Category: Sponsor Guest Article (page 1 of 2)

Simplifying HR, Benefits and Payroll with Technology

JasonJason DeLaurentis
Corporate Benefit Planning Consultant
CBP

Whether your company is firmly established with hundreds of employees or is a new, two-man startup, managing your human resources, benefits and payroll functions is not an easy job. The employee responsible for those areas must stay on top of an increasing number of reporting rules, federal and state regulations and data management requirements, and, unless your systems are integrated, likely is not able to make complex decisions quickly. Tracking data through disparate manual systems and complying with myriad rules and regulations can be a costly drain on resources, leaving your employee frustrated and your company vulnerable to risk. Fortunately, new digital services designed to streamline these functions are cropping up everywhere. Read on to see if one might be right for you. Continue reading

Financing Growth Ventures to Minimize Equity Dilution

jackhayesJack Hayes
Venture Founders

An entrepreneurial team’s mission is to develop and grow its venture and to optimize the management team’s equity ownership stake. Significant growth usually requires substantial development and expansion capital, often in the form of equity investments. These investments take equity from the management team and put it in the hands of the investors who provide the capital for development and growth.

At BioHybrid Technologies and Sensor Technologies, two Shrewsbury, Massachusetts-based high technology startup ventures developing novel ways to treat diabetes, our management team raised over $50 million of technology development financing without any resulting equity dilution. We raised approximately $8 million through federal government and private foundation grants. We raised the balance—slightly more than $46 million—from three corporate alliances, which funded our two ventures’ technology developments in exchange for rights to the developed technologies. Continue reading

Lean Is Easy, After It’s Not…

Andy Moss
Founder, Lean Launch Ventures

Once you have the answer to a difficult problem, you often wonder why you didn’t see the solution so much sooner. After learning to be “lean,” you are likely to wonder the same thing. The lean methodology, which facilitates early market experimentation, has its roots in manufacturing, process efficiency and earlier times in the digital world.

In the era of room-filling mainframes, expensive cycle times and long compilations forced programmers to think through every permutation of what the user or businesses might possibly ever need before submitting the program. Programs had to be right the first time, or at least have minimal iterations.

The rise of the PC changed how systems were conceived and constructed by making computing time effectively free. Iterative incremental development became the favored development approach. Waterfall methodologies gave way to rapid application development. The introduction of the graphical user interface made programmers focus on quickly developing the screens, panels and windows users interacted with to get feedback frequently, before the system was completed. In this era, distribution was the bottleneck: shipping shrink-wrapped software was expensive and time consuming.

Now is the time to be lean. Planning methodologies provide a vocabulary for communications. Synchronizing business planning with technical implementation is critical. Much has been written about “Internet time” and the blink of an eye in which new ideas, concepts and even whole businesses can be created. The lean method captures the power of today’s computing capabilities and combines it with the drive for new innovation – business, technical and social. The lean approach to innovation became popular among startups, but it has just as much applicability across a range of company sizes, types and industries. To paraphrase Beth Comstock, CMO at GE, “Lean applies to jet engines as much as any other part of the business.” Today, it’s easy, cheap and quick to make minimum viable products (MVPs) available to customers to get their direct feedback as often as needed.

Lean methodologies facilitate communications and provide a means for validating, measuring and tracking market acceptability of new ideas. More and more people are pursuing innovative endeavors, creating a hypercompetitive marketplace. At the heart of being lean is the ability to rapidly test new hypotheses (guesses) about what your customer might want and be willing to pay for.

At Lean Launch Ventures, we help startups, growth companies and large enterprises learn to think and act lean. Being lean is as much a culture as a methodology. We bring the collective experience of our founders and mentors to help find unobvious ways to innovation and clear business results. We are actively seeking applications from dynamic startups for the spring class. Interested companies can apply here: http://www.f6s.com/leanlaunchventuresspring2013. Growth and larger enterprises interested in outside input to innovation efforts can send inquires to info@LLVentures.co.

(NOTE: In January, Connecticut Innovations announced a partnership with Lean Launch Ventures, which now manages the state’s newest business accelerator program.)

Online Marketing for LEED

Rob Freeman Jr.
President, Green Buildings Online, Inc.

As our world’s population grows, adoption of green building rating systems, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), can only increase. But the growing demand for sustainability is only part of the story behind LEED’s potential staying power… Indeed, it’s the business enhancements, combined with LEED’s sustainable focus, that give LEED the greatest chances for long-term success.

