Connecticut Innovations, which oversees CTNext, operates through state funding to provide a range of financing for entrepreneurs and startup companies throughout Greater Hartford. The company acts as an investment firm specifically for Connecticut-based tech companies in early stages of development.
Known as “Connecticut’s innovation ecosystem,” CTNext arms entrepreneurs and startups with resources, guidance and networking opportunities to encourage business growth and success. Innovation Destination: Hartford sat down with CTNext Senior Program Associate Jessica Dodge to find out more about the organization’s initiatives.
Dodge, whose background includes working with non-profits and small businesses, is excited about the many ways CTNext supports Hartford-area entrepreneurs and was happy to discuss the organization’s Entrepreneur Innovation Awards program.
IDH: Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and private-sector leaders collaborated to establish CTNext in the 2011 Connecticut Jobs Bill. The goal was to support the growth of entrepreneurs and startup companies throughout Connecticut. What type of support does CTNext provide?
DODGE: CTNext provides Connecticut entrepreneurs and local startups with resources to help them grow.
CTNext provides valuable tools for success including access to mentors, advisors, co-working opportunities, networking, licensing and funding. Through CTNext, entrepreneurs and startups can work closely with other state agencies, including Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). We also identify and contract with partners who help the entrepreneurial community find talent, space and mentoring. The partners live in the communities we’re looking to help and serve as an extension of our brand and mission.
Our support services are not restricted to Hartford—we provide help throughout the Greater Hartford region and throughout the state to companies of all types. We also tailor our support to the needs of each individual entrepreneur or startup company. We’re not one size fits all and neither are the entrepreneurs in the ecosystem.
Our ultimate goal is to be the go-to resource for Connecticut entrepreneurs and small businesses. If an entrepreneur is looking for a resource we don’t have, we will connect them to the right place.
At the end of the day, we’re creating jobs, generating revenue and keeping jobs in the state.
IDH: How does the funding work?
DODGE: There are a couple different ways we provide funding. There is the partnership network, in which we provide funding to partners who help to create jobs, boost revenues and source talent in Connecticut. Examples of this include co-working spaces, where small businesses can set up shop and collaborate with other professionals, and entrepreneurs in residence, who help advise businesses on all business aspects from establishing a business and preparing an investor pitch to working on a prototype and hiring your first employee.
There are also small grants available through the Entrepreneur Innovation Awards. These funds are awarded through a competitive process and milestone-based. They can be used toward research and development-related projects such as prototyping, performance testing, product or service development, market research and licensing.
IDH: In addition to funding, what other resources does CTNext make available for Connecticut entrepreneurs and startups?
DODGE: Not all entrepreneurs and startup companies require funding—and many we assist are successful without our financial support. Some just need a sounding board, networking opportunities or marketing and business advice, and we provide that also. Our Entrepreneurs in Residence offer useful guidance and advice. CTNext also has a series of helpful webinars, which are available at the resources section of our website.
Entrepreneurs are better and stronger if they have the tools to do it themselves. We help guide them to the tools they need to become independent and self-sufficient. A startup company’s success is the success of our program.
IDH: One of the key focuses at CTNext is the Entrepreneur Innovation Awards. Tell us about the awards program and the types of entrepreneurs and small businesses involved with it.
DODGE: The Entrepreneur Innovation Awards is a quarterly pitch competition that awards grants to Connecticut-area entrepreneurs and small businesses. We started the program in 2014, and since then we’ve had 30 winners and have awarded approximately $294,000.
Each event draws about 40 applicants that are a good mixture of every type of company. A panel of outside judges reviews their submissions and narrows them down to about 10 finalists.
The finalists pitch their project ideas at a live competition, which is judged by a separate panel. Winners may be awarded up to $10,000 for their project idea. Applicants can submit proposals an unlimited number of times; however, they can only win up to three times, with the potential of being awarded up to $30,000.
IDH: What kind of crowd does the Entrepreneur Innovation Awards Pitch Night draw?
DODGE: Anyone can attend the Entrepreneur Innovation Awards event. The events are free and open to the public. Attendees include investors, venture capital companies, staff, fellow entrepreneurs, service providers, and family and friends of the presenting entrepreneurs. It’s a great opportunity to network and collaborate with 150 like-minded individuals.