CTNext: The Startup View From Stamford, CT

On October 25th, Governor Malloy launched the state’s innovation ecosystem, called CTNext.  As the Whiteboard becomes the official blog of CTNext, startup leaders from the “Hubs” that make up CTNext will share their thoughts and insight on local startup activity and all things entrepreneurial.  Be sure to check in regularly to follow the stories of what’s happening at a Hub near you. 

Connecticut’s Innovation Ecosystem (CTNext) is an exciting program that shows a great deal of creativity and maturity in its design.  Rather than tell leaders around the state exactly how they expect startup communities to be developed, each of the four Hubs (Stamford, New Haven, Hartford, Storrs) have been funded with the realization that the State needs to empower leaders to do what is right for their community.

At the Stamford Innovation Center, we take our mission quite seriously.  We know that there are several factors that set us apart from other regions:  proximity to NYC (38 Miles, 40 Minutes by train), a tremendous physical asset (if you haven’t seen our 16,000 square foot facility, please come on down), proximity to high net-worth investors across Fairfield County, and access to a tremendous font of intellectual capital — much of which spends a good part of each day on Metro-North, wishing they could work on exciting projects close to home.

Access to investors and to intellectual capital are great — but those two ingredients on their own will not produce a growing slate of viable startups.  Both of these communities need help.

Odds are against even the smartest and most experienced executives becoming successful startup people out of the box.  There are a number of factors at play, but I’ll paraphrase Bob Dorf and Steve Blank for two of them:

  1. Startups are not smaller versions of corporations.  So the skills that many of our smartest people have may need to be re-tuned to meet the needs of a startup.
  2. We don’t have a culture of failure.  We need to embrace the idea that many of the startups we meet and work with will fail.  And that is OK.  Great startups are built on the ruins of failed startups.  Entrepreneurs who fail are known as experienced entrepreneurs.  While we don’t wish failure on any of the companies who come through our doors, we need those experienced entrepreneurs and those stories of failure to be known throughout our community so that we can all learn and create better companies.

The other group that needs to get “organized” is the investors.  While there are angel investors in our region, it appears that much of the investable assets in our region are going into hedge funds.  But as David Teten, partner at ffVentures shows in this presentation, Angel investing, when done right, can actually produce better results on a more consistent basis than Venture Capital or Hedge Fund investing.  We look forward to working with David and others in the Venture and Angel community to educate those who wish to invest in startups.

So that’s the mission — easy, right?  All we have to do is get a bunch of companies to startup, have a few success stories (this is actually happening at a great pace), and get the investment community excited about what they are producing.  The funny thing is, where we sit at the Stamford Innovation Center, both of these difficult “organization” efforts feel well within our grasp.

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