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'Blue Tech' projects sought for $1.5 million in funding

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Thames River Innovation Place — a supporter of entrepreneurial projects in Groton and New London that is funded by the public-private network CTNext — is seeking year five proposals that will be eligible for a total of up to $1.5 million in matching funding.

The request for proposals notes that priority will be given to projects that activate the regional "Blue Tech Economy," meaning maritime technology projects that target economic activity on or around the Thames River or Long Island Sound. This might include projects connected to the Navy, Electric Boat or offshore wind.

While TRIP has identified blue tech projects as its core, it also is seeking projects in two periphery categories: unlocking regional entrepreneurial potential and enhancing community vibrancy.

A letter of interest is due by July 30, with a proposal deadline of Aug. 13. Additional dates and submission requirements are available at thamesrivernnovation.org/rfp.

"The Innovation Place's dollars are intended to be startup seed funding," TRIP Executive Director Liz Pasqualini said. She expects the year five portfolio to include both funding for new projects and additional dollars for existing TRIP-funded projects.

Year four projects ongoing

Pasqualini said some projects had a plan but had to pivot due to COVID-19, that they have been slow to get started and spend their allocated dollars. That includes funding aimed at developing the Thames River Innovation Center and the Avery Point Research Center.

The Thames River Innovation Center is the name of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut's proposal for a startup incubator, coworking space and office facility in downtown New London.

The chamber and TRIP are in the process of reviewing submissions in response to a now-closed request for proposals, for a partner "with significant experience in operating successful coworking facilities and/or past success in providing startup incubation/acceleration programming."

The request for proposals noted the chamber is working to identify suitable space, about 24,000 square feet, and that its own offices will be located at the center.

Pasqualini said the Innovation Center initially was funded in year three for $420,000, and the unspent portion, $380,000, was rolled over into TRIP's year four portfolio. She said a bulk of the funding is in reserve for the acquisition and possible renovation of a space.

Chamber President Tony Sheridan said the coronavirus pandemic "put our plans in a holding pattern," as the chamber shifted its focus toward helping its members and keeping them informed. But he said the chamber will find the right place for the Innovation Center.

The year four portfolio also includes $100,000 for the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology — a partnership between the University of Connecticut, University of Rhode Island and Electric Boat — to pursue a research and development facility at University of Connecticut campus at Avery Point in Groton. That allocation hasn't been spent yet, Pasqualini said.

The portfolio also includes funding for Spark Makerspace, to help with its move from State Street to Union Street.

Other year four projects include a Women's Business Development Center program to support military spouses with entrepreneurship; regional marketing efforts from seCTer and the city of New London; and lighting, landscaping and signage improvements in Hodges Square in New London.

Pasqualini said year-four projects began at different times and will wrap up Sept. 30, 2021, Dec. 31, 2021, and June 30, 2022.

e.moser@theday.com

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