By Alexander Soule
On May 21, the University of Connecticut Stamford will unveil the new Accelerate UConn program, intended to spur faculty, researchers and students to pursue entrepreneurial ventures.
Earlier this year, the National Science Foundation announced $300,000 in funding to support the UConn program, which would disburse up to $3,000 as seed money to individual entrepreneurs or startup teams under NSF’s Innovations Corps program. UConn was the lone school in Connecticut to receive funding under the program, with others in the Northeast including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stony Brook University, a state university campus on Long Island, N.Y.
UConn Stamford has had multiple programs over the years that touch on entrepreneurship, including the onetime GE Edgelab backed by Fairfield-based General Electric; a learning accelerator in partnership with IBM, Pitney Bowes and other local companies; and a digital media and design program that has hosted speakers this semester from Priceline, NBC Sports and Microsoft.
The UConn Stamford Learning Accelerator has helped at least one company launch, according to program director Brian Brady: Sea Green Organics, which set up shop in Bridgeport in an attempt to produce fertilizer from seaweed. Unlike Brady’s program, Accelerate UConn would allow startups to seek small amounts of funding for making prototypes or performing market research.
“There’s lots of good ideas at all of the regional campuses,” said Rita Zangari, executive director of UConn’s technology incubation program. “They should have the same access (and) be able to access the mentoring and funding and the various support programs in the same way. … This (is an) opportunity for a continuing program of education that will help them take the concept and turn it into a company.”
Few, if any UConn Stamford students took advantage of the most recent opportunity to do just that locally, the 54-hour Startup Weekend Stamford event in April, where a group of Quinnipiac University students descended on the Stamford Innovation Center to compete with their ideas for startups. One senior took home the runner-up prize for his app to help student-run businesses market their companies.
In contrast, just one Startup Weekend Stamford contestant identified himself as a UConn student, despite the competition being held just a few blocks from the UConn Stamford campus.
“Stamford Innovation Center is thrilled to see UConn bringing its NSF-I-Corps accelerator to Stamford,” said Barry Schwimmer, managing partner of the Stamford Innovation Center, in an email. “Great startup communities often have strong connections between academia and the business community. The Accelerate UConn program could really help enhance the exciting growth we are seeing here in Stamford.”