones” for yourself as a startup. And not being afraid to fail — realizing that each failure has learning opportunities that come with it.

     

    Q. And specifically for young female entrepreneurs?

    A. Often females are a little more realistic, “restrained” with their concept. Encouraging women to think big is really important — to be really aggressive when thinking about how big of a platform their concept could be. Don’t be timid with your concept, because when you’re going to VCs [venture capitalists], they’re looking for the next “billion-dollar idea.” You really need to be able to sell it, to make them believe in your idea.

  3. Ninth Square Goes Back on the Grid

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    Nearly three years ago, Adele Ricciardi MED ’18 GRD ’18 moved to New Haven after having been a New Yorker for just under a year. After searching for housing in East Rock — an area popular among Yale graduate students — she settled in a neighborhood that reminded her of both her Big Apple home and her Albany, NY. roots.

    From the beginning, New Haven’s Ninth Square Historic District struck her as surprisingly Brooklynesque: a “charming, small” locale with galleries and a diversity of restaurants — a place with few chain stores.

    “I was really happy when I found [the Ninth Square], because it was familiar.” she said. “I started looking in East Rock, but the Ninth Square definitely felt more like home.”

    As one of the first five tenants in her apartment building near the intersection of Crown and South Orange Streets, Ricciardi has witnessed the neighborhood develop steadily in the last few years. The district’s location conveniently situates her between her two workplaces at Yale Medical School and the University laboratories on Science Hill. Located in the downtown’s southeast section, its proximity to commercial areas and relatively low cost make it attractive to graduate students.

    The Ninth Square also offers encouraging proof that New Haven can thrive on its own, despite a much smaller investment from Yale and University Properties (UP), which oversees the school’s commercial real estate assets in the city. In contrast, the company holds a virtual monopoly over the downtown area, where it owns enough property on Broadway, as well as Chapel, York and Howe streets to pay over $4 million in taxes annually.

    “I think it’s New Haven without Yale, which we don’t really see a lot of,” Ricciardi observed. “The local community hasn’t been completely overrun yet.”

    But it is a community on the edge of change, fueled by expansive commercial and real estate developments in recent years.

    “In the time I’ve been there I can tell that we’re on the verge of a transformation,” she said.

    * * *

    Inside the Adae Fine Art Academy, the notes of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” filled a large, sunlit room where house plants sit under painted portraits.

    “I read the news today oh, boy/About a lucky man who made the grade/And though the news was rather sad/Well I just had to laugh and/ I saw the photograph.”

    The school’s director and founder, Kwadwo Adae, wore a navy-blue bowtie with a matching blue suit. His demeanor — kind, soft-spoken — reflected the nurturing environment he strove to create.

    Adae explained that the music functions as far more than a mere affect.

    “You have to have the mind occupied with music while you paint,” he said. “I learned that way, so I teach that way, too.”

    An artist once described as “a mix of early Jackson Pollock, Keith Herring and Thomas Hart Benson,” Adae arrived in New Haven in 2005 after receiving a master’s in fine arts from New York University. In search of higher education teaching jobs, he received “no answers, no calls, no nothing.” So when an art store went out of business in his current space on 817 Chapel Street, he decided it was time to open a school of his own.

    Eight years ago, the district was a different place. Rob Greenberg, owner of ACME Furniture and a third-generation New Haven resident, recounted how the popularization of the automobile precipitated the prevailing “urban renewal” philosophy of urban planning at the time, favoring large roads like Route 34 and modernism over some cities’ perceived “ancient” downtowns. However, then-New Haven mayor Richard C. Lee’s championing of these policies led to the destruction of some 20,000 buildings, and the Ninth Square, along with New Haven, “dropped off.”

    “The problem that they had not accounted for was that when they tore out the city’s mom and pop stores and all these little shops — it was hundreds of years of evolution,” he said. “What they didn’t account for was that when they knocked out all the evolutionary forward motion, if it didn’t work, there was no backup plan.”

