In early 2016, Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price met with directors at the University of Connecticut Technology Incubation Program (UConn TIP) to learn about the program and the types of startups working within it.
Nan checked in with TIP Director Paul Parker and Manager Nicole Baccaro for an update.
NAN PRICE: What’s new?
PAUL PARKER: Over the past few years, we’ve gone through a management change. Rita Zangari, who was the Director of the Innovation Programs, has since semi-retired and Mostafa Analoui has come on board as Executive Director, Venture Development. Mostafa is a wealth of knowledge. He knows people all over the world and he’s been able to make beneficial connections for our TIP startups.
NICOLE BACCARO: Since Mostafa has come on board, the TIP has hosted some major events with several venture capitalists as well as Johnson & Johnson’s innovation center, JLABS.
PAUL: In addition to Mostafa’s connections, the TIP has expanded. We now have a 24-member board of advisors from all different types of industries, including financing, which is a big plus. We’ve been able to connect our startups with business professionals, mentors, and outside venture capital groups. It’s starting to take off.
NAN: The physical space at the TIP has also expanded since I was last here.
PAUL: Right. The total space between Storrs and Farmington is now more than 30,000 ft.² of rentable space with 46 labs and 59 offices. We’re 90% full, so we have very limited space.
Over the last couple of years, the program’s reputation has gotten out. So, the quality of the companies we’ve been able to attract, the quality of the management team, the quality of the technology, and the quality of the financing have all greatly improved.
In the past, on average, companies would stay for three years. Some companies would stay eight or nine years, and some would leave with less than a year because they realized their technology or their financing just wasn’t there.
We have annual reviews with each company, and if they are not meeting their milestones we put them on a plan to help them progress. If they’re not progressing, then they kind of weed themselves out. We haven’t had any of those companies lately.
Now we don’t have any companies that want to leave until after three years. We sign a three-year contract and they all stay throughout the length of their contract and ask for extensions.
NAN: They really want to take advantage of the resources here.
PAUL: Yes. No one wants to leave! Like I said, the quality has definitely improved. Our biggest problem right now is finding additional space for more companies.
We shut down the TIP space in Groton when CURE Innovations opened its BioCT Innovation Commons. Our space there was being utilized by the Mystic Aquarium as they were rebuilding their research facility. We basically turned that over to the university location there. Now we can concentrate on the TIP here in Farmington, which has taken off much faster than I thought it would.
NICOLE: The TIP was probably 60% to 70% full when I came in a year ago. And they’ve been productive. Last year, TIP companies raised $60 million in funding including equity and debt, grants, and revenue.
The companies that are doing amazing things. It keeps me busy—whether it’s working with interns, onboarding new companies, meeting new companies, recruiting new companies, or accommodating our current companies here so we can help them grow.
NAN: Can you tell us more about the internship program?
NICOLE: Sure. We have 74 interns in three different programs all run by Dr. Catherine Dealy. The Health Research Program (HRP) and the Partnership in Innovation and Education (PIE) program are grant-funded, the other program is through the TIP.
NAN: Are the interns all from UConn?
PAUL: No. The PIE program, which is funded by CTNext, involves seven different Connecticut universities, including UConn, Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), Southern Connecticut State University, Trinity College, Tunxis Community College, University of Hartford, and the University of Saint Joseph.
NICOLE: Obviously, UConn has a lot of resources for research in bioscience and technology, so the PIE program enables students from other schools that may not have those resources to do an internship at the UConn Health Center in Farmington where they can work alongside UConn researchers, faculty, or startups.
NAN: Is the long-term goal for the interns to be hired by of one of the TIP startups here?
PAUL: Not necessarily. There are several goals. One is to give interns the opportunity to work in a lab. It’s extremely difficult to work in a small lab for an internship while you’re still studying. We provide that opportunity both here and at the UConn Health Center.
Some students have come back and worked for the companies after they’ve graduated. Unfortunately, a few of them are getting ready to leave because they are working on getting their PhD. But, they love what they’re doing. They have a tremendous opportunity to work not only for lab, but for a startup company.
NICOLE: A couple of students who were interns are now employees. But the goal is to either get students experienced or, depending where they are in their education, to create a potential opportunity for a full-time job.
NAN: Are any of the interns launching their own startups?
PAUL: Not the interns. There are several programs going on at the university. One is the Innovation Quest (IQ) program through the UConn School of Business. This year, close to 400 students applied. They narrow it down to eight or nine groups that go through a six-week “boot camp” and, out of those groups, three have applied to get into the TIP.
Plus, we’ve had several startups from the past years. Of the companies that are in the TIP, typically between 10% and 15% are student-started, 35% to 40% are faculty-started, and about 50% come from the outside. When we take companies from the outside, there is some type of collaboration going on with UConn.
That 10% to 15% of the students usually come out of the IQ program or the Third Bridge Grant Program, that comes out of the UConn Entrepreneurship and Innovation Consortium.
NAN: How are these programs and initiatives helping promote economic growth in Connecticut?
PAUL: One thing worth noting: We’ve had companies come from California, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. We also had one company from Israel.
With regard to economic development, we look at companies as a successful graduation if, two years after they graduate, they are still in business. It doesn’t mean they’re making money—they could still be doing their research and they still have funding. But two years after they graduate, are they still in business?
Between 60% and 65% of our companies graduate successfully based on that criteria. And out of that 60% to 65%, about 75% of those stay in Connecticut. A few end up leaving the state because they either get acquired or their funding source wants them close by.
Last year, at the yearend, we had 35 companies with 91 full-time and 70 part-time employees. This year, we’re already off to a great start. We should beat the $60 million in funding the companies raised last year—and we may beat it substantially, it depends whether the companies’ funding requirements come through.
Those type of factors are huge, because a lot of the $60 million in funding Nicole mentioned earlier is coming from outside the state. The edict for the TIP was to help create new startup companies and improve unemployment. I think we are doing both of those at this point.