Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the U.S., one of the most educated, and is strategically located between Boston and New York.
Yet in discussions about startup technology hotbeds—including Silicon Valley, Cambridge, and Brooklyn—Connecticut is never mentioned.
A panel of experts at CBIA's April 26 Connecticut Economic Update 2019 conference said the state has all the elements to be a leader in startups.
It just needs to better coordinate its efforts, including in the education system, and attract investors.
Stanley Black & Decker sees Connecticut's potential as a hotbed for startups, which is why it invested millions in an advanced manufacturing training and research facility in downtown Hartford.
Stanley brought in 10 startup companies in the center's first year, 10 more this year, and expects to bring in an additional 10 next year.
"We want Hartford and the state of Connecticut to be a world leader in advanced manufacturing" said Marty Guay, Stanley's vice president for business development.
Attracting Global Companies
Stanley has attracted startups from New York City, California, Canada, Ireland, Israel, and Ukraine, Guay said.
"I will tell you what their impression of doing business in Connecticut was: Really, really cost competitive," Guay said.
"If you're going to start a company, this is an unbelievable state. These are people coming from Dublin, where the rents are five times more."
The panel featured Guay, District New Haven founder and co-CEO David Salinas, and CT Next executive director Glendowlyn Thames.
Connecticut Department of Administrative Services commissioner Josh Geballe, who had leadership roles in several technology-oriented companies, moderated the discussion..
"Data suggests that young businesses, companies five years or younger, generate well over half of net job growth in the country, and that's accounting for the high failure rate of young companies as well," Geballe said.
The biggest challenge any startup faces is finding talented workers, Thames said.
“Start-ups live and die by talent," she said. "We're creating innovation places to encourage interactions. We want those hubs to be magnets for talent.
"For us in Connecticut, we have a lot of the ingredients and capabilities but we lack a critical mass density of them."
CT Next is involved in an accelerator program for the insurance industry, a natural fit for Connecticut.
"We have insurers here and they're all looking for the next latest and greatest technology because they know their industries are being disrupted," Thames said.
"We need to begin to foster those collaborations to really create a whole new generation of technology and economy here in Hartford."
Salinas co-founded a company, Digital Surgeons, in New Haven 20 years ago with a $5,000 investment. He recently stepped down as co-CEO of the company, which now employs 40 people.
He then started District, a technology and innovation campus on a nine-acre former bus company terminal at 470 James St., New Haven.
The coworking space had 98 companies as of February and is quickly being recognized as one of the most comprehensive startup ecosystems in the country.
"We're watching people meet and collide and they're coming all by themselves," Salinas said.
"We're not recruiting; we're not doing any marketing, nothing. It just happens, which is sort of a sign."
He said the Italian government recently contacted District.
"They're asking us about setting up an accelerator in New Haven for Italian companies to land here to start tapping U.S. markets."
But Salinas agrees that without a talent base, Connecticut won't become a launching pad for startups.
"I think the thing that's going to hold us back is if we don't get on the talent game and start investing big-time in talent," he said.
Salinas noted that Connecticut has thousands of job openings for software developers, but only produced 429 computer science/software graduates in 2016.
"The one good thing is that everybody has this issue, not just Connecticut," he said. "We just need to invest more."
Connecticut must also "future-proof" itself by investing in its transportation system, Salinas said.
"We have to invest forward and that sends a message to startups, the innovation world, and everybody who wants to be future forward," he said.
"That's how we'll grow Connecticut and, I think, that’s how we'll get more startups."
'Pieces Are Here'
Connecticut also needs to stick its chest out a little and tell the world what it has to offer, Guay said.
"It's really important that people in Connecticut understand they're living in one of the greatest regions in the world in terms of wealth, quality of life, education, and we need to capitalize on that," he said.
One way to get more talent is to open borders to worldwide talent, the panelists agreed.
Connecticut must now attract investors to fund the startups.
"All the pieces are here," Guay said.
"It's up to us to create these investment forums like David has done at District."