    Thirty-five years after Lee left office in 1970, Adae was still feeling the effects of the mayor’s policies, as he dealt with “squatters” in his building and various other aspects of a depressed neighborhood that were decidedly unhelpful for “creating a nurturing environment.”

    “The neighborhood was a lot rougher on the edges when I first started out,” he said. “A couple of my adult students were concerned with taking class, getting out at 8 p.m. and walking to their cars.”

    But while residents were fearing for their safety in Ninth Square, city officials were already sowing the seeds of the neighborhood’s revival. Long before the arrival of district mainstays such as 360 State Street, Elm City Market or New Haven State Street Station, former New Haven mayor Biagio “Ben” DiLieto pushed a plan originally designed by Economic Administrator Will Ginsburg to reverse the march of urban renewal.

    The McCormack/Behring Project, named for the design firms who pursued it, focused first on redeveloping residential areas — occupancy reached a passable level around 1994-1995 according to Stefano — and then moved to help businesses occupy available retail space. The first business to occupy these spaces was the now New Haven favorite Benatra, which opened in the Ninth Square in 1997.

    “The values of property went down and they lent themselves to redevelopment,” DeStefano said. “That came at the end; after every downtown building was vacant, the market liked the older stuff.”

    DeStefano said the sort of urban lifestyle to which Ricciardi and her fellow grad students aspired was a sign that times had changed since he and his wife were of that age. The pair married when DeStefano was 24 years old, when “cheap fields and cheap land” led many of their generation to the suburbs.

    Today, he noted, young people in their twenties are less likely to be settled in their career and life direction. As a result, “You tend to live in cities,” he said.

    * * *

    Just a block away from the New Haven Green stands the state’s largest residental building, a looming glass skyscraper constructed on what was once the site of Shartenberg’s, the one-time largest department store in Connecticut. Designed by Bruce Becker ARC ’85 SOM ’85, 360 State Street houses a large number of Yale affiliates, many of whom study or work at the medical school.

    According to Becker, retail vacancies have been “dramatically reduced” since Yale students began migrating to the area after the opening of Elm City Market and the State Street Station in 2005.

    The 360 State Street Project opened in 2010, along with the Elm City Market in 2011 — a co-op founded in the midst of the recession and collectively owned by approximately 200 New Haven residents, according to Becker. Both the 360 State Street and Ninth Square have a significant percentage of Section 8 housing, a type of public housing that authorizes payment of rents with help of the federal government — a little over half of the Ninth Square is composed of this affordable housing.

    But the neighborhood is not without its pricier establishments. Residents of 360 State Streets are within walking distance of some of the city’s most popular bars and eateries, including the gourmet food store Skappo Merkato and Bentara, a Malaysian fusion restaurant.

    Chris Ortwein, economic prosperity manager for the Town Green Special Services District, has been involved with revitalization efforts since the 90’s, beginning in the Commonwealth of Pennsylania’s Main Street Program. As a resident of the Ninth Square herself, she understood better than anyone how far the neighborhood has come — when she first arrived, the Ninth Square had the highest vacancy rate of any neighborhood in New Haven. She said that the Ninth Square had been able to thrive as a “business district” despite its enclosed nature, a reason for which she now “goes carless”.

    Despite the district’s burgeoning success, its mixture of one-way streets and hip restaurants is something of a concern for former New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., who noted that they create the atmosphere of a “dead end” with very little street traffic. Through streets, he added, are more conducive to economic and human development.

    Ortwein agreed with the former mayor’s transportation assessment, saying the district would be better off with a more comprehensive and convenient public transit system.

    “I think one of the things that would really help us is if we provided a better user experience for people who use the bus system,” she said.

    And while DeStefano agreed that the Ninth Square district has been undergoing a revitalization, he pointed out that Yale students almost single-handedly sustained the housing market with what he termed  “Med School East Rock.”

    * * *

    It was around noon at Adae Fine Arts Academy, and a miniature Maltese dog named Bird had wandered in from next door to join Adae for lunch. Bird belonged to Margot Broom, the owner of the neighboring Breathing Room Yoga Store.

