Innovation Places

Thank you for your interest in CTNext’s Innovation Places program.

What is the Innovation Places program?

The Innovation Places program seeks to support entrepreneurs and leaders developing places that will attract the talent high-growth enterprises need. Learn more by selecting from the menu above.

Let’s get started.
Before submitting an application, review the guidelines. These include information about the application process, funding and reporting requirements. Learn more by selecting from the menu above.

The application process has two key steps:

1. Interested applicants must first submit a Planning Grant application or a Request to Apply for Implementation Grant.
2. The applications that most strongly align with the CTNext Innovation Places intent will be invited to submit an Implementation Grant application. Only invited Implementation Grant applications will be accepted.

Additional information on the application process and eligibility can be found in the CTNext Innovation Places guidelines, choose from the menu above to view.

CTNext is a public/private network of entrepreneurs, mentors, service providers and others helping Connecticut’s most promising startups succeed and grow. In 2016, CTNext expanded to new initiatives helping key places in the state become magnets for talent, supporting entrepreneurship in higher education, and focusing more on growth-stage companies. The first of these efforts, Innovation Places, is described in menu above. It weaves together entrepreneurship support and relationship-building with physical planning and development.

The Innovation Places program seeks to support entrepreneurs and leaders developing places that will attract the talent high-growth enterprises need. Think of an area you can walk to, bike to or take a train to where your mind comes alive with possibilities; where you run into brilliant people solving big problems and inventing new technology; where the sidewalks and cafes are full of conversation; where art events and music venues brim with people making new friends—a place full of ideas.

Such places attract talent like magnets. And they produce new solutions, products, and businesses that create jobs—high-skill, mid-skill and low-skill jobs—quickly. Young people and innovative organizations want to be in dense, vibrant, walkable places with public transportation and a mix of uses. Enterprises often grow quickly in areas with anchor institutions and where cutting edge research is taking place. Innovation Places are a part of the solution.

The Innovation Places program, part of Public Act 16-3, builds on the successes of entrepreneurs and intends to further support their work to grow the innovation community in Connecticut. The program has three parts:

1. Planning Grants to help communities develop an Innovation Places Master Plan and Implementation Application.

2. Implementation Grants to provide a portion of the funding required to implement the Master Plan.

3. Agency alignment: Encouragement for State agencies and offices to favor applications for financial and technical assistance for projects and initiatives in areas designated as Innovation Places.

Planning Grants

A community may apply for a grant to conduct a strategic planning process to discover and understand the relevant emerging conditions, risks and opportunities they face; to decide which capabilities the community needs; and to plan catalytic actions to build and leverage their capabilities to take advantage of those conditions, risks and opportunities. These processes should result in an Innovation Places Master Plan and Implementation Grant Application from the community. Awards will be up to $50,000.

Implementation Grants

An amount of $4,900,000 has been allocated each year for five years to augment private and public investments in programs and infrastructure likely to attract talented people and increase knowledge sharing that leads to innovation. This is a competitive, merit-based application process intended to make the greatest use of highly limited funds. As part of the process, applicants will be asked to submit a budget. Grant fund uses may include but are not limited to:

a. Attracting and directing support to startup businesses and attracting anchor institutions;

b. Developing, in collaboration with private partners, a business incubator, co-working space, business accelerator or public meeting space;

c. Events, community building, marketing and outreach; and

d. Open space improvement, housing development, bicycle paths and improved technology infrastructure, including broadband.

In the development of the Master Plan and Implementation Application, applicants will be encouraged to think creatively, beyond the example uses listed above, about what will catalyze a growing culture of innovation in their community.

Note that though the intent of the program lends itself to density-focused applications, applications from smaller communities will be considered.

Talented people are drawn not only to communities but to regions, with their job markets, transportation systems and access to amenities. Due to this connection, the extent to which Innovation Places applications leverage regional assets and relate to their larger region matters.

Agency Alignment

The Innovation Places program invites alignment among State agencies and offices whose programs relate to Innovation Places goals. These agencies include Connecticut Innovations, the Department of Housing, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Economic and Community Development’s offices of Business Development, Brownfield Remediation and Development, Arts, Innovation and State Historic Preservation. These agencies are currently exploring ways to collaborate and to provide enhanced consideration for projects occurring within or in partnership with Innovation Places awardees.

Applications may be submitted and reviewed according to the following schedule.