For example, building owners see LEED as an appealing marketing tool that can increase building value by approximately 11%. Tenants are attracted to LEED buildings because they see that increasing employee productivity by just 1% can reduce their costs by up to $1.30 per square foot. The building construction industry is also finding new revenue streams in sustainable building products.

So if you are part of the building industry, how do you get started and participate in the business of sustainability?

Start by Getting to Know LEED

Learning how LEED works is the best way to kickstart your business’s green marketing efforts. Think of LEED as a lens through which your business can be viewed using an established sustainability framework. LEED uses a points-based system to award tiered levels of certification to buildings that fulfill different credits and prerequisites across several categories of sustainability. The main categories are:

  • Sustainable sites
  • Water efficiency
  • Energy & atmosphere
  • Materials & resources
  • Indoor environmental quality
  • Innovation in design

Once you know where your business fits within these categories, you’ll need to craft your sustainability message and present this information in a clear and organized way on your website.

Only Seconds to Connect on the Web

With social media everywhere, and everyone’s face planted in a mobile device, you only have seconds to make a connection with someone. People scan articles online, but rarely read. Indeed, because online media feels so fleeting, there has never been a greater opportunity to show you genuinely care about a customer’s time by delivering what they’re looking for in as few clicks as possible.

Site Organization

While every site is different, your sustainability information should generally be at the top of your homepage and easy for visitors to navigate to.

Offer an obvious menu item called “LEED” with two dropdown menu options that read “About” and “LEED Credits.” Your “About” section is an opportunity to educate new visitors, provide an overview of what LEED is and explain why sustainability is important and relevant to your business and industry. In your “LEED Credits” menu item, you can get specific and describe which credits and prerequisites your products or services are appropriate for.

Visitors to your site who are familiar with LEED may be hoping your product fulfills a specific credit, and making it easy to find this information will leave them with a good impression.

Site Content

Explain in plain English how your product or service can help and why. For instance, if you are in the asphalt business and offer pervious paving solutions for roadways, your product could help an architect or developer earn credits in the “Sustainable Sites” category of LEED. In this example, you might go into detail explaining about the importance of mitigating water pollution and reducing stormwater runoff and how your product does this.

It is important to note that while green building products themselves are never LEED certified, misinformed customers may still insist that they need products that are LEED certified. This is a common misconception. Indeed, “How do I get my products LEED certified?” is a question that is often submitted to us on our LEED education site, Green-Buildings.com.

Of course, if you aren’t sure how your product fits, and don’t have time to research every LEED rating system, there are experienced LEED consultants who would be eager to help. As we believe this is a growing field, we recently launched Poplar Network, to make it easier for people to find experienced green building professionals with a particular specialty or geographic focus.

Your Reputation

In addition to being clear and using simple navigation, establishing trust is critical to creating a connection with a potential buyer.

If your company has been involved in LEED certification projects, put those examples front and center, explain how your employees contributed and, whenever possible, include a case study about how your product was used. Describe the project in detail and ask to interview the architect or designer who chose your product and what was achieved by using it. Simple, honest words from customers can also be very helpful and case studies give you an opportunity to tell a story.

Of course, these are just a few things to consider when crafting your website’s sustainability message… but by considering your site’s organization, content and reputation, you’ll be making it simple for visitors to find what they’re looking for, regardless of their level of knowledge.

And hopefully they’ll feel good about your company as a potential solution and you’ll create a new connection with a customer.

 

 

 

 

Innovation Ecosystem Draft RFQ

The State of Connecticut is working with entrepreneurs, economic development organizations and institutions to build a world-class system of support for innovation and entrepreneurship. Over the last six months members of Connecticut’s innovation community collaborated to design a framework for this system, which will involve a matrix of organizations and both public and private investment. Before releasing the official Request for Qualifications (RFQ), the State would like input on this Draft RFQ. Please review this document and send all comments and critique to innovationct@gmail.com by 5pm, January 13.

Thank you!

Kip Bergstrom Deputy Commissioner
Department of Economic and Community Development

Getting Started: How to Turn Your Venture Idea into a Startup

Alena Gribskov
Communications & Program Manager, Yale Entrepreneurial Institute

So you have an idea for a new venture, and you think it could be the next big thing — but how, exactly, do you get started? How do you turn “idea” into “startup”?

