Vice President of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Jeff Pugliese (standing) with Tim Laubacher (right) and Ryan McAraw (left) of Sound Web Solutions at the MEWS+ co-working space.

The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce recently opened the Middletown Entrepreneurs Work Space (MEWS+) in Middletown, CT. The co-working initiative is designed for startups, small businesses, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and the Wesleyan University community.

The focus is to create a space for entrepreneurs to collaborate and turn ideas into businesses; encourage communication between public, private, and institutional organizations; and develop an innovative partnership of entrepreneurs and professional resources to bolster economic growth in Middlesex County.

Innovation Destination Hartford spoke with Jeff Pugliese, Vice President of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, to learn more about the initiative.

NAN PRICE: Why open a working space in Middletown?

JEFF PUGLIESE: The whole idea started with Middletown applying for an Innovation Places grant. The Middlesex Chamber was leading the application process and I was the lead liaison for the project. I had previously staffed the chamber’s Micro Business Council and the Young Professionals Alliance. I also support a number of economic development initiatives in Middlesex County, so I was very interested in the process.

Although we weren’t successful with designation, we learned a lot during the application process. We saw the cities selected for Innovation Places grant funding already had existing innovation infrastructure they were strategically working to build on. We learned we had to go back to square one and begin to develop our innovation ecosystem from scratch. We believe the MEWS+ will establish that infrastructure and we want our chamber to be at the forefront of that effort.

NAN: How did it all come together?

JEFF: To truly develop this concept, we needed a dedicated work space for the entrepreneur community to call home. We converted the second floor of the chamber’s Main Street facility into a fully functioning co-working space that is centrally located, accessible through public transportation, and within walking distance to Wesleyan University.

The MEWS+ co-working space in Middletown, CT offers space for startups, small businesses, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and the Wesleyan University community to collaborate and work.

We decided to call it the Middletown Entrepreneurs Work Space, or the MEWS+ for short. All of this is only possible because of our founding sponsors: CTNext, the City of Middletown, Wesleyan University, Liberty Bank, and Middlesex Hospital. I can’t thank them enough for their support.

NAN: What’s with the “+”?

JEFF: The “+” is for all the related innovation content, which we hope will draw in all types of local entrepreneurs and businesses. The MEWS+ is more than the space. We plan to host meetups and networking events and invite speakers—local entrepreneurs, Wesleyan professors and alums, and others with success stories to share. We plan to host office hours at the space that will connect our members to key resources such as business counselors, attorneys, accountants, marketing experts, and more. We’re also working with the Launch EZ platform to provide a comprehensive resource database for our entrepreneurs.

NAN: The proximity to Wesleyan University is significant to the MEWS+.

JEFF: It is. We want the MEWS+ to be a key resource for the Wesleyan student body and the entire university community. Our hope is to develop MEWS+ curriculum that complement Wesleyan’s campus activities. We plan to connect Wesleyan students with downtown Middletown and with Middlesex County’s business community in a more strategic way than we ever have. So many students at Wesleyan are doing amazing things in entrepreneurship and in other areas. We want to support their development in any way we can. Wesleyan is critical to this whole effort.

NAN PRICE: When did the MEWS+ officially open?

JEFF: The MEWS+ opened June 19, but we continue to roll out new content and options for our members and other interested parties.

NAN: How many people are utilizing the space so far?

JEFF: We have one company that is officially utilizing the space as its headquarters. A number of others use the space for client meetings, staff development, and other purposes. The MEWS+ is also a resource for the chamber’s membership, which has been great.

NAN: What do you enjoy most about working with local entrepreneurs?

JEFF: I learn a lot from them. Entrepreneurs have a different way of thinking. They have interesting perspectives and varied life experiences—some work full time, some are creating a second career, some just have a great idea and aren’t sure where to take it, some are frustrated with their current workplace, and some just want to bounce ideas off people that come from different places and different backgrounds. I’ve certainly learned more from them than they have learned from me, but we are proud to offer a place where they can all meet and learn from each other.

NAN: Where do you see the future of the MEWS+?

JEFF: We see the MEWS+ as both a co-working space and a hub for entrepreneurial innovation. I’m really focused on related content such as events. We’re hoping to start an innovation focused podcast and plan to hold office hours with local professionals from important fields. We want to ensure local entrepreneurs have access to the resources that are available to them through the MEWS+ and the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce.

We also want to provide access to other innovative activities throughout Connecticut. We want to host “field trips” to innovative pockets throughout the state and encourage collaboration.

We want to be absolutely certain that we are a resource for the Wesleyan community, most notably, the student body.

I envision the MEWS+ as an innovation hub with its headquarters in Middletown that will eventually grow county wide. The long-term goal is to create a local innovation ecosystem in Middlesex County that will fuel economic growth and complement our other economic strengths: manufacturing, tourism, and healthcare.

I think we’re off to a strong start.

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