Connecting Opportunities: Driving Innovation through University Resources

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. 

Dan Wagner
Director, Investments

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Connecting with Universities to Drive Innovation

John Hanson
Director, University of Connecticut Tech-Knowledge Portal

In his State of the Union address last January, President Obama championed a technology-based economic development strategy. Calling it “our generation’s Sputnik moment,” he noted that we have an urgent need to seize the global initiative for innovation, adding that we need to fund “a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the space race.” He further said, “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” Clearly, the administration wants to create an environment where entrepreneurs can thrive, but the call to action applies equally well to the nation’s established businesses. 

Last month in Washington I attended a conference dedicated to encouraging university engagement to support regional economic growth. We were privileged to hear talks by three key administration officials: John Fernandez, Assistant Secretary of the Economic Development Administration, Paul Corson, Acting Director of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Phillip Singerman, Associate Director of Innovation and Industry Services at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Each sounded a common theme: for states and regions to build stronger innovation ecosystems, universities must play an integral role. Without a doubt, institutes of higher learning have for years played a key role by educating the next generation to participate in the economy and shape the future. But how do universities go beyond their education mission to drive economic development? And how can entrepreneurs and businesses in Connecticut connect to opportunities that will lead to innovation and growth?

Having worked for several years in the University of Connecticut’s Office of Technology Commercialization and having met many of my counterparts from leading research institutions from around the country, I can suggest several mechanisms to connect with and capitalize on universities’ technical capacity:

  • Meet research faculty who are creating new insights and knowledge; explore opportunities to collaborate in the development of new technologies or license intellectual property.
  • Join industry-focused programs creating opportunities to access labs, equipment, new ideas, and expertise.
  • Attend seminars on campus not only to develop a greater understanding about a subject area, but to network and share ideas with like-minded professionals.
  • Connect with university-based incubation programs. They are designed to support your early stage commercial endeavor (as well as subsidiaries of existing companies) and help you take advantage of university resources and student employees.
  • Participate in entrepreneurship programs. Many universities have formal innovation and entrepreneurship education programs for students and they often need mentors, advisors, guest lecturers, and partnering firms. One of these students may develop the idea that leads to a multi-million dollar new business.
  • Partner with a technology researcher or grad student, develop a business plan and work to get the business established and growing. A lack of experienced entrepreneurs to take the reins of a new startup is a hurdle for many universities’ entrepreneurial tech-transfer programs.
  •  Take advantage of other regional tech-based economic development programs that link to University capacity. SBIR programs, technology centers of excellence, state-sponsored investment programs, and manufacturing extension programs are terrific resources to quickly expand your network and target the right linkages to universities.
  • Hire students for targeted innovation projects. They have the education and seek the opportunity to apply those skills and demonstrate their ability to create profitable new revenue.

Opportunities to engage a university and drive innovation and commercial growth are already well established at some institutions and are germinating at many others across the country. At UConn these initiatives have been in place for many years and we have an increasingly successful record of supporting businesses and helping to create growth and new employment. But we are eager to further this work and want to hear from entrepreneurs and industry “intrapreneurs.” Let us know about your interest in partnering with us to help create new businesses and support the state’s efforts to strengthen our economy.

What’s the next step? Looking at the bullet points above, you will note that one commonality is the need to engage and meet the players in person. I suggest, as a starting place, that you join us at one or more of our events, meet various UConn faculty and staff, and network with many others from Connecticut’s innovation ecosystem who are exploring new opportunities.

The School of Engineering’s “Innovation Connection” is another great resource. Monthly networking meetings on campus or at regional businesses offer opportunities to meet engineering faculty and administrators. Check out the calendar here. Also, check out upcoming events coordinated through the Office of Technology Commercialization at www.OTC.uconn.edu/events. And don’t miss the upcoming CVG / UConn event on May 25. Our guest speaker is Scott Case, himself a successful entrepreneur and now CEO of President Obama’s Startup America Partnership program. Please join us – we want to see you there and hear your ideas.

John can be reached at 860-486-1353 or john.hanson@uconn.edu.

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A strong environment for fast growing tech start-ups?

Matthew Nemerson
President & CEO Connecticut Technology Council

The global hunt for high value sustainable jobs will be the top policy goal of our new Governor. How he solves this challenge will ultimately be more important than the onerous task of balancing the state budget.

In my capacity as president of TECNA, the trade association for technology councils in the US and Canada,  I have been meeting with public policy makers from the Obama Administration to discuss their views of how to create more high-potential tech start-ups.  Their efforts to support and coordinate innovation policy are unprecedented since the end of the moon program.   Let’s hope they are not derailed by coming budget cutbacks and political changes in DC. We should all work to be certain their efforts spill into places such as Connecticut to make our region stronger and better equipped to grow our key technology clusters.

