The month of May has been a whirlwind, culminating this past Thursday with the final Innovation Places public pitch and site tour, bringing to seven the total number of opportunities the CTNext board had to learn more about each applicant’s vision for their community in greater depth. Not only did the visits offer more insight into each community’s proposal, they yielded a number of compelling and thought-provoking takeaways:
Seeing Can Be Better Than Reading:
Each candidate in the Innovation Places program was required to complete multiple rounds of written applications and submit materials, all of which were used by the CTNext board to arrive at the decisions it has made to date. The site visits demonstrated that, for some things in life, seeing them in person is better than reading about them. The in-person presentations and interactive tours, which included walks, trolley rides and water taxis, brought each applicant’s respective proposal to life, helping board members better understand and visualize how an Innovation Places grant would ultimately be utilized by each community to achieve the vision set forth on paper.
These Folks Are Serious:
When the CTNext board made its choices for finalists known in late April, it set into motion a condensed and rather frenetic timeline that required each applicant to organize a pitch and tour. Given the pace of the process, one could have expected the presentations to be rather basic in nature and the tours themselves somewhat hastily organized. This was anything but the case. Across all the visits, presentations and tours were well thought out, choreographed and attended by both local dignitaries and a bevy of leaders representing different corners of the community. The quality of the presentations, coordinated with so little preparation time, served as evidence of the seriousness and determination with which each finalist is pursuing a winner’s grant.
“People Buy the Leader Before They Buy the Vision”
When it comes to economic development, access to capital is certainly an important factor. It’s what all the Innovation Places finalists are vying for, after all. But, in many cases, the true predictors of success are dependent not on quantity of cash but quality of leadership. For the CTNext board, assessing the leadership chops in each community was a key objective. And only through in-person visits could the board actually engage and interact with each community’s leadership team and get a feel for their enthusiasm and vision. It was a reminder that, while impressive-looking resumes and biographies have value, experiencing interpersonal connections, even for just a few hours, can reveal so much more.
Innovation in Progress
The Innovation Places program is yet another of CTNext’s many programs designed to spur business growth and job creation across the state. Perhaps the most heartening and exciting takeaway from the two weeks’ worth of site visits was the realization that place-based innovation is already happening across Connecticut from the bottom up. From new co-working spaces popping up and the ongoing redevelopment of Stamford’s Harbor Point, to a brand new co-working space under construction in South Norwalk for creatives, to the Spark makerspace kitchen in New London, to the organic concentration of multiple tech firms in New Haven, to Hartford reinvesting and committing to a resurgence as the Insurance Capital through the creation of a hub for insurtech startups, to Central Connecticut State University’s Institute of Technology and Business Development incubating businesses, and to Danbury’s Main Street corridor revitalization, it’s evident that no one is starting from scratch. In many ways, winners will use an Innovation Places grant to help maintain momentum and in many cases accelerate efforts already undertaken to establish their communities as an attractive destination for small businesses and entrepreneurs—and these investments will be right on time and critical for Connecticut’s innovation economy to compete globally and succeed in the 21st century.