CT Slant: Hartford Courant
CT Slant: Hartford Courant
The New Corporate Connecticut: 30-something Entrepreneurs
By Suzi Edwards
Steve Warner spends a lot of time in airports watching women. He doesn't have a fetish. He has an invention. The product is EZ2C, a colorful personalized line of luggage in sleek designs, marketed to the prime demographic of women, ages 28-42.
"If you ever watch people at baggage claim, you see the same thing -- people picking up a black bag, realizing it's someone else's and then putting it back on the belt even more stressed than when they started. If EZ2C helps relieve just a little of that stress we all now encounter in airports, I'll feel successful," said Warner.
To be really successful, Warner needs to make the product. As with many start-up ventures, EZ2C has reached its do or die crossroads. The Broad Brook-based entrepreneur has exhausted a home equity loan on market research and start-up costs and is currently seeking $400-600,000 in investment funding to produce his first run of 4,000 pieces.
"The path of business start-ups is so foreign to first-timers like. At some point, you can't do it alone," said 39 year-old Warner who earns steady income as a home-based contractor for a patent research firm. "Raising capital is daunting. Do I go for venture capital and give away part of the business? Do I get a bank loan? Do I exploit friends who may never speak to me again? My next steps will make or break my business."
Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Sean Glass has been there. In 1998 Glass founded HigherOne in 2000. He spent five years raising $17 million in angel funding and venture firms. The New Haven company now generates $28 million in revenue with a 115 full-time staff and was recently ranked #85 on the 2007 Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies in the United States.
"Every situation is different. When I talk to someone I try to help them think through their own process," said Glass, founder of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society. "One of the biggest questions to answer is 'How can you show investors that you're worth it and that you need their money?' Figure out who you know who can help you. It's all about connections."
Newly launched in March 2007, YogaUniverse.com has one of the most sought-after business models: a low-cost, infinitely scalable, online subscription service. Promoted to yogis on the go as the "never-ending DVD," YogaUniverse is a self-funded venture costing only $20,000 to founder Tiffany Chion and partner Kai Rawson-Ahern.
"We looked into grants but didn't find anything easily available. We didn't want to wait for funding to get our business going. I think the state would generate a lot of interest in first-time entrepreneurs if more marketing-related grants were available to help grow a business versus starting it," said Chion.
Chion sold her Mansfield-based yoga studio earlier this year. She accomplished her dream of starting an online business in just four short months after thinking of the idea last March on a beach in Nicaragua. Familiar with challenging her students, the entrepreneur is now challenged with marketing the site and generating the revenue that will sustain growth in the critical early start-up years.
"I own 50 yoga DVDs and only like four of them. Through online marketing and co-promotions, we're looking to target other yogis who encounter the same frustrations of DVDs that look nice but don't get you very far," said Chion.
[quote responding to status of CT funding t.k. from Joan McDonald, Chair of the Economic and Community Development Commission]
Like Chion, Jeff Kubarych followed the self-funded path with his new business, Communuitybb (www.communitybb.com), a "hyperlocal" online bulletin board similar to Craig's List that connects local businesses and merchants to town residents through classified and directory advertising. Kubarych started with his home town, first launching Greenwichbb.com earlier this year, and expects to have a bulletin board live for each town in Fairfield County within 12-24 months and all 169 Connecticut towns within three years.
Spending under $100,000 of his own start-up costs, Kubarych has yet to seek funds from family, angel, venture capital or government sources. Kubarych notes that he did not actively seek state assistance but is concerned that the workforce and entrepreneurial trends developing in metro areas across the U.S. are gaining little attention in Connecticut.
Kubarych recently jumped on one of those hottest trends, coworking, by starting Soundview Coworking from the 16th floor of the Stamford Marriott. At the rented space, solo entrepreneurs and the self-employed share ideas, resources and office supplies.
"If the truth is that more people are leaving the state because they can -- most entrepreneurs can work from any location these days -- then new opportunities like coworking could be the catalyst for solo entrepreneurs to congregate and breed more personal incentives for folks to stick around," said Kubarych.
Deb Santy, Program Director at Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funded by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT; www.ccat.us), echoes Kubarych's sentiments. In the world of high-technology, the focus of SBIR, Santy sees 30 and 40-somethings leaving corporate careers to start businesses and look for ways to stay in Connecticut.
"People are on edge about keeping their jobs. They also see higher-level management making enormous paychecks while only getting 2% raises. New start-ups have concerns about healthcare, the high cost of living and energy in this state but they're sticking it through because they like Connecticut for what it holds for their families," said Santy.