12 entrepreneurial projects pitched for CTNext funding

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Groton — With visions of a co-working and incubator space in New London, a resource to help high-school students find job shadows, art and events in Hodges Square, a farm to re-integrate veterans into the workforce, and a private "micro-school," 12 people are making the case for why their 12 projects should get a share of public-private funding that will likely be under $1 million.

CTNext, a public-private network that supports entrepreneurs, is entering the third year of funding for its four designated Innovation Places: New Haven, Hartford/East Hartford, Stamford and Thames River.

On Wednesday, the board of directors for Thames River Innovation Place heard 15-minute pitches for each of 12 projects, and then went into executive session to discuss their thoughts.

TRIP Interim Director Emma Palzere-Rae said the board must submit its proposal by April 30 to CTNext, which is expected to make a final announcement on funding in June. CTNext board members George Mathanool and Hadi Bozorgmanesh also were present at Wednesday's meeting.

CTNext awarded TRIP $900,000 for the first year and about $500,000 for the second, which enabled projects like Community Concierge, RD86 and the Naval & Maritime Consortium. It's unclear at this point how much TRIP will get this year.

Ashley Pereira, founder of the website Career in STEM, is seeking $10,000 to launch the STEM Job Shadow Finder, to link teenagers in southeastern Connecticut with job shadows so they can "make more informed career decisions."

That was the least amount of funding requested, while Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut Vice President Amanda Ljubicic requested $500,000 to create a co-working and incubator space in New London.

This is also part of the vision of Eric Hamburg of Bank Street Renaissance LLC, who acquired five buildings in downtown New London and has plans for an art gallery, apartments and more. He asked for $350,000 from TRIP, saying he projects his bank loan to cover 80 percent of the value of future buildings.

Also on Bank Street, Cherie Powell is asking for $100,000 to extend the marketing of Hygienic Art programming beyond southeastern Connecticut to throughout New England. She projects this would lead to a 50 percent increase in program attendance and 35 percent increase in Bank Street restaurant business.

Nicole Colter is requesting $55,000 to launch an Agile Learning Center — a tiny, tuition-based school model in which students have responsibility for their education — that would involve sharing space with a church in New London or Groton.

Gill Eapen, CEO of the artificial intelligence company Decision Options, is asking TRIP for $100,000 to create a Connecticut-focused company — either as a subsidiary of Decision Options or separate — that will provide artificial intelligence services to manufacturing and clean energy companies.

LBI President Peter Legnos pitched InnovatorsLINK, which would involve the creation of an information database for small business owners and then the establishment of an internet credit union or bank, to provide affordable loans and credit services to innovators and small businesses.

Clifford Neal requested $300,000 to launch the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Seed Fund, with the goal of investing $5 million in 50 companies by 2027.

Dr. Stefana Pecher is looking for funding to help start an industrial hemp growing operation, as well as aeroponic or hydroponic growing of vegetables. This will be focused on veterans, with the goals of both rehabilitating them and training them to get jobs.

Three programs that previously have received TRIP funding are asking for more: the Naval and Maritime Consortium, the redevelopment of Hodges Square and RD86, a restaurant and cultivator kitchen.

The consortium is seeking $355,000 to "build our foundation so we have a much leaner enterprise going forward," Executive Director Ali Halvordson said, with a goal of increasing member companies from 46 today to at least 75.

New London City Planner Sybil Tetteh's request is $192,200 for public art and "tactical urbanism" — low-cost, temporary projects, such as pop-up events — to make the area under and around the multiple highway off-ramps at Hodges Square more appealing.

"Right now, it's just a wasteland, with these tiny signs of life, so I think an initiative like this is needed," Tetteh said.

Hannah Gant requested $300,000 to bring on a TV producer to document the entrepreneurship and food creation at RD86, and attract kids who want to go into broadcasting.

Throughout the nearly three and a half hours of pitches on Wednesday, many presenters emphasized their need for startup funding but explained how their projects would become self-sustaining.

e.moser@theday.com

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