October 17, 2011 | last updated June 4, 2012 12:05 pm

Start-up businesses focus of new CT initiative | Through Startup America connection, state hopes to grow businesses that will grow jobs

PHOTO/PABLO ROBLES
PHOTO/PABLO ROBLES
Charlotte Creech co-founded Combat2Career shortly after graduating the University of Connecticut School of Business in May. She and her business partner want to help veterans find colleges and universities catering to their career goals.
PHOTO/PABLO ROBLES
Mallory Kievman, 13, decided to sell lollipops that stop the hiccups after suffering a summer of hiccups. Her company, Hiccupops, wants to have the product on the market by March 2012.

An educational placement agency for veterans. A group social networking platform. A lollipop for the hiccups. A meeting organizer. A worldwide market research tool.

Connecticut is tying its jobs and economy future to some small, small — very small — companies. These start-up businesses are long on ideas and inspiration, short on revenue and connections, and someday want to grow into large employers.

"Entrepreneurs and innovators are special people," Gov. Dannel Malloy said. "In essence, what we are building is a small business infrastructure."

When Malloy announced at his Governor's Economic Summit on Oct. 6 that Connecticut would be the third state in the nation to join the Startup America program, he put his faith in supporting very small companies now in order to grow them into the major employers of Connecticut's future.

Startup Connecticut works by providing qualifying small businesses less than five years old with the guidance and connections needed to bring their ideas and products to fruition and grow in their markets. This support will be returned — hopefully — by the businesses staying and hiring in Connecticut, and the entrepreneurs sticking with the state when they start another new business.

"We are focused on young companies because young companies are the job creators in America," said Scott Case, founding chief technology officer of Priceline and CEO of Startup America. "It's not just these young companies, but the entrepreneurs that lead them."

Startup Connecticut will include regional centers to support startup businesses as they grow and mentoring from major national companies — such as Google and Facebook — to help the young entrepreneurs get started.

While the program is designed to help hundreds of start-ups across the state, here's five enlisted in Startup Connecticut now that Malloy and his team hope will become a major part of the state economy further down the road.

Combat2Career

Combat2Career was founded in May by 26-year-old Charlotte Creech and U.S. Coast Guard veteran Meghan Brunaugh, shortly after their graduation from the University of Connecticut MBA program.

The company, based in West Simsbury, will help military veterans returning from combat use the GI Bill to find reputable and appropriate colleges and universities to pursue a career of their choosing.

"We want to provide veterans with a customized educational search portal," said Creech, the company's CEO.

Creech came up with the business idea after learning how for-profit colleges and universities will strongly pursue military veterans to use the GI Bill at their institutions but not provide a quality education in return.

Creech and Brunaugh have raised $78,000 from private investors for the company and have applied for a $150,000 in pre-seed funding from the quasi-state investment agency Connecticut Innovations. The duo hopes to launch its Web site — Combat2Career.com — in March 2012.

The Web-based service will be free to military veterans, but the company plans to charge colleges and businesses to list their programs and job openings on the site.

"We know that the business is sustainable," Creech said. "We know the colleges and businesses want military veterans."

MoxMe!

MoxMe! was founded four years ago in Mansfield by a group of siblings tired of missing soccer practice and other events due to last minute changes and poor communication.

"At the time, it started as an alert network," said Nick Briere, MoxMe! co-founder and co-president. "It started off pretty slow. The first few years were mostly theory."

What the company evolved into was a group social networking platform. Instead of being centered around individuals, MoxMe! links groups to their many users, able to provide news, updates and sharing features.

Schools, soccer teams, doctors' offices can send out calendars of their many events, provide updates to their members and communicate directly with individuals or groups. Through online sharing, MoxMe! is developing ways for those groups to broadcast events, so grandparents in Maine can watch a school fashion show in real time.

Founded by Nick and Emily Briere — along with siblings Chris and Maddie and friend Laura Chrobak — MoxMe! has raised $500,000 in funding and hired 14 programmers to develop the concept. The company finished its trials last year with Mansfield Public Schools and wants to expand into many more communities and groups in the near future.

The company intends to grow its user base as much as possible before trying to monetize the concept, either through advertising or charging for services.

"It is going to grow exponentially," Nick Briere said.

Hiccupops

Mallory Kievman, 13, of Manchester, sparked the idea for a lollipop that stops the hiccups in the summer of 2010 when she suffered from frequent hiccups.

Hiccupops was born this year combining all the research Kievman put into stopping her own hiccups. Hiccupops uses three different ingredients that overstimulate the nerves causing the problem, stopping the hiccups.

Kievman has had a few bumps in the road — such as getting the product to properly form and securing the necessary guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — but the company has filed for a patent and will bring the product to market by the end of the first quarter 2012.

"Most of it has been pretty fun, actually," Kievman said. "Some of it has been difficult, but I've enjoyed it."

Mallory and her father Adam Kievman are the only Hiccupops employees now, and the company is entirely self-funded. Hiccupops will launch a round of angel investments in the next six months.

Beyond selling to the retail market, Mallory Kievman hopes to move into the medical market. One of the side effects of cancer treatments is hiccups, and Kievman hopes to have doctors give Hiccupops to patients.

MeetingKing

MeetingKing grew out of founder Edwin Siebesma's frustration will the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of meetings, particularly at businesses.

MeetingKing cuts down on the inefficiencies by integrating all of a meeting's documents and materials beforehand. Then, as the meeting is going on, those documents can be edited as people discuss the various topics.

MeetingKing also provides the ability to assign tasks and due dates for items discusses while the meeting is ongoing — eliminating the problem of people forgetting what they're supposed to do upon exiting the meeting.

"The idea is really about spreading and creating useful information," Siebesma said. "It helps you keep track of everything you discussed."

The company, based in Tolland, was started in December. Siebesma doesn't have any employees yet but is working with contractors to help manage the site.

Eventually, MeetingKing will become a subscription-based service for meetings of more than two people, although Siebesma is yet to develop the pricing model.

Watu Research

Watu Research wants to give corporations, non-profits and other organizations a quick and effective research tool for local populations.

The company, founded two years ago while CEO Steve Moses was at Duke University's School of Business in North Carolina, offers customers a chance to target their products to a specific group of people.

Watu intends to secure panelists from local populations — whether they are in Kenya, Indonesia or Harford — so customers can send the panelists surveys and product information via mobile phone to determine what will be popular with the local people.

"We are trying to engage global populations," Moses said. "We are interested in creating real connections with real users on the ground."

The organizations will pay to use this service, and Watu will pay the panelists as they respond to the requests. The panelists get the added benefit of shaping the products that impact their lives, Moses said.

Watu employs seven people and is still largely based in North Carolina. That will change in May when Moses graduates from Duke and the entire team moves to Connecticut to be closer to Startup Connecticut's services.

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