Lalitha Shivaswamy is Founder and President of Helios Management Corp. Her company is contracted with the MetroHartford Alliance and offers growth advisory services to eligible companies in the Greater Hartford region through a grant from CTNext.
Lalitha recently appeared on FOX 61 to discuss her efforts. Learn about the business advisor services she provides to growing companies in the Hartford area and beyond.
Lalitha told Innovation Destination Hartford about the progress she’s made since her work with the MetroHartford Alliance began in April 2016 and the many benefits of growing a business in Connecticut.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: Describe the work you’re doing with entrepreneurs and small businesses throughout Greater Hartford.
LALITHA SHIVASWAMY: We help second-stage companies grow and stay in Connecticut. Second-stage companies are those entities that have made it past the startup phase. These companies have revenues, customers, and employees—and also potential for high growth. They are now ready to “graduate” from being a successful entrepreneurship to an actual enterprise.
There is a gap between these two identities and we provide services to help bridge them through that gap. We focus on helping in the areas of strategy, organizational development, marketing, and capital structure with the intention of readying these companies for scale.
We also identify support services and resources available in the Greater Hartford region—from CTNext to the MetroHartford Alliance and higher educational organizations, such as the entrepreneurial centers in the universities.
IDH: Tell us about the challenges of finding and engaging these companies. The usual perception is that Connecticut is starved for growth.
LS: I strongly believe that Connecticut is a land of hidden treasures. As Nutmeggers we have a tendency to be modest. We don’t like flamboyance and what doesn’t get touted doesn’t get noticed.
But if you really “observe” you will notice there are plenty of companies that are in the $2 million to $5 million revenue range that have made to that level entirely by themselves. They now need to connect with resources and opportunities for growth, both as companies and also for these successful entrepreneurs who must now grow to become executives.
Part of what I really enjoy about this project is being able to find that out—and to realize that there are specific services that are not only good for the companies we’re working with, but they are also good for developing economic growth in Connecticut.
IDH: In what ways are these companies contributing to economic growth here in Connecticut?
LS: We want to give these companies the capabilities to scale. And when they scale they will need more people and thereby create the need for more jobs in the Greater Hartford area. When I mean more jobs, I envision not just increasing headcount, but also needing service providers such as lawyers, accountants, HR consulting services, lenders, and investors. To help them through the initial steps of their next stage of growth and increase velocity within this area would be fantastic.
IDH: The program is really helping people make connections.
LS: Yes. In my experience, helping these companies make connections I’ve noticed that getting them “out there” helps them make connections not just within the entrepreneurial community, but also brings together the right mentors and potential advisors. It also helps find the right fit in terms of service providers.
IDH: What types of companies are you working with?
LS: I’m currently working with 15 good-quality companies in a variety of industries including wellness, telecommunications, precision manufacturing, personalized meal service, and road safety equipment manufacturing. They are all headed by very driven individuals who are looking to grow and execute their vision for not just their companies, but also for themselves.
These companies need support related to growth—grooming them for the next stage of growth, helping with product development, developing lender and investor relationships, and so forth. Also, these companies are also interested in being involved in initiatives throughout Connecticut.
IDH: In what ways are you helping?
LS: We want to get the word out that these growth advisory services are available. However, I will tell budding entrepreneurs not to self select themselves out of the process. The programs under CTNext are varied enough to absorb any type of vision of growth.
That is the beauty of Connecticut. It is a forward-looking state. For instance, some companies may not necessarily be in the growth stage. They may have a startup element to them. We want to know about these companies too, so we can work with organizations such as reSET to help provide direction.
Also, there are four of us doing this and we’re split geographically. If companies are not in the Greater Hartford area, I still encourage them to contact Helios, as I can then put them in touch with the right person.
Additionally, some companies are larger but still have a growth elements to them. They need better management or help to grow their strategies. Or there are small programs within large companies that need this kind of growth support. In those cases, I can work with the MetroHartford Alliance to see if the company is a good fit. If it’s not, we’ll find another organization that can help.
We want to work with as many Connecticut services and resources as possible. The more we collaborate, the more value we can deliver to these companies.
IDH: How did you connect with the MetroHartford Alliance?
LS: I used to work for Horizon Technology Finance, a venture lending company located in Farmington. I was their portfolio manager for about 5 ½ years. When I told Horizon about wanting to grow Helios, the CEO introduced me to the Martin Roth, who is the Dean of the University of Hartford Barney School of Business. Dean Roth and I had several conversations, and he referred my name to the Alliance.
IDH: What compels you to help second-stage companies and entrepreneurs?
LS: I really believe in entrepreneurship. I’m an entrepreneur myself.
As a venture lending portfolio manager, you’re surrounded by startups—companies that are coming up with the next big thing. There is this passion to change the world and to want to enrich yourself and everybody around you. I really liked it. The people are so smart, passionate, and motivated.
As an immigrant, to be able to take an idea and create something valuable is the true American dream. Also, I really believe Connecticut is a wonderful place to live and grow, both personally and professionally. The size of the state is small, but not too small. The rule of law is strong. The quality of life is enviable. There are many great things happening here if you just take a moment to look.
IDH: Final words. What do you enjoy most about working with Connecticut entrepreneurs?
LS: What I’m finding really rewarding about this particular assignment is that I get to meet people who have fantastic ideas and need a little bit of help getting it from idea to actual execution. Because this is their dream. To be able to facilitate that growth is really rewarding to me personally and professionally.
I’m working with truly remarkable companies and discovering so many amazing things about the Greater Hartford region—Connecticut really is a great place to start and grow a business.
With regard to the people, these entrepreneurs have so much passion and so much willingness to move their ideas forward. To be able to charter a path for them is a really powerful thing to do.