Phase I: Planning Grants

Open Planning Grant Application Process
July 1 – September 12, 2016

Planning Grant Awardees Notified
October 24 – October 28, 2016

Master Planning Process
December 1, 2016 – February 28, 2017

Phase II: Implementation Grants

Request to Apply for Implementation Grant
(due for applicants that did not apply for a Planning Grant)
Open from December 8 – December 23, 2016

Implementation Grant Application available online starting
December 12, 2016

Due Date for Optional Technical Review Submission
March 1, 2017

Technical Review Feedback Provided
March 15, 2017

Master Plan and Implementation Grant Application Due
April 1, 2017

Public Hearings on Applications
April 15 – May 15, 2017

Application Review Period
April 1 – May 30, 2017

Announcement of Grant Winners
June 2017

Anticipated Start Date
July 1, 2017

Note: All funding is dependent on approval of the CTNext Board of Directors. Timeframe above subject to change due to CTNext Board of Directors schedule.

The application process has two key steps. Interested applicants must first submit a Planning Grant application or a Request to Apply for Implementation Grant. Applications and requests that meet the requirements will be reviewed and scored in a strictly merit-based way by a Selection Advisory Committee, which will make recommendations to the CTNext Board of Directors for final approval. The applications that most strongly align with the CTNext Innovation Places intent will be invited to submit an Implementation Grant application. Only invited Implementation Grant applications will be accepted.

The ideal applicant would be an entity, preferably private, serving as the lead in a multi-party, highly collaborative consortium involving many players working to make their locale a destination of choice for entrepreneurs and innovative people. Each application will need to be endorsed by a municipality, and a municipality may only endorse one application.

The application is intended to measure the quality of the applicant’s vision, team, process and place. Each application question is an independent opportunity to achieve points, which will be aggregated for a final score. Please review the application to understand what will be evaluated. Sections that are highly weighted are noted.

Eligible applicants include corporations, associations, partnerships, limited liability companies, benefit corporations, nonprofit organizations, municipalities, institutions of higher education or any other similar entity. This excludes individuals. Applications must focus on one or more compact geographic areas within the same municipality having entrepreneurial and innovation potential. To be eligible for an Implementation Grant, applicants must have been invited to apply. Selected awardees must be based in Connecticut and be willing to reside in Connecticut for the duration of the contract.

There are several great resources out there for applicants looking to develop an effective strategy. Here are just a few.

Rationale: Why Innovation Places?

The writings below provide context around the rationale for and emergence of the Innovation Places concept as well as a compelling argument on the economics of job creation in the 21st century.

  • The Young and the Restless, a report by CEOs for Cities on the migration patterns and psychological patterns of 25-34 year olds. It represents extensive research on mobile young talent, including those who downshift from a big city to a small city, the key motivator for whom is a desire to have impact.

Planning Resources

  • The Strategy in Action Framework guides users through an active approach for developing strategy in dynamic conditions. Here is an overview. For a complete introduction, the book is Disrupted: Strategy for Exponential Change, by Larry Quick and David Plat

Governance Resources

As your team forms, it will need to decide how to govern itself through the strategy development and implementation processes.  Here are two related approaches to multi-stakeholder team management.

  • Constellation Governance is a flexible, action-focused framework to enable several organizations to work together to address a common challenge.  See this summary paper by Mark Surman and Tonya Surman and this more illustrative description of the model, by Tonya Surman.

Overall Process

Is the application process open to small communities?
Yes. Please review the Vision. If you think your community has a compelling case to make in service of the intent of the Innovation Places initiative, please apply.

May multiple entities within the same city apply?
Only one application will be accepted per municipality. (Note that this does not mean the municipality needs to be the applicant. See Eligibility for list of potential applicant types.) The expectation is that in an applicant community, all parties with substantial value to add to an application will collaborate on one joint application. An entity with the capacity to administer funds should be the official lead applicant.

Will regional applications be accepted, with multiple municipalities collaborating on a single application?
Yes. Each participating municipality would need to endorse the concept of the application. And it is important to note the dynamic tension between regional planning and cooperation and the kind of physical density intended for Innovation Places impact areas to engender serendipitous interactions among innovators. There may be creative solutions that accomplish both ends.

May individuals or entities serve on the Innovation Places planning teams of multiple communities?
We recommend that each person or entity serve on only one committee, but each planning team must manage its own membership. Please keep in mind that the quality of the planning team, including the past performance, capacity and commitment of each member to the team’s plan, is likely to be a significant factor in application evaluations.

