May 30, 2018

Q & A with Elinor Slomba of the Elm City Innovation Collaborative

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Elinor Slomba

New Haven Biz talks with Elm City Innovation Collaborative's Elinor Slomba, who manages the city's Innovation Places grant. Part of her job is to raise the profile of local innovators and connect growing companies to new leads and potential resources.

Q: The Elm City Innovation Collaborative won a $2 million grant this year under the state's new "Innovation Places" program, designed to spark high-tech growth. Can you tell us briefly what ECIC is and how the grant money will be used?

ECIC is a network designed to give high-growth potential companies reasons to start, grow and stay in New Haven. Our portfolio of 14 funded organizations is governed by an implementation team with representation from active entrepreneurs, anchor institutions, investors and other community stakeholders.

Working in concert, these organizations are developing the talent pool for life science industries, helping entrepreneurs test and validate new business models and contributing in various, specific ways to a climate in which successful ventures can crystallize.

Examples range from STEM students training on specialized equipment to conduct summer research for local biotech companies to maker-inventors teaming up with mechanical engineers and fabricators to turn their prototypes into marketable products.

Q: Before joining ECIC, you were known as an arts and business consultant. How does art intersect with business development in the Elm City? What would you like to see?

A: New Haven's reputation as the creative capital of Connecticut is no joke. Arts organizations are major employers and tend to attract talent sought by other industries. In addition, dollars spent in the creative economy recirculate locally and leverage other forms of economic prosperity, to the tune of approximately $30 dollars coming to restaurants, printing companies and other businesses for every dollar spent on an art experience.

Specifically, I am excited to see City Wide Open Studios embarking on another cycle of preparations for its big, month-long event in October. This year's theme is wellness, to be animated by collaborations with the Yale School of Nursing, the Veterans Administration and a number of other organizations.

Whether we're talking about businesses or cultural communities, I like to see engagement that's based on authentic invitations for people to become curious, bridge differences and create possibilities. I did a project last year for the New Haven Museum researching tattoo artists and the history of tattoo regulation and innovation in Connecticut. It's amazing to recognize how many successful business models are developed in the midst of cultural challenge and change.

Q: What can art and entrepreneurship learn from each other?

Most businesses, today, want to be able to articulate what makes them so unique that they can be considered artists at what they do. Certainly, there's a continuous improvement of craft and creativity that entrepreneurs require to thrive. The Agile movement brought the notion that knowledge workers need to find ways, as teams and as enterprises, to trust emergent outcomes just as artists do in a studio, as part of an ensemble. It's not just about upfront planning and then marching to execute those plans. Innovation relies on open systems that allow us to harvest the discoveries that occur along the way.

Q: You are originally from Virginia. Can you describe the road you took to become involved in the New Haven business community?

A: I graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1993 and like many of my classmates started out professionally living and working in Washington, DC. I became an arts administrator, fundraiser and later a strategic advisor for arts organizations which were, at the time, reeling and regrouping from the Culture Wars. That was a pretty portable career chapter, I was up and down the East Coast. I spent a few years in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts but mostly lived in urban areas.

Economic development people talk about the phenomenon of "trailing spouses," and 16 years ago I moved here as one of those. I did not know much about New Haven, but the International Festival of Arts and Ideas was going on while house hunting, and that, alone, made it seem like winning the lottery. The fact that we are a Long Island Sound community is a huge bonus, since I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay.

Q: What are some other interests or hobbies outside of your work? Where might we find you eating lunch in New Haven?

A: I continue to feel very connected to the water and enjoy visiting area beaches. I am about three courses away from my thesis in a master's program in public policy at Northwestern University, long distance, of course. So, if it's nice, I'll be outside, and if it's not, I'm studying. Also, I'm avid about seeking out live music and in a couple of weeks will be enjoying the World Cup games. These days, my top three lunch recommendations are Pokemoto on Audubon St., Taste of Brazil at 129 Church St or Ricky D's BBQ at Science Park, all tasty and each spicy in its own way!

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