The leaders of two statewide trade groups say an alliance between the two could mean more opportunity for tech entrepreneurs and venture investors, as well as more exposure and better reach for the organizations themselves.
The New Haven-based Connecticut Venture Group and the Connecticut Technology Council of Hartford have forged an alliance that gives Gold Coast venture capitalists access to Hartford area tech firms and gives tech firms access to savvy investors.
Matthew Nemerson, president of the Tech Council, said the two organizations have traveled in the same circles for years, but never really interacted as much as they should have, even though the Venture Group has a Hartford office.
He described the previous relationship as much like the relationship between Major League Baseball's American League and National League.
"There's a lot of overlap in terms of mission, and some of the studies we've done say there's a lack of statewide venture opportunity in critical industries," Nemerson said.
But is one of the two trade groups headed for the minor leagues as a result of the new arrangement?
No, each says, acknowledging talks of a full-on merger have occurred in recent years.
For now, Nemerson said, the Tech Council will "be taking care of a lot of the nitty-gritty stuff" like planning and organizing events and soliciting sponsorships. Each organization also said it wants to maintain some independence.
Combined, the Tech Council and Venture Group will work with a budget of about $1 million, Nemerson said. About two-thirds of that will come from the Tech Council.
For now, each will retain a home office "without diminishing the brand," Nemerson said. They'll use one master calendar, and will eventually put out one master pitch for sponsorships. Instead of competing for members, the two groups can offer joint membership.
Geographically, the alliance underlines just how big a small state can seem.
Historically, the venture community has been centered in Stamford while entrepreneurship, planning and services firms tend to flock around the capital city in order to keep a closer eye and have input on public policy.
Boosting the Venture Group's presence in the Hartford region is an immediate goal. The two groups plan to "make CVG even more of a force in the state," Nemerson said, in order to keep more investment dollars in Connecticut.
Frank Milone, co-president of the Venture Group's Hartford chapter, said in order to do that, the two groups need to work under a "unified strategy."
"Connecticut is facing a crisis. We need to focus on economic development and job growth. Everyone points to technology and tech-based companies" to do that," Milone said.
There is value for tech firms in Connecticut, Milone said, but the firms need support, services and help in solving their problems in order to maintain that value. The ability for venture investors to actually provide capital "is really an important thing," Milone said.
Until now, it seemed as if the boards of directors of each group worked together, and overlapped in key areas, but were always running in different directions.
"Now, I can tap into Matt Nemerson and his board, which I'm part of. The goal is to get VCs and the risk capital industry more engaged in the CVG," Milone said. "The Hartford region is in desperate need of VC, but maybe VCs don't see the value they see in Stamford because there's more of a cluster in that region."
The same kind of cluster could exist in the Harford region if the Tech Council and Venture Group are successful in engaging the University of Connecticut, the region's entrepreneurs and organizations like Connecticut Innovations, Milone said.
Both the Venture Group and the Tech Council hope that working together can attract companies to Connecticut or help companies grow in Connecticut by making it a bit easier for them "to get to the right spot," Milone said.
"We've gotten feedback, and companies say that it's not easy to find what you need," Milone said.
The Venture Group has also hired Elizabeth "Liddy" Karter, principal of Karter Capital, an investment and advisory firm, as its new executive director.
Karter is an experienced entrepreneur and investor from Old Lyme. She begins as executive director Jan. 1. Both Nemerson and Milone said Karter's appointment goes a long way toward giving the venture investment community a statewide voice.
In a statement, Karter said, "We intend to aggressively coordinate the capital resources in the state and reengage the local venture funds."