    Bird, despite her lack of opposable thumbs, seemed an apt representation of the ethos of the Ninth Square’s businesses — collaboration, coexistence and a friendly neighborhood feel.

    “I’m there to support them and support the businesses in this community that engage the public,” Adae said. “All the business owners — no matter what they’re doing — have a vested interest in having a community that is aware.”

    Neville Wisdom, the manager of a nearby dress shop, said he has similarly formed partnerships with other stores. He often includes their merchandise in his store as a form of advertising, and others do the same for him. At the moment, ACME’s Furniture and Adae’s paintings forge this “spirit of collaboration.”

    The road to revitalizing a neighborhood is famously paved with adversity, the adversity that comes with revitalizing a neighborhood needs no mention. But, Neville Wisdom said a culture of community has made it possible for these business transplants to sustain themselves — he estimates he sells 300 percent more dresses in the Ninth Square than he did at his business’ previous home in Westville.

    “The boutiques also bring us good clientele — even the yoga studios,” Wisdom said. “I think the combination of having businesses that bring a lot of people around has also made [our success] possible.”

  4. The Sincere, Artificial Apology

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    “Sorry, sorry, sorry.” As an adolescent, I recited this incantation on multiple occasions: When my brother dropped his ice cream cone, when my peer failed a test, when my third grade teacher tripped and fell on the ice and, of course, when my best friend suffered through her first heartbreak. My father always used to get angry with me for apologizing for problems that just weren’t my fault. But how else are you supposed to respond to something so out of your control and still convey a sense of sympathy?

    After Wednesday night’s performance of “The Consultant,” a new play written by Heidi Schreck, at the Long Wharf Theater, I rethought the motivation behind my countless “I’m sorry”s. Deep underneath every fallen ice cream cone or crestfallen friend, I have felt a small piece of blame. Put more eloquently a by the young consultant, Amelia (Clare Barron), “We are all responsible in some way for everyone else’s suffering.”

    And there is certainly enough suffering to go around in The Consultant. Taking place after the 2008 financial crisis, the show focuses on workers in a troubled pharmaceutical company. Their job security is always uncertain, but they also have to struggle with the all-too-normal issues of romance, ambition, altruism and family. Enter Amelia, a quirky grad student from NYU who wants to help immigrants learn English and change the world along the way — despite her immense student loans. By mistake, she is hired by the company to teach Jun Suk (Nelson Lee), a designer at the firm, better presentation skills and not to improve his English. And so, through a series of comedic coincidences, Amelia ends up trying to save Jun Suk’s job. Meanwhile, receptionist Tania (Cassie Beck) and ostentatious businessman Mark (Darren Goldstein) become caught in a romantic entanglement.

    Not everyone was along for the ride. As I left the theatre, I heard one audience member say “there was something strange about the tone of the play. It was somehow artificial between the characters.” This idea struck me. She was absolutely right. From its opening flood of stage lights to its final spoken words, all of “The Consultant” implied that nothing on the stage was real or permanent. The entire set shouted “plastic,” and you could see the material everywhere, from fake glass windows to an imitation IKEA desk. The entire company, it seemed, could pick up one day and leave. The characters verged on stereotypes: the naïve, eager graduate who wants to change the world, the quickly aging receptionist who got stuck in a sub-par job, the childish, masculine businessman who sometimes objectifies women and the overworked divorcee who can’t find happiness. They revolve around each other without forming any real relationships. Together they suffer, together they laugh, and together they try to create a makeshift family, but only because the economy has stuck them together.

    This artifice leaves the audience stunned, and yet, this artifice is also what makes the production theatrical gold. We have all found ourselves in relationships that rely solely on the fact that we and someone else inhabit the same environment. Work relationships, study groups, book clubs -— no one is immune, old or young. We’re all afraid of getting too close, and because of that we keep our distance. The characters in “The Consultant” may seem stereotypical, but that’s only because they play into assigned roles. In these sorts of relationships, after all, simple personas are all we have. Only when they are alone do we understand the play’s characters as more than they appear.

