Tech-Tonic Shift Underway In Local Economy

Thomas Breen photoCurtis Hill had to cut back on the statewide reach of his free computer training and giveaway program when his 15-year-old company lost its line item in the state budget last year.

But thanks to funding from a state innovation grant and a new City Hall-backed entrepreneurship program charged with distributing that money, Hill and his colleagues at Concept for Adaptive Learning have developed new training in professional computer skills and can continue to bridge the technology gap for New Haven families lacking computers and the skills to use them.

On Tuesday afternoon, Hill’s company was one of 14 projects on display at the Elm City Innovation Collaborative’s (ECIC) summer showcase at the DISTRICT, an old CT Transit facility-turned-tech and entrepreneur incubator located at 470 James St.

Over one hundred people showed up to learn more about the fruits of the city’s recent efforts to fund and connect local entrepreneurs looking to start businesses in bioscience, digital technology, education, and small business development.

The organizations on display on Tuesday afternoon were all funded in whole or in part by the $2 million CTNext Innovation Places grant that the city received from the state in 2016. Mayor Toni Harp created the Elm City Innovation Collaborative in July 2017 to be the local planning, networking, and distribution arm to make sure that the funds were used to foment New Haven’s small business tech sector.

ECIC Chair Michael Harris said the first round of the grant has funded 14 new and existing projects overseen by 32 different organizations. He said the money has led to the creation of 30,000 new square-feet of business and commercial and research space in town, and that the various ECIC-funded businesses have already brought in over $10 million in private investment.

He also said the state recently approved New Haven for a second round of Innovation Place grant funding for next fiscal year.

“New Haven’s innovation sector is only strong when we tell its story,” he told the crowd gathered in one of the DISTRICT’s meeting spaces. He said ECIC’s success thus far is a clear demonstration to the state that an investment in New Haven’s innovation economy will result in new jobs, new businesses, and new beneficial technology.

Harris described the mission of ECIC as not directly funding new businesses, but rather funding programs that support them through coaching, networking, talent development, and space needs.

Hill is the founder and director of Concepts for Adaptive Learning, an ECIC beneficiary that is based out of Science Park. A New London native who moved to New Haven in 1971 and retired from a decades-long career in the computer industry to found Concepts for Adaptive Learning, Hill said the goal of his organization was to bridge the tech divide for local families lacking in computer skills.

His organization provides free computer training and free computers to local families who do not already have computers and do have children in the New Haven Public School system.

“Our goal is to help New Haven residents close the technology gap with knowledge,” he said. He said his organization recently lost its $150,000 line item in the state budget, and therefore had to cut back its programming in Bridgeport, Hartford, and Waterbury. Because of money from ECIC, he said Concepts for Adaptive Learning can continue running in New Haven and providing computer training and resources to local families.

Harris said ECIC’s funding has also allowed Hill’s organization to add a new job skills component to their digital literacy program, allowing their clients to learn the basics of workplaces technologies in addition to learning computer basics that Concepts for Adaptive Learning had already been providing.

“Our goal is fostering new inclusive tech workforce development programs,” Harris told the Independent, “rather than simply replacing lost funding for existing organizations.”

Another ECIC recipient is Ives Squared, the new café and maker space at the main branch of the public library on Elm Street. Celeste Tapia is part of the team that will be running the new Tinker Lab at Ives Squared. The Tinker Lab will provide library patrons with access to two 3D printers, vinyl cutters, sewing machines, laptops with Adobe Illustrator, and other tech devices.

“We want people to learn to use the machines on their own,” Tapia said, emphasizing that the Tinker Lab will be a place for New Haveners to learn new tech and maker skills as opposed to a place where library patrons ask staff to use the machines for them. Tapia said the the maker space will serve “as a first step for innovation, experimentation and an introduction to the world of creating and making.”

David Light, a 32-year-old Yale University graduate, is the co-founder of Valisure, another beneficiary of ECIC support through the program’s funding of Science Park, which is where Valisure is located and which received funds from ECIC to build out specialized testing facilities and for business community development. Light told the crowd gathered at the DISTRICT on Tuesday that Valisure has developed a laser-based analytical technology that analyzes the quality of medication.

He said the company plans on opening a new pharmacy in town next month where customers will be able to purchase medication provided by major pharmaceutical distributors but also vetted by Valisure’s cutting-edge quality control technology.

In addition to funding new businesses, ECIC has also sent some of the Innovation Places grant funds towards bolstering local science education programs.

Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) was one of ECIC’s grantees, and had several science graduate students and faculty at the DISTRICT showing off their research.

Mikayla McLaughlin, a 22-year-old chemistry graduate student at SCSU, showed off her undergraduate thesis on antibiotics resistance. She said her research focuses on bacteria in soil and the compounds they produce to protect themselves against surrounding bugs.

Her research adviser, Todd Ryder, an assistant professor of chemistry at SCSU, said ECIC’s funding will allow for a number of students like McLaughlin to get summer research and training experience working in the school’s chemistry and biology labs. He also said ECIC has helped fund the school’s purchase of new chemistry and biology equipment, including a mass spectrometer, which allows researches to measure the molecular weight of compounds, and a software license for ChemDraw, which allows chemists to draw the molecular structure of compounds in a digital word processing program similar to Microsoft Word.

Ryder said hundreds of SCSU students in the biology and chemistry departments will ultimately benefit from the addition of the new technology and hardware that ECIC helped the school afford.

The 14 projects funded by the Elm City Innovation Collaborative are Collaboratory, Concepts for Adaptive Learning, The District, Economic Development Corporation of New Haven, Gateway Community College, The Grove, Health Haven Hub, Ives Squared, Make Haven, Mobile CSP, Science Park Development Corporation, A Small Instrumentation Fund at SCSU, The State House, and Town Green Special Services District.

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