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[Greenwich Times] Startup Help Growing in Region

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Beth Comstock, CEO of the new GE Business Innovations unit of Fairfield-based General Electric, addressed entrepreneurship at a Startup Grind Greenwich forum May 19, 2015, in Greenwich, Conn. Photo: Alexander Soule

by Alexander Soule

Greenwich has no shortage of people who know a little about investing.

Investing in startups is another matter, and something people might have been able to learn about at the May installment of Startup Grind Greenwich, a new group hoping to further spur Fairfield County’s startup scene.

On Tuesday, Startup Grind Greenwich hosted Beth Comstock, CEO of the new GE Business Innovations unit of Fairfield-based General Electric, where she is also chief marketing officer. Comstock fielded questions in a “fireside chat” setting, an event sponsored by Google for Entrepreneurs. Startup Grind has some 160 chapters nationally that seek to replicate the open innovation spirit of Silicon Valley.

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Peter Sinkevich, pictured in Greenwich, Conn. on May 19, 2015, introduced Startup Grind Greenwich last year to host “fireside chats” with entrepreneurship experts. Photo: Alexander Soule

Like other places nationally, startup accelerators have mushroomed in Connecticut and Fairfield County, from the busy Stamford Innovation Center, which runs entrepreneurship talks and networking events throughout the week, to small “makerspaces” that furnish tools, ideas and encouragement for people tinkering with their own inventions for profit or personal fulfillment.

“I do see this trend happening around the world. People are asking that exact question: ‘How do we make it happen here?'” Comstock said. “I’m quite aware of some of the accelerators and invention labs that have sprung up, maybe even have helped to seed some of them, at UConn. So you have that, you have Yale, you have other universities. It seems like you have willing people, so it’s a prioritization. I think the efforts of Startup Grind, and saying, ‘We’re going to do what we have to do to make it happen, expose people to models, give people access’ — a lot of times, you just don’t know where to start.”

In trying to tap into the inventor economy, GE confronted its own dilemmas, Comstock told Startup Grind Greenwich members. In possibly its most visible move, GE began collaborating with Quirky, the New York City-based “crowdsourcing” startup that runs an online platform for people to work together to solve problems with innovative new products. Those include the recently introduced “Pawcet” that attaches to a garden hose to give dogs ready access to an outdoor spigot by pressing a large pedal. More than 3,600 people weighed in on the invention created by an Indiana hobbyist before Quirky readied it for sale.

“I think it goes both ways I’ve seen many startups that don’t want to talk to a GE, because they’re convinced we’re going to steal their idea,” Comstock said. “Some of them have had really bad experiences with companies, and you can’t blame them, right? It’s not like they’ve made this up.”

It is Comstock’s job to get everyone onto the same page. Her business units including GE Ventures, which to date has focused much of its attention on Silicon Valley but which Comstock said is increasingly turning its attention to the digital startup scene in New York City — and perhaps the surrounding region.

“The point of Startup Grind here in Fairfield County is to bring real Silicon Valley-esque sharing economy to this region,” said Peter Sinkevich, founder of Startup Grind Greenwich. “These are the kinds of communities you see in Silicon Valley, what’s being built in New York City, Austin — those types of places.”

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