    “The Consultant” also understands how these ordinary interactions can build into beautiful, dysfunctional, tragic families. Throughout the play, characters take on childlike or parental roles in relation to everyone else. Tania cleans up after Jun Suk after too much revelry, though she reminds him “I’m not your mother.” The office workers learn to rely on each other even while resisting true affection.

    But the family is always under threat. The big, bad Boss Harold (never seen by the audience) looms over the office, firing victims one by one. The threat of his presence puts the office on edge. Whenever a phone rings (and this happens often), the characters’ emotions are pushed even further. This constant ringing and buzzing provides comedy, but it also reminds us how fragile these relationships are. At the end of the show, we are left questioning: Can work relationships survive without the office? How can you say sorry to someone classified as the work friend? You make this dysfunctional family, and wait anxiously to see how much weight it can hold.  Maybe you have to justify your actions with an “I’m sorry” and take responsibility. Maybe you have to accept that some relationships are meant to simply end.

  5. Willoughby’s on York gets new decor

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    Willoughby’s on York Street just got a facelift.

    Over the past few days, the coffee shop made a number of changes to its interior décor. One wall is now painted lime green, while another is now made of brick. There’s new wooden (and cushioned!) chairs, and swanky bar along the far wall with raised bar stools. And to top it off, the shop added 15 new outlets along the bar for customer use, which one barista said are a huge hit with customers.

    Fingers crossed other cafés near Willougby’s add more outlets too!

  6. Little Salad Shop profiled by Inc. Magazine

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    Inc. Magazine is getting its salad on.

    The Little Salad Shop, founded by Etkin Tekin ’12 and Jerry Choinski ’12, is one of 18 businesses to earn recognition as one of Inc.’s Coolest College Start-ups of 2012. Inc.’s profile of the Little Salad Shop — or “LSS,” as it is called in a video accompanying the piece — tells us that the High Street eatery hopes to expand to two other Connecticut locations, and might bring in $600,000 in 2012.

    “We’ve been working really hard on the shop and it’s really great to see it receive some recognition,” Tekin said. “We’re still in the early stages, but things like this get us really excited for the future of The Little Salad Shop.”

    Inc.’s profiles allow readers to vote for their favorite start-up via Facebook “likes.” With just under 600 likes, LSS is currently the second-most popular of the 18 startups, behind “Arizona Pro DJs.”

  7. Connecticut invests in startups

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    In an attempt to improve the state’s economic climate, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced last week that the state will invest $250 million in startup technology companies over the next five years.

    The money is set to come from both the state and Connecticut Innovations, the state’s quasi-public authority responsible for technology investing. The funds will then be distributed to both high-tech startup companies and other firms that assist startups in an attempt to make capital more widely available and fostering business-friendly environments, especially around universities.

    “Small business ventures really provide the best potential for economic growth in the short and long term,” said Jim Watson, a spokesman for Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development. “It’s about these three things: innovation, entrepreneurship and startups.”

    According to Catherine Smith, chairperson of Connecticut Innovations and commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, the intent is to create an “innovation ecosystem” conducive to entrepreneurship and business growth. Smith said the state will pay existing companies to provide services for businesses, such as accounting assistance, business classes and help with Internet publicity. Different companies will bid for the opportunity to provide these services, and the state will choose among them based on their proposals.

    “We’re not going to do this whole thing by ourselves, because one thing we know about the state government is that it’s really not very good at this stuff,” Smith said. “We are, however, going to fund these services.”

    Smith said there will be a focus on developing “business hubs” near universities, where talent is often concentrated. Citing Yale’s Science Park, Smith said there are several companies that originated as startups created by members of the Yale community and eventually grew throughout the state. Among these companies are Higher One, a company that handles financial services at 650 colleges and universities, and Alexion, a pharmaceutical company, according to Smith.

