The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc. (CCAT), a non-profit economic development organization, is a valuable resource for enhancing high-tech business development throughout Connecticut. Formed in 2004, the organization employs 55 people in its East Hartford, CT location.
CCAT provides expertise in manufacturing technology, education and workforce strategies, information technology (IT) and energy solutions. The organization serves entrepreneurs, innovators, manufacturers, educators, government agencies and non-profits.
Elliot Ginsberg, President and Chief Executive Officer at CCAT has been with the organization more than 10 years. He worked to create CCAT when he was serving as Congressman John Larson’s Chief of Staff. Ginsberg is also on the Board of Directors and represents CCAT as a Strategic Partner of the MetroHartford Alliance.
“When we were working in Washington, Congressman Larson and I spoke about how manufacturing was an important part of the economy in this region,” Ginsberg explained. “We looked at where other sections of the country had success around manufacturing and innovation and engineering. We realized that they were typically part of large military base/research clusters.”
Ginsberg continued, “In Connecticut, we have institutions like Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky, General Dynamics Electric Boat and Hamilton Sundstrand. We have extraordinary aerospace and defense manufacturing strength in this region. Even though they aren’t military installations, these institutions generate work for thousands of companies in a supply chain. So we needed to figure out: How do we create an organization focused on supporting the concentration of aerospace and defense manufacturing in the state, even if we don’t have major military bases?”
According to Ginsberg, CCAT was fortunate because targeted resources were available in the early 2000s. CCAT was granted initial funding from the federal government to initiate a program that would support supply chain manufacturing in Connecticut and throughout the country.
And Ginsberg was committed to the process. “About two years after conceiving the idea and receiving money for the formulation of CCAT, I chose to come back to Connecticut and see it through. It’s been exciting to see CCAT become what we thought it could be almost 15 years ago.”
Ginsberg explains, “I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to lead CCAT. I believe CCAT is a unique national resource—one that inspires innovation and helps sustain economic growth for the state, the region and the country.”
ADVANCED MANUFACTURING AND APPLIED RESEARCH
The organization has many roles. “We have individual initiatives in workforce and education, energy, IT and technology and applied research,” Ginsberg said.
For example, CCAT has an advanced manufacturing center (AMC), which is an applied research lab designed to help companies optimize processes and implement technology improvements. There, companies can use manufacturing technologies such as 3-D printing with metals and plastics, precision machining of metal and composite materials, and reverse-engineering to prototype parts and test implementation assumptions.
“It’s important to note the difference between what we do and what a university does,” said Karen Jarmon, Senior Communications Advisor at CCAT. “When we’re talking about going from a concept to what the product is and how you produce it—which is part of what the AMC does—that’s applied research, it’s not pure research that you may find at a university.”
“Certainly universities in the area can accommodate that, but our approach is to look at what the business is going to be, take that engineering design and help develop it into something,” Ginsberg added.
“A number of companies or small start-ups have come to us with a design concept they wanted to test. At the AMC, they can take that concept and, over a relatively short period of time, produce a prototype, adjust it and then bring it to a test group for validation. The prototype can be tweaked and then two days later there is a new one to test,” he explained. “That’s the beauty of what we do. We really speed that process along and make sure it is that applied type of research, which is a different way of thinking than you’d find at a university.”
The prototyping is beneficial to the entrepreneurial community at CCAT. “It accelerates the capacity to test and verify a new thought you have as an entrepreneur,” Ginsberg said.
“Prototyping is being used to support the entrepreneurial approach of a company that wants to make something differently to compete in a global economy. So, it gives people an idea that there’s a future. If they start here with a good idea they can approach it differently than they have in the past, because they can actually make a prototype – a product that they can hold and physically examine. Someone may have said to them: that’s a great idea, but you can’t make it. Now at the AMC, we can turn an idea into a tangible product, and frankly, we can make it differently.”
CCAT helps companies make connections in unique ways, according to Ginsberg. “We integrate the entrepreneurial work here with the research and the engineers and the prototyping. We’d like to think the people who are doing the entrepreneurial work will have an impact in some cases on the future of manufacturing, so there’s a connection. The energy piece is connected. The workforce is connected. The technology is connected. It’s sometimes a little circuitous, but it all fits together and it all makes sense given CCAT’s mission—to help organizations implement innovative solutions, increase efficiencies and improve workforce development.”
