Regional bid for innovation hub falls

New London - Southeastern Connecticut is out of the running this time around to host a state-sponsored innovation hub to help local entrepreneurs bring new business concepts to reality.

Jean Schaefer, leader of a group that submitted a proposal to operate a hub in the region, said she was disappointed in the state Department of Economic and Community Development's decision, which was made known to her Thursday.

A former Pfizer Inc. scientist, Schaefer had hoped to form a local hub called the Southeastern Connecticut Innovation Ecosystem to promote entrepreneurship and keep researchers who had been laid off at the pharmaceutical giant's Groton campus from leaving the area. The DECD, however, decided it needed hubs that could guarantee the formation of a large number of start-up companies, Schaefer said, rather than the two that she could foresee within the first year.

"They were looking for something that southeastern Connecticut doesn't bring to the table," Schaefer said.

But she vowed during a meeting of entrepreneurs Thursday evening at the Bean & Leaf coffeehouse that she hasn't given up.

"They made it clear the door is not shut to us," Schaefer said.

She added that a survey she sponsored through her business, Artemis Startup Consulting LLC, had indicated a need for an innovation hub. Thirty-three of the 75 respondents said they were part of a new venture or planning a new venture, she said, and 11 indicated they were looking for lab space to start up a company, while 20 have considered moving out of the region to get their ideas off the ground.

Schaefer described the proposed business ventures as diverse, with about 30 percent related to bioscience, chemical and pharmaceutical work, 10 percent tied to business services and 11 percent involving new technologies.

Forty-one of the respondents wanted to be part of an innovation hub locally, Schaefer said. "It was an encouraging report," she said.

The hubs would provide training and expertise to innovative companies as well as space where entrepreneurs could bounce ideas off one another. The DECD, through the quasi-public Connecticut Innovations Inc. technology investment agency, plans to spend up to $4.8 million this year to develop as many as four innovation hubs across the state, a jobs initiative that is being promoted by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Schaefer said another round of proposals will be accepted by the state in August, by which time she may have teamed up with other groups in eastern Connecticut, including the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region and the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, to come up with a stronger, more unified plan.

Schaefer noted that while her own organization had not passed muster with the DECD - largely because of a lack of a "critical mass of entrepreneurs" in the region - another group, associated with the University of Connecticut at Storrs, had made it through the initial round to compete for one of up to four hubs to be awarded across the state.

Other hubs, in the Rocky Hill, Storrs, Hartford and Fairfield County areas, had passed the DECD's initial screening round, she said. But the Eastern Connecticut Innovation Corridor, based at UConn, would be the hub closest to the region and might be able to provide a tie-in to local entrepreneurs through the university's Avery Point campus in Groton.

l.howard@theday.com

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