If the White House, EDA, SBA and others agree to really support a series of regional innovation networks – or whatever they are called – it will be a watershed moment for US policy. First, by encouraging dialogue about innovation based growth between parts of the country, and second, by providing grants and contests that might increase funding for programs that will result in more American research being commercialized here, rather than somewhere else in the world.

A recent survey of the CEOs of fast growing companies in Connecticut confirms the need to build on key parts of our innovation support environment: human and cluster networks, universities partnerships and target early stage capital.  The region’s tech community must be strong advocates for connecting our new Governor with key Connecticut resources such as CI, Yale and UConn, CCAT and our base of global private firms with these new concepts to grow our capacity to be a strong environment for fast growing tech start-ups.   

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CTech at UConn Health Center Opens Doors

We are excited that the CTech incubator offices at the UConn Health Center in Farmington are now open for occupancy! This is the third CTech location in Connecticut and represents an expansion of the successful CTech incubator initiative, which focuses on cultivating high-tech startups.

 

In her announcement on Sunday about CTech at the UConn Technology Incubation Program, Governor Rell said, “New businesses will benefit from a full range of resources provided by CI and UConn…Companies will have access to business mentors, UConn research facilities and faculty, student interns and employees, business advisory services, environmental health and safety training and funding.”

 

To view the governor’s full press release, please click here.

 

Entrepreneurs or startup ventures interested in obtaining more information about the CTech incubator at UConn or applying to participate should visit http://otc.uconn.edu/tip/how-to-apply/ . Interested parties can also contact:

·         Rita Zangari, Executive Program Director, Technology Incubation, UConn, (860)486-3010 or rita.zangari@uconn.edu.

·         Charles Moret, Managing Director, Business Development, CI, (860)257-2333 or charlie.moret@ctinnovations.com.    

 

CTech at the UConn Technology Incubation Program is CI’s third CTech initiative. The first CTech was opened in Science Park at Yale in New Haven. This facility is currently undergoing an expansion and is due to open its new space at 5 Science Park on September 1. The second CTech incubator, announced in April, is the CTech IncUBator @ University of Bridgeport, which is now accepting applications from interested companies and is scheduled to open in the fall. For more information, visit www.ctech-ct.org. 

 

Charlie Moret

Managing Director, Business Development

 

 

 

Save Our Heroes – the Lady Huskies!

We’ve heard it over and over again, like a broken record: “lost for the season,” “finished for the season,” “will miss the rest of the season.” Sound familiar? Our leading UConn basketball players have literally, at times, fallen like flies while racing around the court or twisting to make a critical pass or block. Since 2008, in fact, we’ve seen several Lady Huskies – including Caroline Doty, Kalana Greene and Mel Thomas – diagnosed with torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs) and sidelined for the season.

Once the diagnosis is made, the solution requires reconstructive surgery, involving a second surgery to harvest large pieces of tissue from the kneecap or hamstring, followed by physical therapy and months of strengthening and conditioning. The damage caused by the harvesting surgery never completely reheals, and the injury can take a player a full season to regain the level of performance he or she had before the injury – and that’s after the lost season when the injury occurred. Clearly, these injuries are debilitating and are a source of frustration, not only for the players but also for the team and its fans.

But here’s the good news. Soft Tissue Regeneration (STR) of Stamford, Connecticut, is advancing breakthrough technology that promises to eliminate the harvesting surgery, cut the recovery period for patients with ACL injuries down and return them to practice in a much shorter time! How will STR do this? The company is developing a unique solution that utilizes an implanted synthetic braided scaffold to facilitate the regeneration of ligament tissue.

The company has been making great strides in demonstrating its technology and was recently given a vote of confidence with a new investment from Connecticut Innovations. We announced this investment last week. Click here to review our press release.

With assistance from this technology, the Lady Huskies can turn outstanding seasons into phenomenal seasons – with injured players recovering more quickly and returning to the game stronger than ever.

Russ Tweeddale
Managing Director, Investments

 

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Engineering a Better World through Education

Mun Y. Choi, Ph.D.
Dean, University of Connecticut School of Engineering

Engineers are known for their expertise in problem solving. They see a technical challenge and immediately formulate a mental checklist, breaking down the problem into manageable partitions. 

Engineers often apply their skills toward solving discrete problems within the context of a larger system. They may develop manufacturing processes that increase efficiency and yield, new coatings for biocompatible materials, and clean energy conversion, to name a few examples.

Solving larger problems faced by specific groups – say, individuals with physical limitations, senior citizens, or even larger groups such as impoverished citizens in developing countries who lack access to clean water and electricity – is really just a larger-scale engineering problem. 

