Networking expands to aid local start-ups

A local group formed a year ago by a former Pfizer Inc. scientist to encourage start-up companies here has joined with the region's chief economic-development agency to create the SECT Entrepreneur Network and Emerging Business Council.

Jean Schaefer, who helped form the original Southeastern Connecticut Entrepreneur Network, said her group always has had close ties with the region's economic-development agency known as the SouthEastern Connecticut Enterprise Region. Now, however, the arrangement has been formalized, and the network has begun meeting regularly at seCTer's New London offices.

"We're trying to expand the network and get more active entrepreneurs involved," Schaefer said.

Deborah Donovan, economic development director for seCTer, said the addition of an emerging-business or technology-related group had been included as a goal in the region's comprehensive economic development strategy completed two years ago. The idea, she said, was to improve local networking possibilities and connect start-up businesses with entrepreneurs who have experience in growing a company from the ground up.

The entrepreneurial group will eventually have a place on seCTer's website, she added. The group plans to hold an event every November to celebrate members' successes.

Entrepreneurs are being asked in an online survey whether they think the organization should get involved with efforts to open a business incubator in New London, perhaps focusing on the biosciences. For survey information, email

"Being a partner with seCTer makes us more than a grassroots organization," Schaefer said. "Being part of the regional economic development agency means we get to be included with everything that's going on."

The organization, she said, has connections to both the Hartford and eastern Connecticut innovation ecosystems, quasi-public agencies formed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last year to help spur job growth in the state. Tom Gerson of the business mentoring group SECT Tech at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point in Groton is one the group's steering committee members.

Schaefer added that the entrepreneurial network, which previously has been dominated by former Pfizer employees, hopes to attract a broad range of talents that can lead to business opportunities for everyone. She said people just starting to explore a new business and those with years of entrepreneurial experience are invited to join the group.

"We have a directory that lists expertise and we are interested in expanding that directory so that people with specific needs can use it to find local experts," she said in an email response to questions.

This month, the new entrepreneurial group will host its first major event, the appearance in New London of Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, for a speech intended to inspire innovators about the power of great idea and management leadership. The event will begin at 3:30 p.m. April 26 at Union Station, 27 Water Street in New London.

The partnership between seCTer and the entrepreneurial network is the second major initiative announced by the economic-development agency this year. The organization, which has been without an executive director for months because of the illness of its former leader, the late John Markowicz, also said this that it is making progress in the formation of a local manufacturers' council designed to connect local companies with the workforce of tomorrow at the region's community colleges.


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