Innovation Destination Hartford spoke with Senator Scott Frantz (R-36th), who co-authored the Entrepreneur Learner’s Permit with State Representative Caroline Simmons (D-144). The new law, which was signed by Governor Dannel Malloy and went effect on July 1, 2016, encourages entrepreneurship and job growth in Connecticut.
The law was created to assist first-time entrepreneurs in launching information services, biotechnology, and green technology startups by providing reimbursements for state filing, permitting, or licensing fees associated with forming their businesses in Connecticut. The Entrepreneur Learner’s Permit program will be managed by Connecticut Innovations.
IDH: How did you become involved with writing the new law?
FRANTZ: This goes back to 1993, when I was first offered a spot on the Connecticut Development Authority Board. Even though they were separate from Connecticut Innovations at the time, the Board did some venture capital investor/private equity investor type of work with Connecticut Innovations.
Being highly involved with the entrepreneurial world, I felt not enough was being done for entrepreneurs. This goes back 23 years. We always tried to do things that would benefit the community and benefit the entrepreneur. But it wasn’t until I got into the state Senate many years later that we tried to do something that would ease the burden when someone wanted to start a company in the state of Connecticut. As we all know, it’s a huge amount of paperwork. The regulations are onerous, to say the least, and it’s expensive.
The name “Entrepreneur Learner’s Permit” came from Mike Roer, President of the Entrepreneurship Foundation. The idea of trying to help out entrepreneurs has been a long-term goal of Mike and many others.
The idea for the new law goes back a couple years—you usually don’t succeed the first time you start with an initiative. This one actually went fairly quickly. It only took two years.
Part of the magic of what happened and its success was partnering with Caroline Simmons along the way. She became a huge proponent and supporter of this bill. She’s on the Commerce Committee as well and had a very positive influence with the democratic side of the equation.
The bill did very well. It received unanimous approval from both chambers, which is nearly unheard of. We are very happy about that. Now it is in law and hopefully being used to the maximum degree.
IDH: How did Connecticut Innovations become involved with the Entrepreneur Learner’s Permit?
FRANTZ: Another person who has been instrumental in enabling this concept to move forward and to allow it to be funded is Matt McCooe, who is the Chief Executive Officer at Connecticut innovations. He’s the one who is essentially funding this program going forward.
These days, with the fiscal challenges at the state level, it’s impossible to get new money coming into the equation so we had to use existing money. Connecticut Innovations has put up $1 million over two years to pay for the Entrepreneur Learner’s Permit program, which we think is going to meet every need out there during that two-year period. And then hopefully we can get it extended after that.
Matt, of all people, completely appreciates what an entrepreneur goes through when they launch a startup and he was very enthusiastic about the idea right off the bat, so we are very grateful to him as well as everyone else at Connecticut Innovations.
IDH: Why the focus on information services, biotechnology, and green technology startups?
FRANTZ: The purpose was to get the focus down to industries that offer great promise for the future of Connecticut.
IDH: In what ways do you think the Entrepreneur Learner’s Permit program will contribute to economic growth and innovation in Connecticut?
FRANTZ: Whenever you have startups occurring—and particularly if they are successful—you get beginnings of critical mass. We’ve had that in the past in Connecticut, going way back 100 to 150 years. Connecticut had entrepreneurs all over the place basically inventing industries—clocks, arms, tobacco, insurance, etc.
Connecticut turned itself into one of the greatest states in the entire country, especially on a per capita basis. For a long period of time, about 75 to 100 years, Connecticut was always recognized in the top three states. There’s been a reversal more recently, so it’s super important that we bring back the entrepreneurial spirit and try to retain as much industry as we possibly can.
Industries such as information services, biotechnology, and green technology may give Connecticut a much brighter future. It all has to do with the fabric of our economy, job growth, and the future. Hanging onto the younger folks in Connecticut has been a problem. Many have been leaving the state in the last 20 years or so because they feel the opportunities are greater in other places. If we have great young companies here hiring left and right throughout Connecticut, then we’ve got something to hang our hats on.
IDH: It sounds like the Entrepreneur Learner’s Permit program can have a huge impact on Connecticut’s overall economic growth and development.
FRANTZ: I hope so! I’m grateful that the team came together. It is a completely bipartisan effort to show the people of Connecticut—and outside of Connecticut—that we can work together on things that are exciting and productive.
I’d love for as many people as possible to spread the word about the Entrepreneur Learner’s Permit. I don’t think any other state has it. They may have programs that are similar, but they don’t have an Entrepreneur Learner’s Permit like we do in Connecticut.
Find out more about the Entrepreneur Learner’s Permit program or apply for a permit by visiting http://ctnext.com/entrepreneur-learners-permit.