Diversity Appears Lacking On Boards Leading Connecticut’s Technology Efforts

As Connecticut steps up its push into technology fields, seeking increased economic activity and more jobs, two of the organizations often associated with propelling opportunity for entrepreneurs and existing tech businesses appear to be less than representative of the state’s diverse population. The Connecticut Technology Council, a statewide association of technology oriented companies and institutions, has 49 individuals on their Board of Directors, according to the Council website.  Based on a cursory review, among the 49 members of the board,  one is African American, two are Asian, and six are women. The seven officers of the organization are all white males. state-tech

Connecticut Innovations, a quasi-governmental organization, has 13 appointed members on its Board of Directors, along with four ex-officio members. Among the appointed members, none are women, none are African Americans, one is Hispanic, and one is Asian American.   Eleven of the 13 appointed members are white males, a review of the website reveals.

The Connecticut Technology Council provides leadership in areas of policy advocacy, community building and assistance for growing companies.  Speaking for over 2,000 companies that employ some 200,000 residents, the Council seeks to provide a strong and urgent voice in support of the creation of a culture of innovation, the organization’s website explains.

This includes working to position Connecticut as a leader in idea creation, workforce preparation, entrepreneurial aptitude, early stage risk capital availability and providing on-going support and mentoring to high potential firms.connecticut-technology-council

The mission of the Connecticut Technology Council is “to build an interactive community of innovators and their supporters that can leverage these great advantages to create a thriving economy, job growth, a global reputation for entrepreneurial support, and a lifestyle that attracts the best and brightest people to come here and retains the young people who have grown up here.”CTC board

Since its founding in 1994, the CTC has had the continued support of the state’s leading corporations, which have enabled CTC to stimulate and facilitate the growth and awareness of technology-based companies throughout Connecticut.  The CTC currently lists 10 major sponsors – including corporations, businesses and law firms – and 28 supporting sponsors.

Members include investors, startups, established public and private companies, university and private industry researchers, government agencies, academic institutions, local development agencies, and senior executives from a wide range of industries.

Connecticut Innovations (CI), a quasi-governmental organization created in 1989 to provide strategic and operational insight to companies to push the frontiers of high industries such as energy, biotechnology, information technology photonics, plays a key role in the deployment of the state’s efforts toward supporting innovation and entrepreneurship.  The Connecticut Development Authority was folded into CI three years ago.

Connecticut Innovations’ Board of Directors includes four women serving in ex-officio capacities - all by virtue of the elected or appointed positions they hold:  State Treasurer Denise Nappier, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management Karen Buffkin, and Board of Regents for Higher Education Director of Innovation and Outreach Gail Coppage.  Among the appointed members of the Board, none are women, none are African Americans, one is Hispanic, and one is Asian American.

The 17-member board is composed of nine members appointed by the governor and four appointed by the leadership of the General Assembly, as well as four ex-officio members who serve by virtue of their positions with the state: the State Treasurer, Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, the President of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, and the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management (or their designees).

Connecticut Innovations’ Board of Directors is responsible for developing the overall strategic framework from which the organization creates policies and initiatives to help it succeed. The board is responsible for adopting an annual plan of operation and budget, overseeing the organization’s financial activities, including its investments, and overall governance of Connecticut Innovations. CI Board

Connecticut Innovations’ board of directors announced earlier this month that Claire Leonardi has resigned as chief executive officer. Leonardi’s last day will be January 8, 2015, which will allow her to assist with the transition and help the board name a successor, according to a CI news release.  Leonardi led CI for three years, and her accomplishments include its consolidation with the quasi-public Connecticut Development Authority, absorbing CDA.

CI was also in the news earlier this fall, when the quasi-public put on hold its investment and entrepreneurial programs until early next year because it lacked sufficient state funds to cover additional commitments, according to published reports.  Funds were allocated by the State Bond Commission last month.

The State Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and CI have created an Innovation Ecosystem called CTNEXT. As a public-private partnership, CTNEXT catalyzes public and private resources to better support the formation, growth and attraction of companies with high growth potential, according to the state’s Economic Development Strategy report, published earlier this year.  That document notes that “Diversity of people is also a critical prerequisite to innovation.”


Who Knew? Northeast is Hotbed of Entrepreneurial Activity, For Some More than Others

Takes one to know one. Or, more accurately, know one and you may become one. That’s the bottom line of an exploration into entrepreneurship by a Kauffman Foundation researcher, who found that the Northeast is the best place to catch the entrepreneurial bug. As Connecticut sinks increasing dollars into initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship, develop jobs, and turn ideas into businessentrepreneurses (often with state financial incentives) the report offers guidance of factors influencing the frequency of entrepreneurial launches.  Connecticut Innovations,  established and supported by state government,  helps Connecticut businesses grow through creative financing and strategic assistance,  and is the nation's sixth most-active early stage investor.

The survey indicated that the likelihood of a person knowing entrepreneurs varied widely by location, income, gender, and age. Respondents were much more likely to know entrepreneurs if they were male, had modest income, or were middle-aged. And they were much less likely to know entrepreneurs (or be entrepreneurs) if they were female, had a higher income, or were located in the Midwest or South.

The study suggests that there could be “material increases in entrepreneurship simply through doing a better job of exposing people to existing entrepreneurs, especially peers or contemporaries.” Entrepreneurship grows, the study found, where it is planted.

Key factors to consider when attempting to encourage entrepreneurship, according to the study:

  • Women have less exposure to growth entrepreneurs than men
  • The young have much more exposure to growth entrepreneurs
  • People in lower income strata are much less likely to be exposed to growth entrepreneurs

The study concluded that “In all cases, an individual’s exposure to entrepreneurs—and to growth entrepreneurs in particular—may increase his or her likelihood of being one. Entrepreneurship can be viral, but must be introduced early and often in environments where it is least often seen.”

The study distinguished between entrepreneurial companies and “growth entrepreneurial companies,” those companies growing more than 20 percent a year and with more than $1 million in sales, generate more employment and contribute more to wealth and GDP than do slower-growing ventures.

The likelihood of a respondent reporting knowing an entrepreneur by Region in the United States was 36.7 percent. The likelihood of knowing a growth entrepreneur was considerably lower, at 15.4 percent.

When broken down by gender, the likelihood of males knowing an entrepreneur was 39.9 percent, females 35.8 percent. For growth entrepreneurs, the gender gap was considerably wide, 24.8 percent to 12.1 percent.

A year ago, CTNext, Connecticut’s innovation ecosystem managed by Connecticut Innovations (CI), announced the launch of the Entrepreneur Innovation Awards (EIA), a competitive pitch process that provides awards up to $10,000 to entrepreneurs in Connecticut for growth-related activities. CI helps innovative companies in four key ways: by offering equity, debt, grants and strategic guidance.

A month ago CTNext announced the winners of the latest round of EIA awards; Connecticut-based companies and entrepreneurs, received $10,000 for their project ideas. CI also selected David Wurzer, formerly a senior managing director at CI, to be chief investment officer and executive vice president. As part of his new role, Wurzer will be responsible for the management of the investment function, staffing needs, portfolio and risk management, outreach to stakeholders, budget planning and performance measurement.

The study “Getting the Bug: Is (Growth) Entrepreneurship Contagious?” was conducted by Paul Kedrosky of the Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation, and is aimed at providing data to guide efforts across the country to grow entrepreneurship. The survey, which categorizes responses of 2,000 individuals by age, income, gender, and location, was done via Consumer Google Survey.