By Nan Price, Content Manager, MetroHartford Alliance
What makes Hartford a viable city for New England startups and early-stage companies? Plenty. Hartford is becoming known as a regional innovation hub for startups and entrepreneurs who not only utilize the resources but continue to grow their companies here.
“We see increasing entrepreneurial activity—both in terms of new startups and startups moving into the growth phase and, perhaps more importantly, we see an increase within the public at large acknowledging these trends,” says Hartford Flavor Company co-founder Lelaneia Dubay. She and her husband Tom launched their company in May 2014 and grown their company’s market reach well beyond Connecticut.
Whether you’re launching your first startup, growing an early-stage business, or a serial entrepreneur continuing to create new businesses, Hartford provides resources, access to a vibrant startup community, and, for many, a sense of place.
“The Hartford community is welcoming and encouraging of new businesses,” says Root Down Power Yoga owner Nicole Bengtson, who in decided to locate her new business in the city in April 2019.
Through Innovation Destination Hartford, Hartford area entrepreneurs can read success stories and learn out about initiatives, events, and resources available, which many local startups have engaged with—from financing and ongoing support for growing companies via Connecticut Innovations to expert resources through the Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC).
“We’re helping people translate their dreams into economic opportunities in the state and individual communities throughout Connecticut,” explains State Director Joe Ercolano. “We’re helping the state as a whole and also individual communities.”
When it comes to female entrepreneurs, Hartford ranks fourth in the nation, according to recent Census data. Entrepreneurial programs through the University of Hartford Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center (WBC) provide one-on-one counseling and a variety of training opportunities for aspiring and seasoned women entrepreneurs.
Accelerators and Incubators
Known as the fourth best tech city, according to 2018 data from the Brookings Institution, Hartford is at the forefront of tech innovation.
“We are creating an innovation/maker ecosystem in the Hartford area with many new innovation and tech startups,” says Devra Sisitsky, Founder of MakerspaceCT, which provides innovators and potential startups with access to equipment and programs to test their business assumptions.
Hartford is also keeping up with growing trends in InsurTech and digital health. Powered by Startupbootcamp, the Hartford InsurTech Hub provides an accelerator of for InsurTech startups focused on scaling and innovating the insurance sector in Hartford.
In early 2019, Nassau Re formed a collaboration with InsurTech Hartford to launch Nassau Re/Imagine, an InsurTech incubator with a mission to foster startups that will attract new talent to the city and state.
Hartford HealthCare, Trinity College and the UConn School of Business plan to launch a digital technology and digital health accelerator in fall 2019. “The incubator/accelerator isn’t just a physical location. It’s a density of resources attractive to startup companies and entrepreneurs,” explains Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney.
The announcement of the Stanley+Techstars Accelerator was a game changer in Hartford’s additive manufacturing space. Launched in 2018, the accelerator is now working with a second class of startups.
UConn is also making strides with its incubation program. The UConn Technology Incubation Program (TIP) connects UConn research resources, facilities, and business support services to investors and entrepreneurs, to help launch startups in a variety of industries. The program provides interns with “a tremendous opportunity to work not only for lab, but for a startup company,” says TIP Director Paul Parker.
Other initiatives from places like reSET and Upward Labs offer ongoing accelerator programming to encourage startup growth. The Hartford region is also filled with coworking spaces to meet a variety of startups’ needs including:
- The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT) Business Incubator Space, East Hartford
- Central Row, Hartford
- MEWS+, Middletown
- Spaces, West Hartford
- Upward Hartford, Hartford
- West Hartford Coworking, West Hartford
- WORK_SPACE, Manchester
Attracting Global Startups
The Hartford region is drawing startups from all over the globe. With its claim as “The Insurance Capital of the World,” the city has received interest from international companies in the InsurTech space like Australian-based Flamingo Ai, which came to Hartford “because it was the right place for us to be—and it is the right time to come,” according to Head of North American Operations Bob Hilborn.
InsurTech and FinTech companies are also encouraged to locate in Connecticut through Initiatives like VentureClash, which is backed by Connecticut Innovations. The global investment challenge aims to attract early-stage companies from Connecticut and all over the world to create and maintain a presence in Connecticut.
Access to Workforce
Not only does the Hartford area have access to startup resources, it’s an ideal city for recent college graduates to live and join the workforce. Apartments.com and CareerRookie.com recently ranked Hartford as the top city for recent graduates.
Here’s why. With dozens of colleges and universities, many higher education facilities in the Hartford region are priming graduates with entrepreneurial studies and connecting them with opportunities in the workforce.
Initiatives like the CTNext Higher Education Initiative aim to strengthen innovation and entrepreneurship within Connecticut’s public and private higher education institutions while fostering collaboration and providing economic value to Connecticut.
Last fall, CTNext provided funding for Wesleyan University to launch a startup incubator course taught by Hartford-based reSET for students from Connecticut colleges and universities. Through Wesleyan’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship student entrepreneurs and innovators can also participate in startup incubator courses and receive grants and one-on-one advising.
The University of Connecticut is actively engaged in promoting entrepreneurship. The school offers plenty of classes and initiatives such as Innovation Quest (iQuest), which helps undergraduate and graduate student entrepreneurs form businesses and prepares them for a funding competition. Accelerate UConn, a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, prepares entrepreneurial teams with technology concepts that may be ready for commercialization.
UConn’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CCEI) also provides a pipeline of talented entrepreneurs to the Connecticut’s economy. “We’re collaborating with higher education partners to link students interested in innovation and emerging technologies with opportunities to work with startups and help fill those companies’ needs for growth talent,” explains Michelle Cote, Instructor & Director, Strategic Partnerships for the CCEI.
At Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) students can choose a Management major with a specialization in entrepreneurship and an Entrepreneurship concentration to help graduates become part of a startup, launch a startup, or manage a family-owned or other small business.
Goodwin College offers and Associate in Business Administration with an Entrepreneurship concentration. The school’s Entrepreneurship/Small Business Program helps students learn to launch, operate, and grow their own business or operate and grow an existing business.
Location and Transportation
It’s no secret that Hartford is sandwiched between Boston and New York City. Our key advantage is that our cost of living is much lower. Hartford area residents can easily access these major cities for meetings, networking, and events within two hours.
“Working in Hartford is a great choice for a startup,” notes Phill Giancarlo, co-founder of Hartford-based Wearsafe Labs Inc. “Commercial real estate is affordable, the talent is great, and we’re perfectly positioned to commute to other major cities like New York and Boston.”
The Connecticut Department of Transportation has made great strides, providing access to bus lines with the CTFastrak and the Hartford Dash Shuttle. The Hartford Line passenger rail service connects communities along the I-91 corridor.
Conde Nast Traveler recently ranked Bradley International the country’s third best airport. Bradley continues to expand national and international nonstop services and recently announced plans for a new Transportation Center, which Governor Ned Lamont says is “key to improving business development and growing jobs in every sector of our economy.”
A Growing Startup Hub
“The startup scene becomes extremely important to Hartford as we look at delivering a global message and trying to attract global companies,” explains MetroHartford President and CEO David Griggs.
“The region needs to have a complete ecosystem for companies as they go through the beginning challenges of launching a startup and get to a point where they need help and expertise to scale up.”
We’re well on our way. “We already proved that our community can be a great environment to support and accelerate the development of new, early-stage technology companies,” says Cote, who is spearheading the Hartford/East Hartford Innovation Places initiative. “We need to celebrate the progress we’re making and the tremendous assets we have in this region.”