Hartford-area business accelerators regain momentum in new post-COVID landscape

Two years after the pandemic forced many to close or relocate their operations, Hartford-area startup accelerator and incubator programs are hoping to bounce back in a changed landscape spurred by the return of in-person events.

Hartford’s efforts to grow a startup ecosystem have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with some accelerator programs shifting to a remote model, or simply shutting down altogether.

In recent months, however, new acceleration programs have emerged, and some that existed before the pandemic have revived in-person operations in an effort to help startups get started and showcase Hartford as a landing spot. for entrepreneurs looking to create jobs and stimulate new economic activity.

The bigger question is still whether Hartford can become a hub of startup activity, the same way New Haven gave birth to the bioscience industry and Stamford is gaining traction with fintech companies.

“I’m completely bullish on that,” said Paul Tyler, chief marketing officer at Nassau Financial Group, speaking of Hartford’s potential as a technology hub. “I just think it’s going to be different from what people expect.”

Nassau Financial Group operates the Nassau Re/Imagine Incubator from its Boat Building offices in downtown Hartford. Tyler said he thinks the accelerator and incubator space will focus more on events, conferences and person-to-person networking, rather than temporarily moving companies to its Hartford offices, as the world grapples with a post-COVID hybrid work environment.

“It’s not going to happen in a cabin, it just isn’t,” Tyler said.

Startup accelerators have traditionally offered training, mentoring, funding, and some sort of office space to start-up companies. Prior to the pandemic, several accelerators operated in Hartford and brought dozens of start-ups to the city, where entrepreneurs interacted with mentors, consultants, local colleges and some of the largest employers interested in testing their products or their ideas.

Startupbootcamp, a London-based company that was hired to run two Hartford accelerator programs focused on grooming insurance and health tech companies, exited the market in 2020. A startup accelerator hosted by the New Britain toolmaker Stanley Black & Decker moved to Baltimore this year after operating in Hartford for the past three years.

Organizations like reSET and Launc[H] trying to regain momentum.

ReSET is a social enterprise incubator that has returned to in-person events for its three-month Impact Accelerator 2022 program, which includes 11 socially responsible startups, ranging from a Hartford-based publishing service (Lauren Simone Publishing) to a natural body care company (Ital Créations).

ReSET’s Venture Showcase event, taking place June 23 at the Connecticut Science Center, will allow entrepreneurs to share their updated business plans and vision for growth in front of investors and other industry stakeholders. company.

“The goal here is really to make sure these people come away with lots of new relationships, networks and funding,” said Sarah Bodley, executive director of reSET. “We are able to distribute $15,000 in cash prizes this year to [our 2022] cohort, … and the goal here is that it sort of launches them into their next phase of growth.

The Impact Accelerator operates out of reSET’s Park Street coworking space. Since its creation in 2007, 143 companies have participated in the program.

Bodley said the coworking space has seen a drop in memberships during the pandemic, but the numbers have picked up recently. All of reSET’s private offices are currently occupied by 30 to 40 active members, she said.

“I think people are eager to get out of their homes, but not necessarily get back to the office, so coworking is an attractive alternative to a cafe or a library,” Bodley said.

Find the right balance

Throw[H]a business and entrepreneur support group, announced in April that it is partnering with Silicon Valley-based accelerator Plug and Play Health to work with five startups to scale and grow their businesses.

Throw[H] Director Michelle Cote said that before March 2020, her organization was focused on bringing startups to the city for in-person programming, but when travel stopped, that all changed.

“The pandemic has had a huge impact,” Côté said. “Even though they had a small outpost here in Hartford, through one of the facilities that cater to start-ups, having a physical presence in the city became very difficult to maintain.”

Now, the organization offers a mix of in-person and online programs. Early May, Launc[H] partnered with InsurTech Hartford to bring 48 companies to the city for a symposium. Côté said the current accelerator with Plug and Play Health is live, so businesses can continue to work virtually from home.

Of the five startups, only one is based in Connecticut — Stamford’s NourishedRx, a digital health company that uses artificial intelligence to match members with personalized meal and grocery deals.

Côté said programs like the Plug and Play collaboration strike a balance between supporting startups while helping to establish the Hartford brand as a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation. Hartford-based organizations — including Hartford HealthCare and Trinity College — will offer feedback to participating startups and show them the opportunities the city has to offer as they grow their business.

“We are working on opportunities for them to physically come and hang out in the city and think about growth strategies that would include a meaningful presence in Hartford,” Côté said.

International reach

In May, Farmington’s Bridge Healing Arts Center hosted its first Well4Tech Bootcamp for startups, and CEO Yisroel Rabinowitz said he hoped to turn the program into a regular event.

PHOTO HBJ | STEVE LACHEVER

Ou Haviv, a partner and head of global businesses at Arieli Capital, who was a partner in Bridge Healing Arts Center’s recent Well4Tech Bootcamp accelerator.

The Bridge announced in May that it was collaborating with Arieli Capital, an American and Israeli holding and investment company, to launch the international Well4Tech Bootcamp for tech startups in the fields of physical therapy and mental health. Rabinowitz said Arieli held similar training camps in Israel and Italy, but this was his first collaboration in America.

“Health and wellness has become such a huge market, especially as we come out of COVID, so we wanted to try and attract tech startups into those areas,” said Rabinowitz, who has also been an investor. active in Hartford real estate and is CEO of development company Universal Enterprise. He bought The Bridge building at 304 Main Street in 2015 for $1.4 million.

Six companies from Europe, Israel and the United States participated in meetings with investors and industry leaders culminating in a pitch event on May 26. Companies had investment opportunities during the bootcamp and were offered office space for up to one year under the program.

Alexandra Dantzig, co-founder of fitness software company JET SWEAT, flew in from Manhattan to participate in the bootcamp.

“It was really great to be part of this pitch day, as we are in our first fundraising round, so we are excited to secure expansion capital to scale the business,” Dantzig said.

JET SWEAT helps connect fitness studios and professionals to customers using proprietary video streaming software, allowing them to grow and compete with bigger companies like Peloton. Danzig said his JET SWEAT has many part-time employees, but hopes to expand the team after fundraising.

Maya Dayan and her brother, Kfir Dayan, came from Israel to introduce their parent tech company Jama. The duo is raising funds so they can expand their presence in the United States. They said it was their first time networking in the country.

Jama – a phone app for new parents to share tips, tricks and ideas – has about 50,000 users in Israel, but the company is set to watch globally after launching in 2020. Connecticut could feature on the shortlist of founders for a US office.

“We are targeting the US market,” Kfir Dayan said. “It looks like you have a good infrastructure for business here in Connecticut.”

Or Haviv, partner and head of global businesses at Arieli, said Connecticut has a lot of what his company is looking for when it comes to business start-up programs: universities, available capital, and a welcoming business ecosystem. and solid. He said his company plans to hold more acceleration programs at The Bridge in the future.

“Connecticut is known for having a serious health and insurance industry,” Haviv said. “We hope to be able to show businesses what Connecticut has to offer.”

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