Solar Panels and Historic Preservation Meet in Connecticut

Historic preservation and solar panel would seem like oil and water, but increasingly in Connecticut, the advantages are seen to outweigh the disadvantages. The acceptance of solar comes as technology helps to make systems less obtrusive, and also as more historic preservationists recognize the urgency to address climate change, according to a report in Energy Network News.

About one-tenth of Connecticut’s 3,000 historic preservation cases last year involved solar installations. That’s a significant increase from five years ago, Todd Levine, an architectural historical for the state’s preservation office, told Energy Network News. Of those 300 solar cases, however, only 10 were concluded to have adverse effects, but even in those cases the state office was able to work with stakeholders and ultimately approve them all.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Department of the Interior recommend installing solar panels on the area least visible to the public or on any new addition on the property, like a garage. Typically, historic commissions don’t want panels on the principle facade of the building facing the public right-of-ways. Lower public visibility is preferred, but increasingly, that is not ruling out solar panel installation at historic properties.

At the state level, the historic preservation office has partnered with the quasi-public clean energy agency, the Connecticut Green Bank, to mitigate any adverse effects installs could have on historic properties. Energy Network News reports that they are currently collaborating on a publication they plan to distribute in the coming months outlining best practices on the intersection of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and historic preservation.

Also last year, Connecticut upped the ante on renewables across the board.

A new law approved in 2018 requires that by 2030, 40 percent of the power provided by electricity suppliers in the state flow from renewable sources, double the target for 2020.  Another law approved by the 2018 legislature established a stringent interim greenhouse-gas-reduction goal of 45 percent below 2001 levels by 2030. The state’s 2008 Connecticut Global Warming Solutions Act mandates an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

The state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection explains that the term renewable energy generally refers to electricity supplied from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, geothermal, hydropower, and various forms of biomass. These energy sources are considered renewable sources because they are continuously replenished on Earth.

Currently, Hawaii has the most aggressive clean-energy mandate in the nation: 100 percent by 2045; followed by Vermont: 75 percent by 2032; and California, New York, and New Jersey, which each have a goal of 50 percent by 2030, according to the Council of State Governments.

California set a 100-percent-by-2045 zero-carbon electricity goal in September last year. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed the state set a 100-percent-by-2040 zero-carbon electricity goal in January. Newly elected governors in Colorado and Connecticut are pushing for 100-percent renewable energy mandates, as well, as are their counterparts in Illinois, Minnesota and Nevada, according to Solar Magazine. Connecticut’s legislature is also considering additional steps to encourage renewable energy in the state, the New London Day recently reported.

CT Start-Ups Receive Financial Assist to Spur Development

Six early-stage Connecticut companies now have additional funds to help fuel their growth, after participating in the Entrepreneur Innovation Awards (EIA) provided by CTNext, the state’s resource organization for entrepreneurial support. Following presentations from 10 finalists at the recent event, the judges awarded $10,000 grand prizes to the following Connecticut-based companies:

  • Payball (Norwalk): Developing an easier, digital way for amateur sport organizations to pay officials, event staff and coaches.
  • Peak Performance Leadership (Killingworth): Creating a variation on a rope protection system for military and first responders to increase product lifespan.
  • Raise Green (New Haven): Creating a crowdfunding portal to finance renewable energy and climate solution projects; developed by students at Yale.
  • YouCOMM (Farmington): Developing a patient-caregiver communication system that will replace antiquated call bell systems.

“At its core, Raise Green is a two-sided marketplace that provides people who want to build solar or other types of climate-solution projects with the tools they need to do that and to get it financed,” said Franz Hochstrasser, chief executive officer and co-founder of the start-up. 

According to the University of Connecticut Technology Incubation Program website, YouCOMM is a novel low-cost tablet based communication device to provide effective patient-caregiver communication. The device has 20 need buttons that allow patients to send specific needs to a nurse’s on-call phone.

Two additional companies also received recognition, and funds:

  • Lactation Innovations, a Canterbury company developing a non-invasive sensor that detects the volume of milk a baby ingests and provides feedback to the mother, won the $2,000 Crowd Favorite award.
  • Secure Election Systems of Westport, a startup developing an iPad-sized electronic absentee voting booth, took home the $2,000 Judges’ Favorite prize.

“The EIA Awards continue to showcase some of the most innovative and promising young companies across the state,” said Glendowlyn Thames, CTNext’s executive director. “We are looking forward to following the progress of the companies and wish all the competitors the best as they work to advance their ideas and visions.”

The six Connecticut companies were among 10 startups that presented their project ideas to a panel of judges for an opportunity to secure $10,000 awards to help support business growth.

