On Wednesday, May 25, CVG and the University of Connecticut jointly held an afternoon program, “Connecting Opportunities: Driving Innovation through University Resources.” The event was well attended, with many of the usual suspects of the Connecticut venture community, a number of academics and numerous entrepreneurs (both serial and student) in the audience.
The event commenced with short introductions by Dr. Philip Austin, outgoing president of UConn, who relayed the university’s vision to add more resources to the commercialization efforts, which have expanded at UConn over the recent years. He also touched upon the exciting news of potential expansion of the health center and the development of the tech center adjacent to the Storrs campus. Next up, the commissioner of DECD, Catherine Smith (also newly appointed chair of CI), talked about her observations from her first few months on the job and provided a glimpse of changes she looks forward to making organizationally: removing the silo mentality, focusing on supporting current Connecticut companies and improving the overall “brand of Connecticut” in the business world. She also gave a nice plug to the CI pre-seed firm Shizzlr, founded by UConn alumni who were in attendance, citing it as an example of an innovative startup originating at UConn.
The keynote was from Scott Case, CEO of Startup America Partnership, UConn alum and co-founder of Priceline. Scott spoke passionately about his experiences as an entrepreneur and the need for startups in terms of innovation and job creation, both historically and currently. He described some of the raw materials startups need to succeed: raw talent – 25-30 year olds with the belief they can make a change and the skills to do so; business expertise – individuals who have the knowledge of how the business world works; mentors – individuals willing to teach, make introductions and simply be involved; and capital – enough said. He then brought it all back to the focus of the program – universities. This is where students are taught the basics, given the opportunity to question and pushed to identify problems and explore solutions. It’s in this environment that innovation flourishes and where businesses can be built around innovations.
The major takeaway for me was the focus of Startup America Partnership’s efforts. Creating companies from innovation can not be forced or improved by an initiative of an office; instead it has to be nourished by willing members of the “ecosystem.” By the community being involved in the effort, it can grow to become part of the culture of a school, city or region. Being involved is key; “it takes a village,” right?
The program provided a nice opportunity to see UConn’s efforts/resources and the energy of the entrepreneurs. As I drove home, after a short stop at the dairy bar, I realized why the “usual suspects” were there, and I look forward to seeing that group grow.