    “There’s a lot of evidence that some of the best thinking and new ideas come out of university systems, so as we’re building in Connecticut, we’re going to build off these anchors,” Smith said, citing the University of Connecticut, Wesleyan University and the University of Bridgeport as a few of these “anchors” in addition to Yale.

    School of Management professor John Feinstein said small businesses are key to the “economic revival” Malloy promised in his State of the State address last week, but expressed concerns about the cost of the governor’s plan.

    “Right now, we’re not really supposed to be spending money, which is a main worry of mine,” Feinstein said. “I’m not a big fan of deficits.”

    Still, some members of the University community expressed support for Malloy’s plan.

    “Connecticut has been active, but perhaps not as active in the past as some other states, in promoting startup businesses, so I think that’s why Gov. Malloy is trying to turn on the spigot here and make that effort more successful,” University President Richard Levin said.

    Annelies Gamble ’13, president of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society, an organization that supports and funds Yale startups, stressed the importance of policies that encourage entrepreneurs to accept risks.

    “People don’t necessarily want to open themselves up to the risk of starting a business, so if the government can figure out a way to push and encourage people, that would be great,” she said.

    Noah Sheinbaum ’13, CEO of Elmseed Enterprise Fund, a student-run nonprofit that provides lending and consulting services to New Haven entrepreneurs, said that the increased funding is a “great start,” though it should be only one part of the state’s economic development strategy.

    “Simplifying the processes that prospective entrepreneurs have to go through to start businesses would be equally, if not more helpful,” he said.

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Connecticut’s unemployment rate stands at 8.2 percent.

  8. Ay! Salsa empties out High Street location

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    Has a food cart won Battle Arepa?

    ¡Ay! Salsa, a beloved Latin restaurant at 25 High St., appears to have closed its doors. The restaurant’s space was emptied of all equipment, furniture and decoration as of Sunday afternoon, and a phone call to ¡Ay! Salsa’s number went unanswered.

    A construction worker inside ¡Ay! Salsa’s former space said that the restaurant had left and that another business would be taking its place, but he said he was uncertain if ¡Ay! Salsa had moved elsewhere, or what might replace it.

    Brothers Ernesto Garcia and Franco Gonzales, along with Gonzales’ wife Yani Acosta, opened the High Street location of ¡Ay! Salsa in June 2009. A month later, Gonzales returned home to Oaxaca, Mexico, leaving Acosta and Garcia in charge of ¡Ay! Salsa. Shortly after Gonzales’ return to Mexico, he and his wife divorced. Garcia opened Ay! Arepa on his own in the fall of 2010, and Acosta replaced him with a new head chef, Jason Thorp.

    Check back for more updates.

  9. Businesses prepare for families

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    Across the city, businesses are preparing to open their doors to Yale students and their parents for Family Weekend.

    While all hotels, restaurants and stores around campus know that this weekend will be one of the busiest of the year, newcomers and mainstays are taking different approaches to prepare for families’ arrival. Some younger establishments like Box 63 and The Study are hoping to draw in customers with special features, but Yale staples like Mory’s and Atticus are planning to conduct business as usual and rely on their reputations to bring in the crowds.

    The Study, located on Chapel Street, opened just two days before families arrived in New Haven for FamilyWeekend in 2008, and director of operations Anthony Moir said since then the weekend has been an integral part of the hotel’s business. The Study sold out for the weekend six months ago, and raised its prices for Family Weekend from its usual $219 to $239 per night to $429, said Moir.

    This year, The Study’s lobby will feature the Kibera Photo Project led by Tegan Bukowski ARC ’13 as an extra draw. The project provided cameras to children in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya, and allowed them to capture images of their daily lives. Guests at The Study will be able to take photos of themselves with the project to send back to Kibera.

    Incontrast, the Omni Hotel on Temple Streetand the Courtyard Marriot New Haven at Yale on Whalley Avenuedid not raise their rates. On Thursday, the Omni still had Family Weekend rooms available according to Jill Flynn, director of sales and marketing. She added that the Omni will feature special food and drink options in itslobby throughout the weekend.

