December 6, 2010 | last updated May 30, 2012 12:02 am

Tech Firms Finding CT A Challenge

In the fall of 1999, Manish Chowdhary, a 20-year-old undergrad from India studying computer engineering at the University of Bridgeport, launched an e-commerce company out of his dorm room.

Today, GoECart is among less than a handful of cloud computing, software-as-a-service providers in Connecticut. And it is competing with the likes of Amazon and Yahoo.

But GoECart is among a growing group of tech companies who are finding Connecticut a tough place to attract the top talent they need to compete.

GoECart offers retail merchants browser-based, end-to-end software solutions including website development and maintenance, product display, order management, sales and customer service management, tie-ups with other service providers and promotion via social networking sites.

"I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and an idea took shape," says Chowdhary, who hired classmates and funded the venture with credit cards. "Clients can leverage our platform in a self-service fashion — buy additional services such as training, consulting, web design, data migration and so on. We can connect them with service partners for ancillary services like Google advertising and e-mail marketing," he explains.

Daniel Herzka, vice president of Long Island-based Colorpre Promotions, hired GoECart when his firm opened an online store for Pitney Bowes logo-imprinted merchandise. "GoECart is my platform of choice. They developed a special interface connecting the logo store with the internal Pitney Bowes system ERP applications," he says.

GoECart became profitable two years after inception and has acquired over 250 small, mid-sized, and publicly-traded clients across the country, with collaborators ranging from Google and FedEx to PayPal — with whom the firm is ranked a top 50 partner.

"GoECart is a fantastic e-commerce platform. By offering PayPal's products and services through them, we're able to reach an even larger group of merchants and ultimately make the checkout experience better for merchants and consumers alike," says Eddie Davis of PayPal.

Chowdhary says the privately held company posts revenues of over $1 million annually and is on an aggressive growth mode, reinvesting its profits in R&D and technology development. But there are significant road bumps stemming from geography.

"The talent we're looking for — the attitude, the mindset, the ecosystem — that is sadly not in Connecticut," Chowdhary says. "It's very hard to find qualified R&D and sales people with technology insight in our space. We don't have people coming from complementary companies or technologies because few companies in Connecticut do what we do. And because we compete with likes of Yahoo, we need top talent."

In addition to not being able to find affordable talent here, Chowdhary is struggling to recruit people from out-of-state. "Nobody wants to move to Connecticut," he says.

Mike Scricca of the Connecticut Technology Council says this is a problem endemic to technology companies across the state. "Executives are struggling to get talent — especially young talent — to move here because housing is an issue, public transportation is an issue, and there isn't a concentration of other young people. We also haven't been able to retain students graduating from local universities," he says.

Chowdhary is keen to point out that he does not want to come across as being negative. The state has been good to him; it is where his company was born. But he has not ruled out the possibility of moving out.

"California appears to be a better environment from a technical fit," he says, adding he'd be close to his market and his talent pool, so the benefits could justify the costs. "Or there are R&D hubs in Austin and Raleigh that offer companies the opportunity to grow by recruiting the right kind of talent."

Chowdhary is not alone in his opinion.

Jeffrey Cohen, vice president of Image Works, LLC in Vernon, an e-commerce solutions provider, says talent is hard to come by since fewer people in Connecticut understand a body shop concept, perhaps because they were downsized from corporate America. So his firm hires global talent remotely.

"We find that people here can't scale to a specific project. They're unable to understand the difference between a $2,000 and $20,000 website. I need someone who can build me a couple of apps in three days or so and then we move on to another project," he says, adding that the problem lies in search friction — the inability to find the right kind of people. "They're there in Connecticut, but we can't find them. They don't know how to market themselves."

According to Eileen Hasson, president of Cromwell-headquartered Computer Company Inc., a provider of data center and network solutions, it's tough to find talent in Connecticut or recruit people from out-of-state. "Getting higher level skill-sets has always been tough, but it's become worse over the years. I've lost a couple of my own people to bigger companies outside Connecticut," she says.

Hasson, who started her firm in 1996, says the entrepreneurial base in Connecticut has not grown much over the years. "We need to feed off a diverse pool of innovative businesses," she says. "But the pool hasn't grown bigger. It's the same group of people out there."

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