As we help undergraduate and graduate students start and accelerate their ventures at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, we frequently see just this predicament. Students come to us having identified a potential hole in a market and with the foundations of a unique solution in hand. But launching a startup can seem overwhelming and confusing, and for the first-time entrepreneur, it’s not always clear where to begin.

In our experience mentoring student-led companies like YouRenew, PaperG, Hadapt, and Green Bride Guide, to name a few, the most vital elements of a venture’s early days come down to team and execution. 

And luckily, the way to jumpstart both is the same: start talking to people. Tell them your idea. Even better, show them your idea—if it’s a website, create wireframes and walk them through it; if it’s a product, bring along your prototype. Ask them if they think it’s viable, if they’d use it, and most importantly, if they would pay for it right now (we all feel some social pressure to tell our friends they have a great idea—but money speaks louder than words!). If they say yes, sign them up for your beta product! If they say no, try to figure out why. What problem could you solve better? How do you need to solve it?

Many entrepreneurs feel an initial reluctance to share their ideas, but doing so can yield a surfeit of new knowledge and inspiration. And while there are a few rare instances where such open disclosure may not make sense (if you have protectable intellectual property, for instance), in almost all cases we’ve seen tremendous benefit in being out there pounding the pavement. (For those worried about others “stealing their idea,” we often remind them of the struggle they themselves are going through at the moment.    The truth is that most people you talk to won’t have the same passion for your idea, the same skills, or the same drive—starting a company is hard, after all. Plus, in a city like New Haven, there is a great deal of good will: people just want to help.)

After walking your connections, their connections, and even—perhaps—total strangers through your product, you will have a crystal-clear understanding not only of what you should be building, but also exactly how much demand there is for it. You may have found a new team member or an experienced mentor, and you now know precisely what you need to execute.

As we’ve seen so often with the students we have advised, once you have that certainty of mission and the excitement of momentum behind you, the next step often becomes clear.

Employee Stock Ownership in the Real World

Posted on May 10, 2011 by David M. Levine, principal, Cohen and Wolf

As a recruiting tool, and to compensate a talent pool it can not afford to pay well, startup technology companies like to offer stock options to key employees. Stock options give the employee the psychological gratification of owning a piece of the company’s upside and inspires teamwork. If the company is a well-oiled startup, an incentive stock option plan can be an integral component of the founders’ entrepreneurial engine. But often this motivated employee is blinded by the libidinous rush of ownership and fails to realize what the option truly is, and isn’t.

I have reviewed stock option agreements for employees leaving jobs to join startups at varying stages of development. Startups may fall into two categories: the shrewd, forward-thinking company or the sloppy, shortcut-taking company. The forward-thinking company will formulate, adopt and implement a stock option plan that is so skewed toward management as to render the options something of “fool’s gold.” For example, the plan and accompanying stock option agreement might (1) provide that the option is forfeited upon termination of employment regardless of the reason for the employee’s separation from the company, (2) give the company a “call” on the shares purchased after exercise of the option, (3) give broad latitude to the option committee to change the terms of the option program at any time, or (4) all of the above and more.
 
The shortcut-taking company might take an off-the-shelf stock option plan that the founders picked up off the Internet and change the names and little else, and adopt the plan without consideration of key legal questions, or worse yet, offer employees options in a plan that has yet to be formulated. 

Those startups that have undergone a round of private investment typically fall into the shrewd and forward-thinking category, while those that have yet to attract outside investment typically fall into the shortcut-taking company. 

A recruited employee will forward me the offer letter containing clear “at-will” language, meaning that he can be fired for any reason or no reason. “But I’m getting stock options,” he’ll often tell me. I ask to review the stock option documents. One client’s document contained a provision stating that the option, already vesting slowly over a period of years, would terminate upon a sale or change in control in the company. I told the client that a company sale is when he would want the option to accelerate, not terminate. If a suitor thought enough of the company to buy it or to acquire a controlling share, then my client likely helped build the company into being an attractive target. My client argues this point directly with his potential employer in negotiations, but to no avail. The potential employer could have had any number of reasons to include that provision, including (a) the concern that it was too rich and generous to accelerate options so potentially quickly, or (b) the fear that a suitor, as a potential successor-employer, would be scared off at the prospect of having to offer a similar replacement benefit to retain the employee after the sale took place, to name a few. 

