Hello Hartford! The Startup Roadshow is in the Capitol City

This month, the Startup Roadshow is in the Hartford region. We’ve been spending our time talking with startup community supporters about the challenges and possibilities here, finding entrepreneurs to profile, talking with the area coworking and incubation spaces and planning our 5/29 Roadshow event at reSET. 

For those who know Connecticut well, you can imagine that the Hartford startup community is very different than Stamford or our home base of New Haven. What’s not surprising is that we are finding people passionate about entrepreneurship, and are finding ways to make it happen in a city that is still finding its way.

If Mark Twain were alive today, I have no doubt that I’d find him tooling around with the MakeHartford group or meeting with startups at reSET and Axis901. The famous author was eternally fascinated with inventions and even held three patents. While he struck out on supporting other people’s ventures and lost a lot of money in his investments, he would have made a perfect interview as a part of the Startup Roadshow because he was passionate about Hartford and its people and eternally curious about turning a good idea into a profitable, worthwhile venture.

The Hartford area is known for hosting a range of entrepreneurs who brought into the world the portable typewriter, dental anesthesia, the Colt .45, insurance, ESPN and much more. Today, the startup world in Hartford is an equally odd mix. Food trucks, small manufacturing, social enterprise, tech, health, the arts and education are some of what we’re uncovering. Like its history, we’re finding that Hartford doesn’t have that “one thing” to identify it. That can be looked at as an opportunity or a hurdle.

When I asked Ray Fraser, the founder of Treesleeve, why he thinks Hartford isn’t bustling with startups. His first response was about culture and environment. “There is nothing open past 8:00 here,” he said. “That’s when entrepreneurs are just getting started.”

We are in active conversations with other startup supporters in the area who echo the lack of buzzing activity, and have been posing ideas and challenges that they see. Some believe clusters are the way to go, supporting the already active areas across the state, while others would like to see statewide support. We’ve heard more than once that young entrepreneurs are moving into cities with public transport to avoid having a car. And, that there is access to capital but that Connecticut is notoriously risk adverse. Hence, the reason why Ray Fraser is crowd funding his effort, and doing well by it, we might add.

As you can see, these inquiries can apply to most of Connecticut. Many times when we ask questions about Hartford, it’s the bigger issues across the board that come up. Is there something else about Hartford that makes it challenging for entrepreneurs? We will continue to investigate and share our findings as we go.

Until then, here are some ways that you can get better connected to the Hartford region:

  • Visit Axis901. This space in downtown artsty Manchester funded by the town recently celebrated its one year anniversary. They have a small and tight knit community of techies, writers, small business, freelancers and others who are beginning to really claim the space as their own and grow it through grassroots efforts.
  • Attend Hartford Code Camp. The 7th annual event is run by  the Connecticut .NET Developers Group and is a free, all day, developer community driven, technically oriented event covering computer programming and related technologies. This event will be held on Saturday May 17, 2014 from 8:30am to 5pm at the New Horizons Training facility in Bloomfield, CT. 
  • Change the future of Hartford and register for SC2 Challenge. As one of three cities across the country chosen, Hartford has been selected to participate in Obama Administration’Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Challenge. The purpose of the initiative is to challenge people to form a team and develop a transformative Economic Development Plan—one that establishes Hartford as The City for entrepreneurs. Teams that develop winning plans will be awarded from a total pool of $800,000. Deadline to register is July 24.
  • Visit MakeHartford. The newest space on Arbor Street refers to themselves as “like TechStars but in Hartford.” There you’ll find people who can’t stop making things — like real things with equipment and their hands. They are bringing an interesting mix to Hartford, by offer a place for makers to go and providing classes such as origami and home brewing.
  • Get to know the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT) and other established support systems like the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center and the Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC). We’ll be doing the same to gather insight about what these organizations are doing to support the startup and small business economy.
  • Keep an eye on Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE). Their membership has grown to 3,000+ and expanded from a happy hour networking group and into several committees and support systems to help young professionals get connected and get involved in the Hartford area community.
  • Celebrate B Corp legislation with reSET. The buzz about town is that social enterprise is now a reality in Connecticut, thanks to the efforts of Kate Emery and team at reSET. We’ve interviewed Kate and will be talking more about what’s next in the journey for entrepreneurs who want to design their businesses to be for profit and social purpose.
  • Tell a story! On 5/29, the Startup Roadshow is partnering with reSET to host, “SocEnt Live! Presents: A Story to Tell.” We are bringing in creative pros to provide entrepreneurs with pointers on what makes a good story and brave souls will be able to get up and tell their stories to a warm, supportive crowd.

And, there is more to come as we profile Hartford entrepreneurs and uncover the possibilities and challenges that make up the startup culture in our Capitol City. Some of you may be saying, “is there a startup culture in Hartford?”

The answer is yes. And, by shedding light on the startup world here we hope to inspire more of you to join in.


About Suzi Craig

Suzi Craig
Suzi Craig is Director of Community Development for Independent Software (www.indie-soft.com) and is leading the 2014 Startup Roadshow effort for The Whiteboard. She brings Connecticut entrepreneurs closer to each other and available startup resources, and to the compelling reasons for starting and growing a business in the state.

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