Tag Archives: Stamford Innovation Center

New “Refinery” Targets Women Business Leaders

This area is blessed with many things: Natural beauty. Educational and cultural opportunities. And an abundance of brilliant women.

Fairfield County teems with high achievers. After starting families, they’re ready to go back to work. But rather than return to the corporate world, they’re starting their own businesses.

Westporter Janis Collins — entrepreneur-in-residence for the Stamford Innovation Center and B:HIve in Bridgeport — has met with over 200 Connecticut startups in the past year. A quarter were led by women.

Refinery logoBut every business needs a boost. The Refinery is an exciting new project that leverages extensive local intellectual and financial capital to help women-led businesses grow. (The definition: at least 1 woman in a leadership role.)

It’s an underserved market, Collins says. They get less than 10% of all venture capital money — despite studies showing that these companies perform at par or greater than those with male CEOs.

Over 25 mentors — female and male — have already signed up. The core team includes Jen Gabler, North Shutshiwaran and Bill Gordon. All 3 live in Westport or Weston.

Local talent like Andy Moss, Steve Obsitnik, Galia Gichon and Jenny Lawton are ready to advise and assist too.

The Westport Library, Westport Sunrise Rotary and Stamford Innovation Center provide grant money to the top performing company in the program.

Janis Collins (left) and Jen Gabler work with Daniel Ruskin, who is helping with The Refinery's tech side.

Janis Collins (left) and Jen Gabler work with Daniel Ruskin, who is helping with The Refinery’s tech side.

The Library has integrated The Refinery into its Maker-in-Residence program. So — along with meeting rooms — the innovative Maker Space is available to Refinery members.

The Refinery says it is different from other accelerators because it is highly individualized; it serves pre-revenue companies, as well as those that have launched or need a re-boot; it matches mentors with industry-specific experience, and its location accesses New York and Boston networks.

Through June 15, the organization is accepting applications for a 12-week fall program. Applicants should have launched — or be ready to launch — a product or digital service by the end of 2014. Companies should have the potential to grow to more than $10 million in revenues within 4 to 6 years. To apply for the fall program, click on The Refinery website.

The accelerator culminates in a Pitch Night. Teams will present their companies to the community, pitch to potential investors, and compete for cash awards.

“This is a community effort to create local jobs, and investible companies,” Collins says.

And Fairfield County’s remarkable women lead the way.

Peter Propp’s Meta-Start-up

It sounds like a tech version of those Russian nesting dolls: starting a start-up whose goal is to create more start-ups.

That’s the best way to describe the Stamford Innovation Center. And — in a city known more for high finance than high tech, and a county filled with corporate commuters — it’s already made its out-of-the-box mark.

Peter Propp

Peter Propp

Westporter Peter Propp is the SIC’s vice president for marketing. He’s a passionate advocate for the organization, whose cooperative workspace, creative programming, networking opportunities and educational events offer entrepreneurs and early-stage start-ups a place to gather, collaborate, and innovate.

Peter has plenty of experience in the tech world. Much of it came at IBM, where he was a global marketer in charge of, among other products, the WebSphere Application Server and Studio.

IBM is to start-ups as GM is to Tesla. But Peter has leaped into his new role with gusto — and many good ideas.

“I like starting things,” he says. He points with pride to FairCo TEEM (Fairfield County Tech, Environment, Entertainment and Marketing) meetups. He helped grow the group from 4 people gathered above Bogey’s in the summer of 2010, to nearly 400 members. Events are held throughout the area.

“There are so many smart, accomplished, experienced people here,” Peter says. “A lot of them would like to reduce the hours they spend on the train every day.”

But they need a different set of skills to bring their ideas to reality. They need angel investors. They need developers to help them build prototypes.

Stamford Innovation Center logo

The Stamford Innnovation Center helps. Housed in a beautiful 1907 Beaux-Arts building — the city’s old Town Hall — across from the mall, its high ceilings and marble somehow help nurture 21st century ideas and contacts.

Right now, a start-up is building a platform for lawyers doing due diligence on acquisitions. Two women from Wharton have created a business that helps students manage their education debt.

In addition to workspace, SIC hosts events. Nine are scheduled for January, including discussions, presentations and meet-ups.

During the Stamford Innovation Center Startup Weekend, developers and designers spent 54 hours creating ideas -- then pitching them, in a competitive setting.

During the Stamford Innovation Center Startup Weekend, developers and designers spent 54 hours creating ideas — then pitching them, in a competitive setting.

Peter calls the Stamford Innovation a “meta-startup.” That’s not a term he was likely to hear at IBM.

He enjoyed his work in corporate America. But, he says, in that world “you need permission and consensus for everything.”

The start-up world is all about “how much you can do, and how quickly.”

At the Stamford Innovation Center, the answer is: “lots, and real fast.”