May 28, 2018

Entrepreneurs offer thoughts for improving startup climate

Spencer Curry
Adam Lazar
Richard Portelance

Spencer Curry, co-founder and CEO, Trifecta Ecosystems

Spencer Curry, co-founder and CEO of Meriden-based Trifecta Ecosystems, an aquaponics technology company and indoor farm, said finding the right investors — those who can bring more than money to the table, including experiences complementary to the company — can be difficult.

Connecticut has some incredible expertise in a few specialized silos, Curry said, adding, "It's not a barrier, but it's an opportunity to both develop those silos further but also expand them to increase the breadth of companies that can succeed here."

His company has enjoyed some welcome, smaller investments, including a couple $30,000 convertible notes with angels that were key, "but then when we went back looking for more money to grow further, we couldn't find that higher dollar amount that we needed," he said.

"So having people who can stomach either larger investments or a larger flock of angels who are able to band together more effectively, I think, is critical," Curry said.

Because Trifecta Ecosystems needs a lot of hardware, it requires substantial capital and the company is close to a deal for a couple million dollars from a Connecticut investor, he said.

"That being said, it was very much luck of the circumstances that we found this group and it's taken us well over a year to develop it to this point," too long for most startups, Curry said. The company was able to get through, but the time required to find financing in the state significantly impacted its ability to grow, he said.

Adam Lazar, founder and CEO, Asarasi

Adam Lazar, founder and CEO of Danbury-based Asarasi, which bottles pure water from maple sap (pure plant-based water remains after all sugar is extracted from the sap) said state Department of Economic and Community Development grants and loans tied to job production over a certain time frame aren't necessarily realistic for startups. While such funds are helpful, startups create opportunities and grow jobs later, he said.

His company declined a DECD loan approval, he said, but was grateful to receive $150,000 in CI pre-seed funding. Getting follow-on investment, though, along with the right angel investor can be challenging, Lazar said. He's received most of his angel investments from the U.K., California and New York.

He praised incentive programs like START-UP NY, which helps new and expanding businesses through tax-based incentives and innovative academic partnerships, including the opportunity to operate tax-free for 10 years on or near eligible university or college campuses in New York state.

"It really helps foster business growth in those economic zones," Lazar said.

Richard Portelance, founder and CEO, CareerPath

Richard Portelance says Connecticut's investor community is highly focused on biotech, leaving few resources available for other sectors, forcing in-state companies to look outside the state for investment opportunities.

The New Milford founder and CEO of CareerPath — a platform billed as enabling college career-planning teams to effectively connect and communicate with students to help them tackle their career-planning objectives in an organized and manageable way — has gotten all his company's funding outside Connecticut, which he said could affect its ability to stay here. It's seeking ed-tech funding in Boston and New York and he said a Boston opportunity could mean moving the company there.

Citing InsurTech Hartford's advocation for that industry, he said "birds of a feather need to flock together and form mass to attract" investors. The state's small enough for a group to form and demonstrate opportunities for investors, he added.

As for the state, it needs to continue to build educational hubs and incentivize businesses to amass around those hubs, Portelance said, citing successful models in Boston, North Carolina and elsewhere.

"We should pick three areas — Hartford, New Haven and Danbury — and invest in those areas and build up infrastructure and support," he said.

Related: Region's entrepreneur boosters say more local investment is needed to grow state's startups, economy

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