Groton — Responding to concerns that the region has been bleeding bioscience jobs, the state announced Friday that it has formed a new public-private partnership known as SECT Tech, based at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point, to offer entrepreneurs technical and business advice as well as mentoring services.
The partnership ran into immediate controversy, however, when officials admitted that they had not consulted with local economic-development groups such as the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region about the area’s needs before making the announcement.
“They don’t keep us in the loop,” said Deborah Donovan, director of economic development for New London-based SeCTer, in a phone interview.
“I hope as they evolve the model that they actively consult local input from people already doing this,” added James O’Malley, chief executive of the startup New London biotech firm Myometrics. “We need to develop a single, unified policy for the region.”
In the end, local leaders said they were confident, based on discussions with SECT Tech officials after the announcement, that the new organization would be a net plus for the region, giving a hand up to new, growth businesses.
Heading up SECT Tech will be Harry Penner, executive chairman of New Haven Pharmaceuticals; Julie Olson, a Stonington resident and former vice president at Pfizer Inc.; and Tom Gerson, a business manager who is the partnership’s only full-time employee. Adding to their expertise will be Susan Froschauer, leader of UConn’s Tech-Knowledge Portal, and Mary Anne Rooke, executive director of the Technology Incubation Program at Avery Point.
“They’ve got a real experienced team that has done some great things in the past,” said Jean Schaefer, a former Pfizer scientist who heads up the Southeastern Connecticut Entrepreneur Network. “It seems very positive.”
Schaefer and others in the region devoted to helping spur entrepreneurship were hopeful that the momentum created during the past year to encourage the growth of new businesses here — particularly among the 1,100 Pfizer scientists who have been laid off locally in that same period — will continue to build.
“Southeastern Connecticut has long been the home of discovery and innovation, in the biosciences and other applied sciences,” Penner, who will act as executive mentor of SECT Tech, said in a statement. “The wealth of technical and entrepreneurial talent, such as former Pfizer employees, skilled professionals in other scientific and technology-based industries including military personnel and suppliers, as well as students and faculty from local educational institutions, makes this region ideal to start new businesses.”
SECT Tech will be housed in the Technology Incubation Program offices in the Marine Science Building at Avery Point. It is part of the Connecticut Innovations Ecosystem program that grew out of the bipartisan jobs session Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called late last year to try to spur employment growth throughout the state.
SECT Tech will be attached to the UConn innovations hub in Storrs that serves all of southeastern Connecticut. Economic development experts in this area had been disappointed when a proposed southeastern Connecticut innovations hub lost out to a bid from UConn, but many of them applauded the state’s new move to spur business growth in the region.
“SECT Tech is poised to work with bioscience and applied science companies and their management to help them strengthen and grow their business,” said Olson, who will be the organization’s managing director.
Local officials said the idea is still in the nascent stage, but SECT Tech likely will be available for both startup companies that need basic help in finding partners and funding and more established science and technology firms that may have hit a bump in the road and need to change directions.
Mary Holz-Clause, vice president of economic development at UConn, said in a statement that SECT Tech would help the state “retain talent and create jobs.”
A panel of entrepreneurs who spoke before the announcement at Avery Point said one of the region’s main problems today is in developing a cluster of companies requiring similar technological expertise. Without a critical mass of tech companies, said Andrew Banever, chief executive of the New London-based employee recruitment firm JobTarget, people are reluctant to move to southeastern Connecticut, worried that if they lose one job, they might have to move to find another.
“I’m becoming concerned about the availability of talent,” said Dudley Molina, chief executive of the New London education-technology firm ePath Learning.