    At Box 63, an even more recent addition to New Haven,co-ownerCarl Carbone said he is “flying blind” for his first Family Weekend, but is hoping to “share the Box 63 experience with the parents.” In their honor, Box 63 will be having an ’80s and ’90s video party on Saturday night.

    In addition, Box 63 has partnered with Colleges Against Cancer and will donate 10 percent of brunch proceeds to breast cancer causes for the last two weeks of October, including Family Weekend.

    But veterans of the Yale area are not putting on a show for incoming families.

    Ben Gaffney, general manager and chef at Atticus, said the restaurant will not be offering any specials for Family Weekend, but instead will simply try to weather the storm of the increased demand. He added that the surprise closing of Scoozzi on Tuesday will only make things busier for Atticus.

    Barry Cobden, owner ofthe apparel store Campus Customs,said “you never really know [whether it will be a big weekend] until it’s over, but we’re looking forward to it.” He added that Campus Customs will allow students and parents to enter araffleforone of itsYale winter sweaters over the weekend, and the winner will be picked on Monday.

    Ken Adams, the new general manager of traditional Yale venue Mory’s on York Street, said he is excited that its recently added “Temple Bar”will be open for its first Family Weekend. George Koutroumanis, co-owner of Yorkside on York Street, said “sometimes parents want to go upscale,” but many come to the more casual Yorkside because they just “want to see where their students hang.”

    “We think Yorkside is the only side of town you need to know,” he added.

    Compared to other important Yale weekends like Commencement and move-in, employees at several establishments agreed that Family Weekend is a tamer affair.

    Moir said Family Weekend is “more relaxing than move-in weekend” because families are not helping students settle in to school. Gaffneyagreed, adding thatitis also more casual than Commencement. Family Weekend, he said, is a time when most parents are “just happy their kid is at Yale,” whereas during Commencement many worry about making their visit perfect.

    Before 2009, Family Weekend was called Parents’ Weekend.

  10. Low vacancy highlights demand for rental

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    Two years after the economic recession, the rate of apartment vacancies across the United States has started to fall, and New Haven is leading the pack.

    On Oct. 6, Reuters reported that New Haven had the lowest apartment vacancy rate in the country, at 1.9 percent. Local business experts said the statistic signals to prospective housing developers that there is strong demand in New Haven for more apartments, especially given the recent opening of 500 new apartments in the development at 360 State St. They pointed to increased education and research job opportunities as factors drawing more residents to New Haven.

    The Elm City had the lowest vacancy rate in the United States for 2010 at 2.3 percent, but fell behind New York City for the first half of 2011. These low rates bode well for new residential developments in the city, said Anne Haynes, CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven, a public-private nonprofit established by New Haven and Yale.

    “We’ve done some projections for the future, and we feel that because of the tight apartment market, we have the capacity to put more units on the market at both the market rate and a workforce rate,” Haynes said.

    Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, director of state communications and special initiatives with the Office of Public Affairs and Communication and former chair of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, said the vacancy rate is particularly notable following the August 2010 opening of a major new apartment complex — 360 State Street. Eighty percent of the 32-story building’s 500 apartment units were leased within a year of opening, which Haynes said shows “a big demand far outpacing supply.”

    Haynes explained that lower apartment vacancy rates typically lead to increased price pressure as greater housing demand drives rates up. New Haven’s average rent rose 1 percent over the second quarter of 2011 to $1,101 per month, up from $1,037 one year earlier. She added that university students may feel this increase, but the effect probably will not be significant since New Haven has had a low vacancy rate for several years.

    Sinye Tang ’13 has lived off campus since 2010 and said she has observed that rates have gone up slightly for college students. Her rent went from $500 to $520 per month this year, and her apartment last year increased from $380 to $400. She added that the increase has been marginal, “but nothing drastic.”

    Haynes said that the college-student population is one of the biggest factors pushing the vacancy rate down.

