Gov. Dannel P. Malloy popped into one of New Haven’s hotbeds of innovation Thursday to announce that he’s helping it more than double in size—and become part of a new turbo-charged statewide network of startup centers.
The hotbed is a coworking space called The Grove at 71 Orange St. in downtown’s Ninth Square. Officials shut down the street Thursday afternoon as a crowd gathered to hear Malloy make a major announcement: The state is pouring $5 million over five years into four startup “hubs”—at the Grove and in Stamford, Hartford and Storrs—to build a newly dubbed “Innovation Ecosystem.”
The Grove will get $100,000 in state money this year to pay for new training programs and expansion into a second 5,000 square-foot space at 95 Orange St., which has a facade above the Dunkin’ Donuts on Chapel Street (pictured), according to Grove co-founder Slate Ballard.
The news met a warm welcome at the Grove’s 4,000 square-foot coworking space on Orange Street.
“The timing is perfect for us,” said John Fitzpatrick (pictured), one of the Grove regulars who were busy at work before the crowds descended.
Fitzpatrick and two partners are using the Grove as a launching pad for a new business that aims to help moms and dads keep track of their children’s diabetes. Kids with diabetes frequently prick a finger and check their blood sugar level with a blood glucose meter (pictured).
Fitzpatrick’s company, Applivate, LLC, created a mobile app called ShugaTrak that automatically sends those results to the kid’s parents via text or email. The company was hatched at The Grove’s Startup Weekend in November 2011. Fitzpatrick, a West River block watch organizer with a PhD in biology, took part in an 11-week training program for startups run by the quasi-public agency CT Innovations. In May, he decided to quit his job at Yale to devote his time to the new company.
Applivate is currently testing versions of the app with a half-dozen “early users,” he said. The company uses The Grove and CTech, an incubator space in Science Park, as makeshift headquarters.
Malloy’s announcement Thursday opens up several new doors to startups like Fitzpatrick’s. The state is investing in online software that will virtually link the four innovation hubs together, creating a new “innovation ecosystem” that will connect entrepreneurs to the resources they need, such as an accountant, a lawyer, a graphic designer, office space, or an investor.
Fitzpatrick said that may prove helpful as his company moves towards its next phase. Applivate is exploring partnerships with institutions and has received interest from investors, he said.
“We’re very close to launching the product,” he said. “We may start growing and hiring soon.”
As part of the new initiative, startups like Applivate will be able to apply for $5,000 in state-funded vouchers that they can use, through the online database, to pay for a graphic designer or any other business-related cost.
New Haven’s hub will be run out of The Grove in conjunction with New Haven’s quasi-public Economic Development Corporation.
The goal is to help both startups and up-and-coming small businesses grow, keeping jobs in the state, said Malloy, addressing a crowd of business and political leaders from a stage outside The Grove.
Connecticut endured 22 years with no net job growth, Malloy said. “We had no excuse—except that we were ignoring our weaknesses, we were ignoring our strengths, and letting other people eat our lunch.”
Malloy said in the absence of the state playing its proper role in supporting startups, The Grove has been filling that role for the past two years, enabling the state to “hang on” to jobs that might have otherwise left the state.
Tim Shannon, a venture capitalist with Canaan Partners, admitted from the stage that his firm invests less than 5 percent of its money in Connecticut companies. That’s because the state had a “deficiency,” or at least a perceived deficiency, in helping companies get off the ground.
Shannon said he just got off a plane Thursday morning from California, where he was talking to startups he’s involved with in Silicon Valley. He said he looks forward to “a fabulous reboot” of the state’s innovation system so he can have those conversations in Connecticut.
Before the speeches, Malloy popped inside to check out The Grove. He stopped inside the office of Ioannis, a self-made New Haven business man who designs products for the music industry. He founded his company, Vivid Images Creative, along with his brother, George Vasilopoulos, in the 1990s. He opened a new book about Led Zeppelin to show off some of his work.
Ioannis, who goes by only one name, said he discovered The Grove through his brother.
“George checked it out,” he said, “and found it to be a great, thriving place.”
The observation was true, said The Grove’s Slate Ballard: Two years after its founding as the first Project Storefronts experiment, the coworking facility is going strong.
“We’re approaching sustainability within a year,” Ballard said.
The state grant will allow The Grove to launch new training programs, including a Bioscience Clubhouse, a CEO Boot Camp, and a digital production company.
The hub should expand to its second location as soon as December, Ballard said.