Last fall, CTNext awarded $54,000 in grants to six Connecticut-based startups.  Receiving $10,000 were:

  • Actively AI – Creating an automated assistant for wellness businesses that handles customer experience and streamlines operations for staff
  • Dualflo – Creating a self-seal technology to eliminate the need for open surgery in cardiopulmonary bypass procedures
  • Encapsulate– Producing an effective chemotherapy solution with a fully automated tumor-on-a-chip pre-prescription analysis
  • Encaptiv– Developing a web-based presentation, sales and marketing software that integrates AI and machine learning
  • Kolb Consultants– Developing a process to manufacture “Ray-Board,” a kickboard with a new shape that distributes the body weight evenly when swimming

In addition, Kolb Consultants won the $2,000 crowd favorite award, while VigorSential took home the $2,000 award for judges’ favorite. VigorSential is developing and testing “MycoZaps,” a low-dose vaccine to control Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis), a bacterium mainly affecting cattle that is resistant to common antibiotics.

CTNext’s goal is to build a more robust community of entrepreneurs and to accelerate startup growth by providing access to talent, space, industry expertise, services, skill development and capital to foster innovation and create jobs for people in Connecticut.

CTNext (www.ctnext.com) has more than 2,500 members in its network.

Connecticut Innovations Among Nation's Top Venture Capital Firms in Healthcare in 2018

Connecticut Innovations (CI) has landed on Forbes magazine’s list of the ten top venture capital firms making the most investments in healthcare start-ups during 2018.  With 20 deals done during the year, CI ranked at number seven. CI is Connecticut’s strategic venture capital arm and the state’s leading source of financing and ongoing support for innovative, growing companies. The two largest CI deals were with locally headquartered Arvinas, a $56 million investment, and Rallybio, a $37 million investment. 

Leading the way among venture capital firms in the U.S. were California-headquartered Alexandria Venture Investments (38 deals), Maryland-based New Enterprise Associates (28), Keiretsu Forum of California (27), OrbiMed, headquartered in New York (24), and ARCH Venture Partners (22) of Illinois.  Just ahead of CI was SV Health Investors, with 21 deals.  The venture capital firm is based in Massachusetts.

Nationally, startups in the sector have raised more money in 2018 than any previous year in the past decade.

Rallybio, based in Farmington at the University of Connecticut’s Technology Incubation Program, was co-founded in January 2018 by Martin Mackay, PhD, Stephen Uden MD, and Jeffrey Fryer, CPA, recognized leaders from the biopharma industry.  The company’s focus: identifying and accelerating the development of transformative breakthrough therapies for patients with severe and rare disorders.  They aim to develop innovative drug candidates against mechanisms that have strong biological rationales.  Rallybio’s focus is on antibodies, small molecules and engineered proteins.

Last month, the company was named by FierceBiotech as one of 2018’s Fierce 15 biotechnology companies, designating it as one of the most promising private biotechnology companies in the industry.

Arvinas, headquartered in New Haven, is a biopharmaceutical company dedicated to improving the lives of patients suffering from debilitating and life-threatening diseases through the discovery, development, and commercialization of therapies to degrade disease-causing proteins.

Building on groundbreaking research at Yale University by Craig Crews, Ph.D., Arvinas’ Founder and Chief Scientific Advisor, Arvinas has developed a broad technology platform “focused on high-value targets, with the potential to deliver safer, more potent treatment than small molecule inhibitors, and to address up to 80% of proteins that evade inhibition and are currently undruggable.”  Among the company’s Board members is Ted Kennedy, Jr., a health care policy and disability activist, regulatory attorney, and former Connecticut state senator.

Connecticut Innovations is located in Rocky Hill.

Manufacturing Assistance Program Aims at CT Companies

If you are looking for more evidence that manufacturing is back in Connecticut, you need look no further than Hartford and East Hartford.  The Technology Labs Assistance Program (TLAP), just getting underway, was created as part of the Hartford/East Hartford Innovation Places Initiative, which is striving to make the area a more vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. Hartford and East Hartford-based companies with less than 300 full-time employees in their Connecticut facilities are invited to apply to a new manufacturing assistance program that offers – among a dozen possibilities - 3D printing, engineering design and prototype development.  Those chosen will receive a project subsidy of 50 percent off the total project cost, with subsidies reaching up to $10,000 annually.

The innovation begins with the partners in the program. TLAP is designed to provide Connecticut entrepreneurs and businesses with easy access to the vast manufacturing resources and services available at various schools, universities and Advanced Manufacturing Centers in the Greater Hartford Area. Participating organizations currently include the University of Hartford, Goodwin College, and the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. Funding for the project subsidies is supported by CTNext.

“There’s a wide array of area companies who perform advanced tech work, but they might not have the machines or resources to, say, build a prototype, optimize a process or fabricate a complex part,” said Paul Striebel of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT). Goodwin College, the University of Hartford and CCAT are part of an effort providing easy access to advanced resources and services available at their facilities.

“We are in a new era of interagency collaborations among state and private educational institutions and corporate partners,” said Cliff Thermer, Goodwin College’s Assistant Vice President for Strategy and Business Development and Department Chair for Business, Management, and Advanced Manufacturing. “The future of Connecticut innovation is bright.”

CCAT and the University of Hartford have a long history of working together developing programs, obtaining grant funding, sharing equipment and facilities, and ensuring that students have interesting research projects as well as hands-on learning opportunities through internships and experiential education.  This is the latest program collaboration.

