Connecticut business owner and advisor Lalitha Shivaswamy is Founder and President of Helios Management Corp. and a CTNext Entrepreneur in Residence. She has been involved with VentureClash since its inception.
VentureClash, an initiative from Connecticut Innovations, is a global competition for early-stage companies in digital health, FinTech, InsurTech, and Industry 4.0. Companies applying for VentureClash must maintain a Connecticut presence by having some significant business operational presence in the state, relocating their headquarters to Connecticut, or making Connecticut the location of their U.S. office.
MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Lalitha about her role advising global companies and helping them become a part of Connecticut’s business ecosystem.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background about VentureClash and its evolution.
LALITHA SHIVASWAMY: CTNext began the idea for a global venture challenge three years ago. The purpose was to find promising companies to set up a presence in Connecticut. The companies would enter a venture capital competition and five prizes totaling $5 million would be awarded. The top prize would be $1.5 million.
The key was to find companies from around the world for which the amount awarded would be enough to help them set up here in Connecticut. These companies couldn’t be too small or too large and the prize money would have to be meaningful enough to get them to locate here.
In the beginning, there were a lot of questions: How are we going to find these companies? Would they move to Connecticut? How do we mentor them?
Since its launch, the VentureClash cohort gets better and more suitable. What’s interesting is that most of the participating companies have never heard of Connecticut. They don’t understand who we are or what we do.
When they consider creating a presence in the United States, many international companies think of Boston, New York, Chicago, or Philadelphia. But when they do their research about Hartford, they realize it’s a lot less costly. Additionally, they see there are many more resources available to them—organizations, mentors, funding, and transitional coworking places—things they wouldn’t have access to in some of the larger cities. The availability of mentors and people willing to give back cannot be understated.
NAN: Let’s talk about your mentorship role.
LALITHA: Even after the VentureClash competition ends, CTNext Entrepreneurs in Residence continue to mentor the winning companies—but more importantly, we continue to mentor those that didn’t win. Those companies become interested in Connecticut and we provide advisory services and help find ways to bring them here.
In addition to mentoring, we’re able to point to a variety of co-working places and incubators to help set up companies while they develop a sense of identity in the community. For example, Hartford has reSET, the Nassau Re/Imagine InsurTech Incubator, the Stanley+Techstars Accelerator, and Upward Hartford. New Haven has District and Stamford has several incubator spaces. Groton has a space for biotech firms and Bridgeport has a very cost-effective facility for food firms. There are resources for everyone.
NAN: What advice do you have for global companies considering creating a presence in Connecticut?
LALITHA: Don’t assume there’s no opportunity here or there isn’t any advice available. There is advice and mentorship around the corner. CTNext recently launched a Mentoring Network that takes mentoring a step further by providing companies with specialized expertise. No matter where you go, every town has supportive, constructive groups of people who can advise you.
Tap into local resources. The MetroHartford Alliance does a great job putting together networking events. So does reSET. Go to these events. Make connections. Reach out to one person. If they can’t help you, they’ll connect you to the correct person. There’s a big network of supporters here. We will groom you for fundraising. We will help you find employees. We will help you settle yourself into a space, if that’s what you want. That’s what we do and there are many of us who do it.
There’s so much entrepreneurial spirit in the Hartford area. The Hartford region has a lot of resources and can foster a diverse set of companies in many industries. If your business needs help, we are here to help you succeed.