August 1st 2013
By Kate King
STAMFORD — Democratic mayoral hopeful William Tong met with small business owners at the Stamford Innovation Center Thursday to unveil his three-point plan for bolstering the city’s start-up community.
The event marked the first stop on Tong’s six-week “listening tour,” which the candidate said will also address issues such as job growth, public safety, education and infrastructure. On Thursday, Tong said local government needs to take a more proactive approach in fostering start-ups.
“We have to have a mayor that focuses on small businesses, that makes sure the economic development director doesn’t just stand there as a bystander as the state comes in and makes big economic development pushes, who understands that we have to grow our small business and start-up sector here organically,” Tong said Thursday.
Several entrepreneurs joined Tong for a round-table discussion at the Innovation Center, a business incubator that leases 16,000 square feet at Old Town Hall. During a tour of the building, Tong popped into Local Yokel Media, a 2-year-old digital advertising service that has rented office space there since January.
“I was actually really impressed at how aware he was of the market in terms of local content and local websites,” said Marketing Director Nicole Lyons, who spoke with Tong about the company’s business model. “He immediately identified where there could be a potential competitive situation between what we were trying to do and what Patch or Daily Stamford was trying to do.”
Tong said he would take a three-pronged approach to improving Stamford’s business climate if elected mayor in November. The first step would be to promote the city’s start-ups and small companies and work to sell the city to entrepreneurs as a business-friendly environment, he said.
“Have programs that help start-ups get that initial funding and connect with private equity funds and venture capital funds and angels through the Stamford Innovation Center,” Tong said. “Go to investment banks and community banks and say, `You guys can play in this space as well. Be a partner.’ ”
Helping start-ups secure flexible and affordable office space to grow their companies would also be a top priority, he said.
“We’ve got a 25 percent or more vacancy rate in Stamford in our commercial buildings,” Tong said. “Let’s work with our building owners and developers and say, `If you’ve got vacant space, help us find a location, a home for these start-ups for the time being. Give them an opportunity to start and grow, and if they become successful they’ll be tenants.’ ”
The candidate also pledged to use his connections at the state level and with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration to attract funding opportunities to Stamford and encourage start-up “clusters” that can feed off each other’s ideas and talent.
John Ventura, a Weston resident who moved his 2-year-old consumer finance business, Cashpath Financial, to the Innovation Center in February, said he was impressed by Tong’s presentation.
“There’s no connection between start-ups and larger entities, and if the government could help facilitate that I think that would be terrific,” Ventura said. “The ability to get people in a room and have early-stage companies talk about what they’re doing and their needs.”
Tong, a District 147 state representative who represents Stamford and Darien, is collecting signatures to run in a Sept. 10 primary for the Democratic Party’s endorsement. The election is expected to be a three-way race, with former public safety director Bill Callion also collecting signatures. Board of Finance member David Martin is already on the ballot as the Democratic City Committee’s nominated candidate.
Stamford Republicans may also have a chance to weigh in on the mayoral race this September. Board of Education member Jerry Pia is working to collect signatures to challenge the town committee’s endorsed candidate, former Lt. Gov. Mike Fedele. Mayor Michael Pavia, a Republican, is not seeking re-election after one term in office.