What does it take to start a business? As the audience at today's small business forum in Hartford heard, you need an idea, courage, angels, and timely injections of luck--not to mention right-minded government policies.

Ideas, Inspiration & Solutions for Entrepreneurs & Small Business was presented by The Hartford, in association with CBIA and the MetroHartford Alliance, and featured speakers from business, academia, and government, including Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy.

Liam McGee, the Hartford's chairman, president, and CEO, set the tone early with his opening remarks, citing the results of a survey of 2,000 small businesses commissioned by the company last year.

"Small businesses are the heartbeat of the city, regional, and national economies," he told a crowd of more than 330 people.

"At this fragile time in the nation's recovery, we must do everything possible to help small businesses and those who start them."

Government's role

As for the role of government, McGee was direct, saying we should be celebrating and liberating entrepreneurs, not burdening them."

"Government can best help the economic recovery by getting out of the way and letting the private sector do what it does best," he said.

While McGee opened the forum, Governor Malloy closed it, noting a number of recent policy initiatives, including passage this week of legislation expanding access to state financing programs.

"For the first time in a long time, the state is thinking about you and the major role you play in creating jobs," he told the audience.

"We're now in a position to start growing the economy again. Things are going to get better--they will get better. Entrepreneurs will lead the way, small businesses will lead the way."


Department of Economic and Community Development commissioner Catherine Smith spoke in detail about improving access to financing and credit, noting the initial success of legislation passed last year offering tax credits for angel investors.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Claire Kramer spoke on the same panel as Smith and said credit availability was improving for a number of industry sectors, including technology and health services, signaling a strengthening economy.

Fellow panelist Fred Windish, co-owner of East Hartford's K&S Distributors, shared a number of war stories from his three decades running a small business.

Start small

"Don't be afraid to start small," he said. "I started out of the trunk of my car. I had a new wife, a new baby, a new house, and no job. But I was a salesman."

Noam Wasserman, the Harvard Business School professor and author of The Founder's Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup, outlined the many pitfalls waiting to trap entrepreneurs.

Wasserman listed a series of challenges faced by startups, beginning with the early decision to strike out alone or find collaborators. 

And the main reason startups fail? People problems, noted Wasserman.