Seven local entrepreneurs received over $1,000 in seed money and a crash course on how to make their businesses work after completing the first round of an incubator program run by two New Haven small business advocates.
Collab, a new entrepreneur training and support program run by New Haveners Caroline Smith and Margaret Lee, finished working with its first cohort of aspiring local business people at the end of March.
The six-week incubator program provided seven ventures with $1,000 to $2,000 in funding, an individual mentor, case by case access to pro bono legal and marketing services, and weekly classes at the Grove about how to hone their pitches to potential investors.
Collab also provided the entrepreneurs with childcare, transportation, and interpretation and translation services to ensure that the program was as accessible as possible.
“What stuck in my head overall for the program,” Smith said, “is that I think we were able to prove that, one, there was demand for accessible entrepreneurship support, and two, brilliance can come from every single neighborhood and from multiple cities around Connecticut.”
Smith said that Collab received 75 applications for the first round of its entrepreneur incubator program. Of the seven ventures that made the cut, six are women-led, six are led by people of color, and five are led by women of color.
The entrepreneurs that completed the program include:
• Cityseed Sanctuary Kitchen: a multicultural cuisine catering service that employs refugees and new immigrants.
• CodeSmash: a technology, emotional intelligence, and entrepreneurship program for young people in Greater New Haven.
• Comfort Theraputics & DBA Lotusleaf Therapeutics: the developers of a pregnancy sleep system attuned to the needs of pregnant women.
• My City Initiative: a merchandise brand based out of Bridgeport with a focus on developing local pride.
• New Haven Counts: a high school entrepreneurship program.
• Rock the Beat DJ Camp: a DJing program that integrates Common Core State Standards.
• SciKit: a subscription service that allows high school teachers to rent hands-on STEM education kits at affordable monthly rates.
Lee said that the six-week educational program taught entrepreneurs to clarify their own stories and reasons for starting their businesses, to develop their value propositions and to build prototypes. The program culminated with a Pitch Day, in which the entrepreneurs gathered at the Grove to pitch their ventures to neighbors and potential investors.
“We’re really interested in the relationship between individual empowerment and community change,” Lee said. She said Collab is interested in focusing as much on the individuals behind the businesses as on the businesses themselves.
“A lot of their complaints are with not being seen,” she said about the entrepreneurs that Collab targets. She said Collab’s incubator program provides advice, safety and support in addition to mentorship and funding.
“We are about New Haven,” Smith said. “It’s what we know best.”
Applications for the second Collab incubator program are due on April 2.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy recognized Collab with this month’s “Murphy’s Innovator of the Month” award.
“Connecticut residents are full of brilliant ideas,” read Murphy’s press release, “but often lack the funding and exposure they need to bring those ideas to life. That’s where Collab comes in – since just last year, they’ve helped diverse entrepreneurs in the food, STEM, maternity, and arts fields get their businesses off the ground. I’m sure many other New Haven-area entrepreneurs will benefit from Collab’s work in the years to come.”
Click on the below audio player and video to listen to a 2017 interview with Smith and Lee on WNHH’s “Dateline New Haven.”