How does the Innovation Places initiative define “mixed-use” development?
Public Act 16-3 specifies that mixed-use development includes, but is “not limited to, housing, office and retail.” Wikipedia defines the term usefully: Mixed-use development is a type of urban development that blends residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, or industrial uses, where those functions are physically and functionally integrated, and that provides pedestrian connections (

What is an Innovation Place “impact area”?
We use the term “impact area” to describe an area where an Innovation Places Master Plan directs resources to be targeted. The Implementation Grant application will require all impact areas to be indicated on a map submitted as part of the final application. Impact areas are the specific places (or locations) on which Innovation Places plans should focus.

What time period may applications cover?
Planning Grants will be one-time awards for the 2016–17 fiscal year. Implementation Grant plans and budgets should cover the time period appropriate to the project or projects for which the community is applying for funding. CTNext may grant funds for any period between one and five years. For multi-year grants, continuation in future years likely will be contingent on achievement of plans. Communities that do not win an Implementation Grant in 2017 may request an invitation to apply in later years.

For what types of expenditures may grants be used?
See the Guidelines section, which includes example uses. Keep in mind that with such limited funds, it may make sense to focus Innovation Places grant funding on programming and other costs that are difficult to fund. Capital projects may be more effectively funded with private monies and those from aligned agencies such as the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Planning Grant

Are CTNext Planning Grants intended to fund the entire cost of a planning process?
No. They are intended to be a part of the funding, with the balance coming from local planning team partners and sponsors.

Should applicants use the budget template provided?
Yes. We encourage applicants to use the budget template provided to help reviewers evaluate proposals.

Is there a word limit for applications?
Yes. In an effort to help you focus your application on the most important information and to help our review group consider each application thoroughly, we ask that application submissions not exceed 10 pages, which includes up to five pages (2,500 words) of question responses and up to five pages of supporting materials.

Is the program seeking a specific size match for the grant?
No. It will be evaluated relative to other applications and is likely to be only a very small portion of the evaluation. The purpose of asking about it in this early phase is to encourage early buy-in among participants and to help applicants raise funds for high-quality planning processes. It will be much more important to get private and other sources of match for the Implementation Grants than for the Planning Grant. Please note that we have updated the Budget template to provide space to list match contributors.

Why are researchers specifically called out in the application?
Some communities may want to attract more researchers as a part of their strategy. If your community does, then this question seeks to understand what you are doing to incorporate the voices of researchers, who are likely to have good ideas about what would attract other researchers to a community.

Does the Budget, to be uploaded in Application Question 9, count against the five-page limit for supporting materials?
It does not. Please leave the Budget a size that is easily readable. You are granted five pages of supporting materials to upload, PLUS the Budget. Please download the Budget template in Question 9, fill it out–adding rows if you need to and checking that it still sums properly–then select the CHOOSE FILE button to find the file on your computer and upload it. Then you may add an additional five pages of supporting material in the upload section at the bottom of the application.

What time is the Planning Grant application deadline on September 12?
It is due by 11:59 pm on September 12, but be kind to yourselves and your staff and get it in by 5:30 pm.

Implementation Grant

Can there be more than one Impact Area in an Innovation Place?
Yes, but be careful not to spread resources too thin so that intensity of interaction is diminished. An Impact Area is the geographical area where the programs and projects to be funded by the grant request will be located. A key goal of the Innovation Places program is to create places of intense interaction among innovators and entrepreneurs that can act as magnets for young talent. This is fostered by density of workers and residents, of anchor institutions and of existing entrepreneurial companies, supported by walkable streets lined with amenities such as interesting restaurants, retail and public spaces. While it may be possible to create this kind of environment from scratch, it usually makes more sense to build upon the part of your community/communities where some or all of these conditions are already in place.

Does an Innovation Place have to be anchored by a research institution?
No, but that is the most common model for Innovation Districts around the country. Often, a research university is the driver of the creation of an Innovation District next to its campus. Research universities, such as MIT in Cambridge, MA, can be a source of startup companies based on discoveries by their faculty. Research universities also conduct research that does not result in startups, but attracts established companies that want to be close to, and interact with, the university’s leading researchers, such as at CMU in Pittsburgh, PA. Large companies can play a similar role, serving as a source of spinoff companies and/or as thought leaders who attract other firms into their orbit. Be creative in discovering and engaging your anchor institutions, including partnering with anchor institutions currently outside your community, if necessary.

Why is the team weighted so heavily in the application? 
The CTNext board looks at potential Innovation Places the same way an angel investor or a VC firm looks at a startup. The vision/product is important, but even more important is the team’s demonstrated ability to execute, including the ability to learn from experience and pivot quickly as necessary. This is why the focus is on teams that are privately led and publicly supported, rather than the reverse. Ideally, this private leadership would include entrepreneurs with significant experience in executing disruptive ideas, building owners, developers who can leverage their assets, and anchor institutions.