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND EDUCATION
CCAT got into IT as a way of integrating technology with non-profits, schools and libraries throughout Connecticut. For example, the organization runs the IT for the Hartford Public Library and the East Hartford Public Library. “We designed the IT infrastructure of the buildings, incorporating all the latest advances that help youngsters and families and the community learn about information technology,” Ginsberg noted.
“No one would have ever thought we’d be in the IT world,” Ginsberg said. “It became a part of what we do because of opportunities we can give to others. If you looked at who we were going to be on paper, we were not going to be an incubator in the truest sense. We got into it because we have a lot of space and we didn’t need the whole building. The IT segment has grown as we integrate IT with education and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.”
One of the ways CCAT is involved in educational efforts is through its Young Manufacturers Summer Academy. The manufacturing-themed summer program uses hands-on activities, virtual machining and simulation-based learning to introduce sixth to eighth graders to advanced manufacturing.
The company also supports high school and college graduates through a number of paid internships that contribute to the company. “They’re definitely hired not just to make copies,” Ginsberg emphasized.
“CCAT had 16 interns this summer. They ranged from engineering to finance to energy to education to IT. Some interns worked in our Technology, Research and Applications (TRA) unit, which has taken on a number of special projects. One in particular they were working on was the issue of combining coal with biomass to produce liquid jet fuel. So it’s significant research.”
Ginsberg noted that some interns have taken their CCAT experience and created entrepreneurial businesses of their own.
“We’re delighted to be able to transition young adults from school into work. We see it as an opportunity to start a whole generation of people who we hope will work and stay here in Connecticut.”
AN ENTREPRENEURIAL APPROACH
CCAT is committed to helping the entrepreneurial community. And Ginsberg places importance on the term “entrepreneurial.”
“When people think about entrepreneurs, they tend to think of people who are creating start-ups. The better term is probably ‘entrepreneurial,’ because that can relate to people already in business who have to think about how they can be innovative,” Ginsberg explained.
“You have to think of how you as a business owner or an engineer in a company can be more entrepreneurial and how you’re going to help your business grow in a world that’s changing,” he continued. “You have to say, I’m here today, but if I want to grow tomorrow, I’ve got to be entrepreneurial.”
Ginsberg says CCAT views itself as helping those who are entrepreneurial. “At CCAT, we don’t manufacture products,” he said, “rather, we work innovatively to assist companies in making products, integrating advanced technologies and experimenting with new materials and ideas.”
SUPPORTING CONNECTICUT’S ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT
Part of what Ginsberg enjoys most about his work with local entrepreneurs is seeing what people are doing. “I like walking around the building and talking to everyone here. Every day, I see people turning their concepts into reality. It makes me proud to be part of an organization that fosters an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.
“In some respects, without even really thinking about it, CCAT has become part of the entrepreneurial activity for small companies,” he observed. “By defining new processes and new methods by which entrepreneurs can be successful, we are helping local start-ups and innovators take their ideas and grow them into sustainable, successful businesses.”
PROMOTING GROWTH IN THE HARTFORD REGION
CCAT has been a sponsor of the HYPE Entrepreneurship Awards since its first year. “That’s part of my commitment as an organization to the MetroHartford Alliance,” Ginsberg said. “We push pretty hard to have this entrepreneurial world part of the strategic thinking for the Alliance because we believe it, like the manufacturing community, has to be part of the regrowth of Hartford and the region.”
He stresses the importance of keeping business in Connecticut. “The trick is to ensure that things that are going to have to be designed and made are designed and made in Connecticut and not moved to some other place for production and manufacturing.”
CCAT also runs the incubator program in the state of Connecticut and the state’s Small Business Incubator Grant Program (SBIP). “We run this program for all the incubators in Connecticut—17 that are unique business development facilities under the state statute,” Ginsberg explained.
In partnership with the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), the SBIP provides up to $30,000 in grant money to start-up companies working in Connecticut incubators.