    “New Haven has five universities, so for a small city, that makes the rental population higher.” she said. “[Research and development] institutions bring people in and out of the city for shorter amounts of time, which is actually a really good thing even though it puts increasing pressure on the housing supply.”

    Morand added that New Haven’s job growth, which he said is “stronger than average,” is a part of the reason why vacancy rates are low. He said the opening of the Smilow Cancer Hospital on York Street, the growth of mid-sized firms like Higher One and the appearance of smaller startups have all helped to drive residential occupancy.

    But though vacancies are low, New Haven has not been immune to the effects of the recession — Haynes said there are still instances of foreclosure and people being forced out of their homes. Some landlords have lost properties altogether, she added.

    Overall, though, Morand said he thinks New Haven has become more “livable” over the past five years.

    “Crime is down, farmers’ markets are up, the arts are thriving, schools are improving,” he said. “People are voting with their bodies and their wallets — this is a great place to live.”

    The national U.S. apartment vacancy rate dropped from 5.9 percent to 5.6 percent for the third quarter of 2011.

  11. Kerekes, DeStefano spar over 360 State Street

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    New Haven’s second-tallest skyscraper is at the center of a highly-politicized tax dispute after its developer filed a lawsuit in Superior Courtagainst the city in June.

    Becker & Becker, owner and developer of 360 State Street, is suing the city after receiving a $130 million property assessment that will quadruple its tax bill. According to a 2007 New Haven Assessors’ Office report, the 36-story development of mixed-use apartments and retail space was initially estimated to pay $1.4 million in taxes, but its 2011 assessment raised that figure to $5.7 million. Jeffrey Kerekes, who will run against Mayor John DeStefano Jr. in this November’s general election, has come out against the current assessment, while DeStefano has stood behind the assessment.

    Kerekes said the fourfold increase in assessment value and tax bill is unfair, and that the city should have been more forthright and accurate to help Becker & Becker plan its development.

    “When the city gives [developers] an estimate and then changes the story later, who’s going to come and develop downtown?” Kerekes said. “As a city, we need development projects going on and we need to have investors feel confident to make these kind of developments downtown.”

    Kerekes said that although DeStefano might spin the assessment as a tax on big developers, higher taxes and the lawsuit’s legal costs will ultimately be passed down to residents and citizens of New Haven in the form of rent increases and higher prices at the Elm City Market food co-op, which is located in the development.

    But city officials say the 2007 report was an estimate based on limited information at the time and was subject to change. The final development turned out much larger than initially planned, and included a multi-level parking garage that was not envisioned at the time of the first assessment.

    Released to the public last week, the 2007 report warned that since property values and assessments would likely grow, the assessment and tax revenue estimates were “the most conservative case scenarios.”

    Kerekes said he disagrees, adding that he finds this method ridiculous.

    “If [the city] wanted to, [it] would give [developers] a cost range of different options and different scenarios,” Kerekes said. “The lowball thing makes it seem like you’re doing the bait-and-switch, and I think that’s disingenuous.”

    City Hall Spokesman Adam Joseph said the 2011 tax assessment was in fact the first assessment that could be performed legally, and that the initial 2007 estimate should not be considered an assessment. In 2011, the building was assessed at fair market value, Joseph said, adding that undervaluing the assessment would essentially be an unfair subsidy to the developers.

    Although Joseph said he could not comment directly on the lawsuit, he added that he does not see it adversely impacting future downtown development.

    Kerekes also said DeStefano has used New Haven’s Grand List growth — the addition of new taxable items to the city’s register — as a “major plank” in his campaign platform. Kerekes said this growth is based on “fudged numbers” from the 360 State Street assessment, because DeStefano included the development under “net” growth while it should have been counted as “gross” growth.

    City Assessor William O’Brien said DeStefano’s claim that 360 State Street accounted for a large part of that growth is “misleading” because of a tax deal the city struck with the property’s developers. But, he added, the overall Grand List growth is correct.

    Construction of 360 State Street began in September 2008, and its first occupants moved into the building in August 2010.