Is the “Collective Impact” model the preferred governance structure?
No, that is just one model, which may be too complex for the stage of evolution of the collaboration you are creating. You need to find a collaboration structure that is a good fit for the level of trust that exists among your team, and allow the structure to evolve organically as your project progresses. As Joe McFeely emphasized at our Governance Workshop on December 7, successful collaboration is not about the suppression of self-interest for the common good; rather, it is about the honoring and harnessing of each partner’s self-interest for mutual benefit.

Is there a template for the budget for the final application?
No.  Your uploaded Strategic Plan should show budget detail on sources and uses of funds for each of the projects for which you are requesting CTNext funding.  In addition, in Section III, you should upload a summary sources and uses of funds across all projects.

What will the Technical Review consist of?
Applicants seeking to take advantage of a Technical Review of their application should submit a draft application by March 1, 2017.  The Technical Review will be completed by March 15, 2017 and will flag any missing elements which would disqualify the application.  The Technical Review will not evaluate the content of the application.  Applicants who submit an application for Technical Review on March 1, 2017 may continue to refine their applications during and after the Technical Review.  The final deadline for applications is April 1, 2017.

Is it appropriate to use part of the implementation grant to continue the planning we started with the planning grant?
Yes. We do not expect the strategic plan you will be submitting on April 1 to be a detailed blueprint for the development of your community as an Innovation Place. It should be a general framework that will facilitate the organic unfolding of your Innovation Place over time. For example, your proposal might include funding requests for some specific project that acts as a catalyst to build momentum as well as a request to continue your planning in more detail that will allow you to learn and adapt, taking a phased approach.

In the section of the final application entitled “Proposal to Enhance Local Innovation Ecosystem,” there seem to be two documents that answer open questions for the grant: Under “Summary,” it says, “Write a detailed two- to three-page proposal that demonstrates how you will enhance your local innovation ecosystem.” Under “Plan Upload,” it says, “Please upload the Strategic Plan developed through the Innovation Places planning process.” How do these differ?
Even though it says “detailed two- to three-page proposal,” the summary is actually calling for an executive summary that includes the vision. The Strategic Plan should include the following elements (as mentioned in the application):

  • The key immediate and emergent conditions that have shaped the applicant’s Innovation Places program.
  • The strategic opportunities and risks (SORs) for your proposed Innovation Place in those conditions.
  • The value you intend to create from those SORs through your plan.
  • How your existing economic, physical and social capabilities are currently aligned to produce that value.
  • How your proposed projects will serve as catalysts to better align existing, and create new, capabilities to produce this value.

Based on this strategy foundation, the plan should then provide detail on each proposed project, including scope of work, timing, cost, responsibility and sources of funding.

In the application, you ask: “What are the residential population density, total population, job density and total jobs within ¼ mile and two miles of the center of each impact area?” Did you mean two miles or one mile?
We want to understand both the core and the larger context of the Impact Area(s). We assume the core of the Impact Area(s) will be approximately a 1/2 square mile (a 1/4-mile radius from center), the typical area encompassed by the walking distance from a retail business. The two-mile radius (four square miles) is to understand the primary context for the Impact Area(s) in terms of the residents and workers for which the Impact Area(s) will serve as a focal point.  

In fostering an Innovation Place, is the preference for the technology sector over others?
Our focus is on businesses that sell goods and services beyond the local market, have disruptive business models and aspire to grow. These may or may not be technology based. They can also include social enterprises, for example. A healthy innovation ecosystem includes businesses of all types. Some businesses start with more of a local focus and evolve into growth-oriented business with larger market reach.

In fostering an Innovation Place, is the preference for young people as opposed to all ages?
An Innovation Place should include entrepreneurs and innovators of all ages. Entrepreneurs tend to skew a little older. But, it is critical for an Innovation Place to attract young talent, as the 25-34 age cohort is when most of us shop for a place/region, so this group constitutes most of the marginal demand for places, especially urban places.

Where can I find statistical information on research and development activity?
The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) list their grant dollars by institution/place. Patent data is available by place. This data includes companies and individuals, not just institutions.

Where can I find information on existing commercialization and entrepreneurial activity?
Data on employment by age of firm is available from the U.S. Department of Labor.