We live in a border-spanning, global marketplace with enormous commercial opportunities and competition. But we are also citizens of a vast, interconnected and interdependent global society. As engineers, we can help to solve some of the pressing problems facing humanity’s shared future. 

In recent months, the UConn School of Engineering has hosted two engineers who are leading important efforts in social entrepreneurship: Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders – USA, and alumnus Scott Case, social entrepreneur and CEO of Malaria No More. Their presentations drew large numbers of students and faculty who view global problems as important social issues and are committed to solving them. 

As educators, it’s our job to help them fulfill their promise as engineering practitioners and thoughtful stewards. Thanks to iPhones, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, students of today can view civil rights demonstrations on their cell phones or read Twitter texts from earthquake-ravaged survivors. They are engaged and responsive.

At UConn, students are involved in Engineers Without Borders working to improve life in Thailand and Nicaragua; students and faculty are working in drought-ravaged Ethiopia to gauge rainfall and alleviate thirst; and teams in Thailand and Japan are learning how smart structures can withstand natural hazards…

In short, this new generation of engineers is applying its engineering know-how to improve lives across the globe. This trend fills me with pride and hope that together – educators, practitioners and idealistic students – can engineer an enduring legacy.

 

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Forum’s Focus: Bioscience in Connecticut

It was terrific to see such a strong turnout at the Bioscience Business Roundtable (BBR) forum on November 16 at UConn’s West Hartford campus. Leaders from Connecticut’s bioscience community convened to discuss health care reform measures being considered in Washington, D.C., and their potential impact on Connecticut’s bioscience sector and to take stock of bioscience initiatives underway in Connecticut. They also discussed state policies that will help Connecticut stay at the forefront of the industry. They shared their views with one another and with a number of government leaders, including Governor M. Jodi Rell, Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele, Senator Gary LeBeau, Congressman Christopher Murphy and State Senator Jonathan Harris – enjoying a fruitful dialogue.

I shared the dais with Rob Bettigole of Elm Street Ventures; Laura Grabel, Ph.D., of Wesleyan University; Haifan Lin, Ph.D., of the Yale Stem Cell Center and R. Mark Van Allen of the University of Connecticut Research and Development Corporation in one of two panel sessions held that afternoon: “Biotech’s Future in Connecticut.” Our panel pointed to some of the exciting bioscience research and collaboration that is taking place in Connecticut, fueled by a strong workforce and investments from state, federal and private sources.

I noted that a number of initiatives to propel bioscience even further are now in the planning stages – part of Connecticut’s Economic Strategic Plan. The planned initiatives include:

  • an Angel Investment Tax Credit;
  • a public/private fund to accelerate the growth of the technology sector;
  • a Talent and Technology Consortium to foster greater interaction between government, business and academia;
  • a state Office of Clinical Trials;
  • an expansion of Connecticut’s SBIR support initiatives;
  • an expansion of the Connecticut Jobs Funnel program; and
  • a Knowledge Corridor collaboration with our neighbor to the north, Massachusetts, to promote the development of medical device companies along I-91

Moderator Paul Pescatello of CURE concluded the session by asking panel members the following question: “If you had the freedom to do so, what ‘game changing’ legislation would you introduce to keep the bioscience sector vibrant?” The responses were varied and worth noting. Panelists suggested legislation that would (1) expand our investment in education, to further strengthen our bioscience workforce, (2) triple the funding resources available to Connecticut Innovations and focus the additional resources on early-stage investments, (3) encourage private venture capital investments in bioscience ventures, and (4) strengthen communications between academia and other members of the bioscience community.

Bioscience is going strong in Connecticut, but to remain on the forefront of this industry we must continue to push for initiatives that will fortify the bioscience sector. The BBR forum was a great collaborative step in the right direction!

Joan McDonald
Chair, Connecticut Innovations

 

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University of Connecticut Student Entrepreneurial Organization Visits CI

Members of the UCONN Student Entrepreneurial Organization

On Friday, October 30, the UCONN Student Entrepreneurial Organization (SEO) traveled to Rocky Hill to learn about Connecticut Innovations’ operations. Members heard from CI’s Charlie Moret, Peter Longo, Patrick O’Neill, Dan Wagner and Pauline Murphy, as well as Jessica Schweitzer, CEO & founder of Campus Connect, a company that CI supports with guidance and resources.

After Charlie and Peter’s introduction, Jessica told us about her interests in entrepreneurship and how a class on entrepreneurship at Central Connecticut State University gave her the inspiration for her venture, Campus Connect. Still in its early stages (the pilot launched on October 20), Campus Connect was started following many revisions of the business plan. Jessica’s determination has paid off, and she provided SEO members with some valuable advice, such as:

  • Ensure that there is a need for your business.
  • Know your competitors and stay up to date in your field.
  • Realize that there will not be a paycheck for a while.
  • Have a presence in the market and be personally involved in the company.

