Groton - How do you set up a company as a legal entity? What kinds of funding are available? And how do you divide the ownership interests?
These are some of the questions for which the region's entrepreneurs need answers as they navigate the choppy waters of starting their own science and technology businesses. And for a growing cadre of local entrepreneurs - many trying to forge their own way after leaving long-time scientific jobs at Pfizer Inc. - the answers are being provided through a monthly seminar co-hosted by the Technology Incubation Program at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus.
The Tech Commercialization Seminar Series, started two years ago by TIP program director Mary Anne Rooke, provides valuable nuggets of information for entrepreneurs, which in the past have included tips about marketing, angel investment and navigating the state's alphabet soup of agencies.
But the most important element, say attendees, may be the networking opportunities after the seminars, which allow entrepreneurs to bounce ideas off one another and gain valuable insights about business issues.
"The atmosphere of having colleagues doing the same thing as you are is very helpful," said Jean Schaefer, a former Pfizer scientist who has co-hosted the past two TIP seminars as leader of the Southeastern Connecticut Entrepreneurs and Supporters, a group that over the past few months has developed an online following on the website LinkedIn of some 110 people.
Schaefer said the seminars won't turn anyone into an entrepreneur who doesn't have the inclination, but they might encourage budding business people to continue on the road toward success.
And the next seminar, scheduled at 10 a.m. Nov. 9 at the Marine Sciences building on campus, will celebrate those successes, as representatives from two of the fastest-growing technology companies in the region - ePath Learning Inc. and JobTarget Inc., both of New London - will be part of a panel discussion. JobTarget founder Andrew Banever and ePath founder Dudley Molina, joined by the leaders of two TIP program success stories, Nalas Engineering Services Inc. and SystaMedic Inc., will trace some of the steps they have taken to launch their companies and propel them forward.
"We want to develop an entrepreneurial hot spot at Avery Point," said Rooke, the TIP program director for UConn.
A seminar last month featured attorney Frank Marco of the Wiggin and Dana law firm in New Haven. His advice to a crowd of about 40 mostly ex-Pfizer employees included the observation that limited liability corporations are the vehicles of choice for most small companies because of several tax advantages.
As for dividing up the ownership interest, Marco said the decision rests on several considerations, including who had the initial business idea, what kinds of skills and connections various parties have and the reality that it is easy to hand out more equity but it's hard to get ownership shares back.
Marco said generally the chief executive officer and chief scientific officer both get a 30 percent stake (likely with a vesting period of several years for a portion of the equity), with the chief medical officer receiving 20 percent, directors and an advisory board a total of 5 percent and reserves being held at 15 percent.
Investment money can be found from a variety of sources, including funded research from organizations such as the federal Small Business Innovation Research agency, state program from groups such as Connecticut Innovations, insurance capital funds, venture capitalists and angel investors. Bank loans are virtually non-existent for start-up firms, Marco added.
"Investors love companies ... that can be efficient with the use of capital," Marco said. "There are some sharks out there. ... Do your diligence on them."