At least this employer had thought through these one-sided option terms. Other employers provide stock options that are undefined and amorphous because the company is so primitive and underdeveloped that it has yet to adopt the option plan it describes in the offer letter. Whether options are clear, unambiguous and skewed toward the employer, or vague and underdeveloped, what really do the options give the employee but the illusion of ownership?

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Join Us! Learn How University Resources Propel Technology Commercialization

Rita Zangari
Executive Director, UConn’s Technology Incubation Program, and Director, Office of Technology Commercialization

Join entrepreneurs, inventors, industry and investors at UCONN’s Student Union at Storrs on May 25 for “Connecting Opportunities: Driving Innovation through University Resources.” This program is for anyone with an interest in technology commercialization with a particular eye toward utilization of resources (e.g. technology experts, specialized equipment, business incubator labs, students) available at UCONN to support entrepreneurs, startups and mature companies. 

Our featured speaker is a prominent HUSKY and School of Engineering Alumnus, Scott Case, Founder of Priceline who was recently appointed by President Obama as CEO of Startup America. You can read more about the event at the link below. We hope that this event will attract others like Scott who are interested in new building new relationships to support technology transfer and entrepreneurship.

For more information about the event, click here.

This event is hosted by the Connecticut Venture Group, and the University of Connecticut School of Engineering; School of Business, Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation; The UCONN Office of Technology Commercialization; the UCONN R&D Corp; and the Alumni Association.

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StemCONN 2011: Connecticut’s Stem Cell Leadership Continues

Paul Pescatello
President and CEO, CURE (Connecticut United for Research Excellence)

StemCONN 2011, held March 22 in Farmington, brought together over 375 scientists, businesspeople, investors, and students to hear the progress taking place in stem cell research, around the world and in Connecticut in particular. The event, the third in a series that began with StemCONN 07 in Hartford in 2007, met with great success on a scientific, commercial, and policy level.

On the scientific level, speakers included such distinguished national stem cell researchers as Fiona Doetsch of Columbia, Kevin Eggan of Harvard, and Shahin Rafii of Cornell, in addition to Connecticut’s own Gordon Carmichael of the UConn Health Center, David Goldhamer of UConn, and Valerie Horsley and Laura Niklason of Yale. You can download the abstracts of their remarks and the poster session at the event by visiting the StemCONN website at http://stemconn.org/.

On the commercial level, the event included a panel featuring investor Tim Shannon of Canaan Partners, former Pfizer executive John McNeish, and stem-cell-researchers-cum-entrepreneurs Caroline Dealy, director of research at Chondrogenics, and Richard Malavarca, executive vice president at GigaCyte. Their wide-ranging and “what’s-happening-in-the-real-world” panel discussion made it clear that, although the therapeutic application of stem cells in the treatment of disease has not yet arrived, real businesses based on stem cells, such as Branford’s Gigacyte, are here already. (Click here for more details.)

Perhaps most satisfying of all, this year’s StemCONN included a visit by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, who told the audience, “Connecticut supports you.” He said that the bioscience industries are a significant part of Connecticut’s economic future, and he pledged to back stem cell research in particular beyond the state’s current $100 million commitment. (Click here for more details.)

As the Governor has said on numerous occasions, we’re a small state, but we’ve always been willing to work hard to stay competitive. It is gratifying to see we intend to maintain the leadership role we’ve established in an important area of bioscience research.

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ICN’s Solution to Coupon Fraud

Gary Oakley
CEO, Intelligent Clearing Network Inc. (ICN)

Many retailers have attempted to control coupon redemption fraud by loading details about fraudulent coupons to their point of sale (POS). However, this process is time consuming and has limits on the number of fraudulent coupon definitions that can be maintained. With the introduction of the new GS1 DataBar coupon standard in January and full implementation expected in June 2011, coupons will contain more information than current UPC-A barcodes. 

This is where ICN’s technology can help. ICN’s new Fraud Prevention Service will support the new GS1 DataBar standard and eliminate the need for retailers to manage fraudulent coupon definitions at the POS.

ICN has developed a patent pending process for the industry’s first system to clear and validate GS1 paper coupons electronically at the POS. ICN’s system, which includes the Fraud Prevention Service, expedites the clearing and settlement process electronically. Among other things, this will result in increased checkout speed, reduction of customer disputes with cashiers, increased productivity and elimination of coupon redemption fraud.

We are delighted that Connecticut Innovations believes in our system and our team and served as lead investor in the $1 million funding round we raised recently. You may read more about ICN and this funding round in CI’s press release.

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