Next we heard from Patrick, an investment associate who makes investments in renewable energy and clean technologies through the Connecticut Clean Tech Fund. He explained that this area of business can be difficult, as it is capital intensive and requires large amounts of cash to generate sales, abide by regulations and manufacture clean energy products. He said that when CI invests in companies, a term sheet is created; usually the terms involve some debt, preferred equity and oversight through board seats.

Every member of SEO was impressed as Dan, an investment associate who works with companies in health care, described Soft Tissue Regeneration Inc. This CI portfolio company has developed a braided fiber that helps to regenerate anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) cells. Dan also spoke of the importance of who you know, as well as the importance of having a passionate team that knows when to seek outside help.

Pauline echoed some of what Dan was saying by stressing how important it is for entrepreneurs “to know what you don’t know.” Pauline also spoke about the difficulties involved with getting founders to see that the best way to grow a company may be under the direction of someone else.

After a Q&A session, the UCONN SEO left knowing that CI is truly a unique venture capital firm – a public corporation that operates like a private company.

 

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State’s Intellectual Capital Gets Boost with GAANN Grants

Intellectual capital fuels Connecticut’s entrepreneurial companies, and that capital has just gotten a $2.9 million boost from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) – which is good news for Connecticut Innovations and the state.

ED recently selected four proposals from the University of Connecticut’s School of Engineering and one proposal from Yale University School of Nursing for Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) awards. These grants support fellowships for graduate students pursuing doctoral degrees in areas of national need–namely, biology, chemistry, computer and information sciences, engineering, mathematics, nursing and physics.

The $2.9 million in GAANN funding expected to flow into Connecticut over the next three years will support fellowships for more than 25 doctoral candidates who intend to pursue careers in teaching or research in areas of national need. The federal goal is to enhance the capacity for teaching and research in these areas. And the implication for Connecticut is that, with these grants, we will be able to cultivate a greater number of highly qualified technology minds in our state – a good thing for the nation, our Connecticut economy and Connecticut Innovations. The scientific discoveries of the GAANN Ph.D.s and/or their students may someday evolve into exciting new products or form the basis of new, entrepreneurial companies that could become portfolio clients of CI. 

I am excited that UConn and Yale have been selected for these awards.  Whether they realize it or not, they are helping to advance CI’s strategic mission to drive a vibrant, entrepreneurial technology-based economy in Connecticut. I congratulate both UConn and Yale on this noteworthy achievement!

Joan McDonald
Chair, Connecticut Innovations

 

 

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UCONN Partnership to Provide Long-term Economic Benefits

Michael Hogan
President, UCONN

A recent report by State Economist Stan McMillan demonstrates the economic impact of UConn:

  • Ongoing operations at UConn, including the UConn Health Center add $2.3 billion annually to Connecticut’s gross domestic product.
  • UConn’s $456 million in state support attracts an additional $713.5 million to the Connecticut economy.

Existing UConn operations, and initiatives like State Stem Cell Research Grants, lay the groundwork for new economic growth.   The proposed UConn Health Center Partnership with Hartford Healthcare and the Connecticut Health Collaborative can transform the Connecticut economy.  The Partnership creates a world-class center for research, including the creation of one of the nation’s largest academic hospitals and an incubator for biomedical firms.  It includes $25-million to support economic development through biomedical research. This fund, alongside UConn’s established commercialization infrastructure, will spark economic development through innovation and help us leverage the State’s ongoing investment in stem cell research.

The Partnership will put the State on a fast-track to its goal of being a national leader in the biomedical industry, which attracts billions of research dollars annually for medical research. It will catapult the UConn School of Medicine into the top-tier of medical schools by attracting top faculty and additional research support. Research funding for the UConn Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine will increase from nearly $100 million to $300 million annually.

The effect of this funding will reach well beyond the University.  For every $1 million of NIH research funding coming into the State, 18 new jobs will be created.  Thus, the net effect on the Connecticut economy is the creation of 5,400 new jobs in the biomedical field, alone, and over 18,000 new jobs in total.

That’s just the beginning — more research means more inventions.  The rule of thumb is that one invention disclosure is submitted for every $2 million in research funding.  At $300 million annually, we can generate approximately 150 inventions or discoveries each year.  We plan to utilize the $25-million fund mentioned above to move inventions to market, either directly or by creating new businesses.   Even before we leverage this $25 million with additional investment, it can independently generate between 50 and 100 new businesses.

Top quality healthcare, innovative and leading-edge research, a stronger presence in the growing biomedical industry, and new, quality jobs are the long-term benefits within our grasp, for the Connecticut economy.  That’s why this Partnership should go forward.

 

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