We are trying to determine (budget space for) what our 10 pages of attachments will be.  Are the resolution, mayor’s letter and maps part of the 10 pages of attachments?
Four attachments are specifically required as part of the application: (1) letters of support, including one from the municipality; (2) a map of the impact area(s); (3) the strategic plan; and (4) the summary budget. The letters of support, the map and the summary budget together should not exceed 10 pages of attachments. The strategic plan does not count against the 10 pages of attachments limit. You may place any supplemental materials not specifically called out to be uploaded to the application in an appendix to the strategic plan. Since these would then be part of the strategic plan, they would not count against the 10 pages of attachments limit.

Is there a word count limit to the text answers?
Yes, 7,500 words.

Can answers to the application questions use graphics and tables, or just text?
Just text. But you can refer to graphics and tables that appear in an appendix to the strategic plan.

Can the summary budget be uploaded as an Excel file?

Do you have a preferred format for presenting detail on proposed projects?
No, that is up to you. But you need to include detail on scope of work, timing, cost, responsibility and sources of funding. You should show how each project relates to the findings of the strategic planning process and the diagnostic of economic, physical and social capabilities. And, as all of your projects will not likely get funded (if you’re named an Innovation Place), you should prioritize your projects for CTNext funding based on a combination of (1) logical sequence, (2) potential impact on key gaps in your innovation ecosystem, and (3) difficulty of execution.

Different projects are in different states of development. We anticipate that as we move into April and May, things will continue to evolve with increasing clarity about what partners are ready/willing to contribute financially. We will want to use the time between submission of our application and the public presentation of the initiatives (if we are selected as a finalist) to refine details, commitments and sources and uses of funds even further. Is there is a mechanism for us to update our presentation with progress that has been made since April 1?
Submit the best budget estimate you can on April 1, 2017. Finalists will have an opportunity to update their estimates during the site visits, and if you are designated as an Innovation Place, there will be a budget negotiation as part of the contract process, which is when all budget items will be finalized.

We know that assumptions and projections for time change over the course of a project. What happens if a successful Innovations Place grantee budgets for years 1, 2 and 3 and then determines in year 2 that the work is substantially either well ahead of OR behind the initial projected schedule, and therefore needs substantially more or substantially less resources at that time? Will there be an opportunity to revise the budget?
Multi-year requests for funding will be contracted one year at a time, with subsequent funding contingent upon the achievement of specific milestones. The budget submitted for Year 2 is considered a framework for specific budget negotiations, which would take place at the end of the initial contract period. This process will have the flexibility to enable pivots, as appropriate.

In assembling our application and reviewing the notes sent last week, we have a question about what the team should represent. Is it the governance team, as in a steering group that guides the strategic plan, or an implementation team, which would be responsible for the implementation of the plan?
You might want to include both and explain the distinction. Where is the entrepreneurial energy in your structure? The first team sounds like a board of directors. That’s good to know. But the implementation team is probably more important, if they are the real drivers. Do they have the kind of successful past experiences that would indicate they can be successful in developing your community into an Innovation Place?

In the section of the application titled “Proposal to Enhance Local Innovation Ecosystem,” there are two questions titled “Experimentation and rigor” and “Baseline data and ongoing data collection plan.” Could you explain the distinction between these two questions?
The distinction is what versus how. The first asks what metrics you will use to determine success, and the second asks how you will collect data on the metrics, both at the beginning and over time. The first also asks you to anticipate what will be challenges to implementing your plan. The second also calls for you to describe how you will assess these challenges, through ongoing surveillance of emerging conditions.

We have a question about this statement in the Guidelines:

Agency Alignment

The Innovation Places program invites alignment among State agencies and offices whose programs relate to Innovation Places goals. These agencies include Connecticut Innovations, the Department of Housing, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Economic and Community Development’s offices of Business Development, Brownfield Remediation and Development, Arts, Innovation and State Historic Preservation. These agencies are currently exploring ways to collaborate and to provide enhanced consideration for projects occurring within or in partnership with Innovation Places awardees. What does this statement in bold mean? Should we be working with, contacting and communicating with these various state agencies to “explore ways to collaborate” with them?
We have been meeting with those agencies to discuss ways that they might target their programs to designated Innovation Places. Some may decide to give Innovation Places preference points in their competitive grant programs, such as brownfields, housing and TOD programs. Other agencies that do not have competitive grant programs per se but offer loans and/or grants to companies may commit to doing more aggressive outreach to designated Innovation Places. Similar to the Planning grant phase, we have included representatives from the above-stated agencies as part of the Selection Review Advisory Committee for the Implementation IP proposals.

All that said, wherever you can leverage CTNext dollars with other state funding you have already secured, or believe you will secure, by all means do so as part of your near-term and future outlook.


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