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INNOVATION PLACES PROFILE with Elinor Slomba, Elm City Innovation Collaborative

What drew you to the opportunity to lead this initiative in New Haven?

I dearly love the New Haven ecosystem and know a lot of the players, having worked with them before in various other capacities. I managed a program called Project Storefronts that actually spawned The Grove as an experiment back in 2009 (before my tenure). Then, working at The Grove I got to know Make Haven and a lot of the other organizations. I’m working on a master’s in public policy at Northwestern and taking a course right now in intergovernmental relations. I’m looking forward to getting to know the other Innovation Places representatives and looking at how all of our pieces fit into this bigger picture and the story the state is trying to tell. In essence, I picture my role as the hostess of a brilliant dinner party that never ends, where you want to have different kinds of guests and have conversations flow in a coherent way.

What is your vision for New Haven in the coming years as the Innovation Places program rolls along?

Well, a lot of people have been co-creating this vision, and I think we want to see the work that’s being done by various organizations to take place more often between and among different players and entities, establishing a deeply connective tissue that will help growing industries become stronger and more confident and lead to vigorous and sustainable growth. I look forward to developing some distinct and shared mental models for what is occurring in the innovation ecosystem and how it’s occurring. A lot of times people are talking about the same thing, but saying it in different ways, so it looks like a dazzling amount of moving parts. I’d like to see us get better at telling our own story in ways that are not just exciting to us, but can be really understandable, digestible and invigorating to those on the outside looking in.

What’s going on in New Haven right now in terms of the initial projects?

We have 11 organizations that have gone to contract with ECIC as fully fledged subprograms. These encompass some pretty serious space buildouts like Make Haven, State House, the Ives Innovation Commons and Science Park Development Corporation. We’ve also activated a good deal of intercollegiate activity, with Southern Connecticut State University’s Center for STEM Innovation setting up a Small Instrument Fund and a summer research program to help students at various institutions gain industry-relevant experience to secure jobs here after graduation. And while that sounds like a lot, many of these organizations are working together as distinct points of articulation on a whole talent pipeline that is designed to support developing products, companies and entrepreneurs. It’s a happy thing to see scientists getting out of their silos and co-working! And we have makers learning about the medical device industry and testing out small batch production at area machine shops. It’s become an exciting space with a lot of coordinated work and serious opportunities.

Why do you suppose New Haven was selected to be an Innovation Place?

New Haven is known as the creative capital of Connecticut, and it has a mammoth legacy as a center for biotech and some advanced industries. I think there’s an enormous potential for greater force to be unleashed from conversations happening across sectors and across organizational lines.

Fast forward five years from now—what will success look like for the community?

I think that the magnetizing aspects drawing people to New Haven, or maybe back to New Haven after they’ve left and done other things out in the world, will be the sense that they’re in a community of smart risk takers that know what’s available and can realistically handle big ideas. We want people in New Haven to feel like they’re in a community that can hand off the needs of a particular project or product to one another at critical stages, add value and keep it moving. We want better recognition for the roles for people in the biosciences who aren’t necessarily scientists themselves, for instance, people who understand prototyping and the whole business model generation side of things. We want designers and makers to see themselves in a more advanced way than maybe they have in the past. Then again, pretty amazing inventions have come out of New Haven in the past, and so we want to honor that, too. I think we can develop together, in a collaborative way, over the next several years and really hit some exciting milestones.

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