SPACE TO FOCUS ON INNOVATION
Ginsberg says one of the things CCAT is proudest about is what the facility can offer to entrepreneurs. The space at CCAT provides access to professional office space and to CCAT’s IT systems and services, including the ability to do video conferencing. Most tenants have their own office space, but CCAT does offer a “flex lease” arrangement in which tenants are guaranteed 60 days a year and use office space on a reservation system. They still have access to all the other amenities.
“We enable them to focus on their business and their innovation and we take care of all their ancillary issues—phone, computer internet access, security—all those things that would be distracting to an entrepreneur,” Ginsberg said.
He says technology has helped in that effort. “Being able to have information in a cloud and letting someone else make decisions to ensure the technology is working means entrepreneurs can focus on business. And, for entrepreneurs, that focus is critical,” he pointed out.
“If they’re worried about all the ancillary responsibilities, they can lose track. By taking care of those things, we help them stay focused on what they’re trying to create. If we can help move more money into their core and less money into the back office that we can provide for them, everybody wins.”
PROVIDING ASSISTANCE, EXPERTISE AND FEEDBACK
In addition to providing physical space and helping with ancillary issues, the organization lends its expertise to help local entrepreneurs. “I think that’s what people have found very positive, is that they have access to professional people here,” Ginsberg said.
“We have experience with federal grant writing, legal contracting and a range of general and administrative duties, so tenants get the benefit of talking to CCAT staff. They have access to our lawyers and finance people who can help them with specific questions. They also have access to our engineers. I don’t want to minimize that,” Ginsberg emphasized. “We have engineers who at times are just providing feedback, answering questions like: Does this theory make sense to you?”
The space at CCAT is different than a co-working space, which is more of an open room concept where people are coming together working. However, there is still a good amount of networking.
“People who have their offices here do get to know other people in the building along with CCAT,” explains Jarmon. “The one tie is that businesses are technology-based. There’s commonality around technology, whether it’s IT, energy, education (STEM-focused), marketing or virtual modeling or manufacturing. There’s daily interaction and opportunity for working together here.”
CCAT refers to its central corridor as “Main Street,” and for good reason. “Everybody can meet at the corner of Main,” said Ginsberg. “And people often collaborate in the hallway or over a cup of coffee.”
“One of our tenants brings people together with different workshops in different sessions on a range of activities for start-ups and smaller companies. Entrepreneurs get to network and meet people in different businesses right here in this facility. That goes on quite frequently and it expands the capacity of what we have to offer as an incubator,” Jarmon added.
The building also houses a few angel investors, which Ginsberg says is helpful to those who are starting new business ventures. “Our tenants get to know one another, so a business owner who is friendly with an angel investor can discuss a business idea without necessarily having to pitch it. They can just get feedback and find out: Will this idea work when I meet with people to ask for funds? You get to form creative kinds of relationships because you’re in a shared space rather than meeting people in a traditional, more formal meeting,” Ginsberg pointed out.
The organization houses all kinds of companies. “As you walk in the main doors you see a wall of plaques representing really diverse companies. Our concern is, if they have a product they’re thinking of, where are they going to make it? How can we help them manufacture it?”
Ginsberg says companies come and go; they may stay one to three years. Successful companies typically move on when they need more space.
HELPING CREATE ENTREPRENEURIAL OPPORTUNITIES
CCAT’s main goal is to provide resources and help. Ginsberg says, “Part of the entrepreneurial role we play is offering our assistance to give people an idea of whether they are on the right track and if their idea is going to work. We put them into a place where they can find people who help them by investing or providing additional feedback. We give them an opportunity to have a place where they can work and succeed.
If we can do that, we’ve fulfilled CCAT’s objective to sustain a sector here in Connecticut.”
CONNECTICUT IS KEY
“Connecticut offers the hope and opportunity that what you think you want to do you can do here, for a length of time,” Ginsberg stated. “We have to convince companies that they’re going to find people here. The jobs have to get created by companies, the companies have to believe they’re going to have people for the jobs.”
According to Ginsberg, part of that process is trying to replicate what other major cities have been doing. “The fact that we’re catching the wave and doing something about it is a positive,” he said.
“There’s a lot of optimism about the growth of the region now. Adding this entrepreneurial program to the blend accentuates the fact that people believe this community can be something special.”