Innovation Economy gets Boost from Legislature

The legislative session ended Wednesday and the innovation and technology communities should be more than pleased with the outcome. From the session’s first moments — when the governor talked about creating jobs based on innovation, to the introduction of the first bill of the year to address a long list of competitiveness issues, to the $2.3 billion transportation package, to the understanding that changing our R&D tax credit methodology was bad policy — the theme was one of policy makers “getting” what needed to be done and trying to do it.

Are there more things we would like to see and more dollars invested in making Connecticut even more friendly and welcoming to innovation based companies? Sure. But each of the bills passed this year can be built on in next year’s session. The consistent rhetoric from all players in support of technology growth was priceless and will serve us well as we seek to keep and recruit high potential companies and people.

Two years ago the technology community decided to rally around and strengthen UConn’s science faculty, reinvigorating Connecticut Innovations, providing new seed capital sources and fixing structural issues such as our connections to New York City. Today it is clear that our leaders understand the need to attack many facets of the innovation environment in the state at the same time. Even issues that have been in play for many years, such as eliminating the tax on manufacturing equipment, finally passed even at a cost of several hundred million dollars.

So even when it took two hours and fifteen minutes to drive from Stamford to New Haven Wednesday evening, neither the slowness of the traffic nor the grayness of a late afternoon drizzle could squash the feeling that this was a good day and the beginning of even more promising times for Connecticut. I had just left the annual Crossroads Venture Fair at the Stamford Westin, where over 100 or so would-be high growth technology firms had spent the day making their case for why they each deserved new money and more respect before the region’s venture capitalists, angel investors and investment bankers.

Supporting these types of companies is one of the main things that the Connecticut Technology Council does, so we are predisposed to be excited by these entrepreneurs. Still, even a total skeptic would be converted into a believer by the energy, creativity and drive of the people crammed into the hotel’s ballroom yesterday. From booth to booth you had to marvel at the breadth of our state’s creativity. Where else could you find a system that freezes your spinal fluid during operations next to a set of small magnetic legos that a four year-old can build animals with? There were plenty of software companies, bio-tech firms and even a few web sites ready to take on myspace.com.

One of the consistent pleas at events like this is for early stage capital, and while certainly not all of these firms will get or even deserve risk money, when they heard that the state was putting up $10 million for new programs at CI there was a very positive reaction. You also collect a lot of stories of what other states and regions are offering entrepreneurs, but this year it was clear that Connecticut has as much of a chance of landing many of the fair’s presenting companies as any place in our region.

This coming year, the Connecticut Technology Council, armed with a recent grant from the State (DECD) to develop the “Innovation Pipeline,” will be able to track and monitor each of the Connecticut firms who presented. We will not only try to prepare them to get the financing they seek, but will be able to report back to the state and others about what may be stopping these hopefuls from getting the money and help they need. Please contact the program’s director Liddy Karter if you are interested in having the Innovation Pipeline project support your effort.

As I left the hotel and hit the traffic, I thought of the legislative session ending 100 miles to the northeast and the transportation funds that would be flowing soon to address a series of issues from trains and new stations to highways and bus ways. The idea that our access to the metro New Yorkarea and our travel within Connecticut itself will be enhanced in the years ahead is good news for the technology community. Traffic is a reality in all popular parts of the country, and the hope that things will be getting better here will help close more than a few deals and attract companies.

Thanks and congratulations in particular to Governor M. Jodi Rell, Senate President Donald Williams, Speaker Jim Amann, Commerce Chairs Senator Gary LeBeau and Rep. Jeff Becker and Finance Chairs Senator Eileen Dailey and Rep. Cam Staples.

Matthew Nemerson President & CEO Connecticut Technology Council

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