The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc. (CCAT), driving the program, is a dynamic and innovative applied technology organization that leads regional and national partnerships that assist global industrial companies and the manufacturing supply chain across industry sectors to drive advancements, efficiencies and adoption of leading edge technologies.

Project possibilities include – but are not limited to j- Engineering Design Services, Prototype Development, 3D Printing, Part Fabrication, Process Testing & Analysis, Technical assessments in conjunction with engineering projects and manufacturing challenges, Research to support proof of principle, Process Improvement, Commercialization Services, Tooling development and manufacture, Reverse Engineering and Inspection Services and Failure Analysis.

Hartford Ranks #13 Among Best Metro Regions for STEM Professionals, Analysis Finds

A new analysis of the nation’s best metropolitan areas for workers in the STEM professions has Hartford ranked just outside the top 10 at number 13.  New Haven is ranked at number 55, Bridgeport/Stamford/Norwalk at number 80. The comparison of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country by financial services website WalletHub, included 20 key metrics, ranging from per-capita job openings for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) graduates to annual median wage growth for STEM workers. 

According to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis, STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — professions grew at over twice the rate that non-STEM jobs did between 2009 and 2015, according to WalletHub. Most types of STEM jobs are expected to expand faster than all other occupations until 2024.

The top 10 in the new analysis were Seattle, Boston, Pittsburgh, Austin, San Francisco, Madison, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis and Cincinnati.  Just ahead of Hartford were San Diego and Columbus, and following Hartford in the rankings were Springfield and Worcester, MA.

While Hartford ranked 24th a year ago, the criteria were slightly revised for this year’s analysis.  WalletHub’s analyst explained that “An addition to this year's methodology is the presence of tech summer programs within a given metro area, which Hartford ranked well for. In these programs students start developing skills in coding, game development, robotics or design. Other new metrics that were added this year and contributed to Hartford's overall better ranking are utility patents and the number of tech meetups per capita."

In addition, “the unemployment rate in [metro] Hartford for adults with at least a bachelor's degree is the lowest in all the metropolitan areas analyzed, whereas last year, it was in the middle of the pack.”

The nearly two-dozen metrics were divided into three overall categories:  professional opportunities, STEM-friendliness and quality of life.  Hartford ranked tenth in quality of life category, 14th in professional opportunities, and 17th in STEM-friendliness, which included the quality of engineering universities, research & development spending and intensity, and mathematics performance.

The Quality of Life category included housing affordability, recreation and family friendliness, and singles friendliness.  The Professional Opportunities category included median wage, wage growth, STEM employment growth and job openings for STEM graduates.

Among the various individual metrics, the Bridgeport/Stamford/Norwalk metropolitan region ranked third nationally with among the highest annual median wage growth for STEM workers.  New Haven was eighth nationally in STEM-friendliness. The overall rankings for Bridgeport/Stamford/Norwalk and New Haven were relatively unchanged from a year ago.

 

Credit Union Branch Inside High School Encourages Financial Literacy

Getting banking business done – or being introduced to an array of personal financial services for the first time – has become easier than ever for students attending Rocky Hill High School.  That’s because they don’t even need to leave the confines of high school to visit a Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union branch – it’s just steps away from their school cafeteria. Credit union branches located inside high schools are not common.  In fact, this might be the first of its kind in Connecticut. The branch is a new step for the credit union and focuses on preparing students for their financial future. It features tablets, an ATM, and (coming soon) a self-service kiosk to be used by students and faculty for transactions such as account transfers, loan payments, and check and cash deposits or withdrawals.

Nutmeg State FCU President and CEO John Holt says his enthusiasm and the support from Rocky Hill High Schools administrators and teachers is matched by the student response.

“We want to give students first-hand knowledge and experience,” Holt explains, “to help them better understand banking and prepare them for smart decision-making in the future.”

The staff includes three Rocky Hill High School students who are specially trained not only in technology but in terminology, so they can pass along that combination of know-how and understanding to their peers. For many, understanding the differences between a credit union and a bank is an unexpected first lesson. And students are often intrigued by the credit union structure, including that it is a non-profit institution which allows them to become members (and therefore part owners of the credit union).

If the initial weeks are any indication, there is a receptive audience of students, very supportive teachers and administrators, and parents looking on approvingly from the sidelines. More than 100 accounts have been opened at the branch in the first few months of operation, and there have been many more conversations providing insight for high school students into the products and services a financial institution offers – plus some tips on how to manage money effectively.

“The need for financial literacy education has never been greater,” said Jeremy Race, President and CEO of Junior Achievement of Southwest New England, an organization with a strong classroom presence focused on financial education and entrepreneurship. “According to a recent Forbes article, 44% of Americans don’t have enough cash to cover a $400 emergency and 33% of adults have $0 saved for retirement.  This is staggering evidence that clearly demonstrates the critical need for young people to learn financial responsibility and financial ‘smarts’ at a young age.”

Because the technology is intuitive for most students, their transaction time can be used to talk about subjects they may be less familiar with – such as balancing a checkbook, how debit cards and account balances relate to each other, loans and interest rates, and what a credit score is all about.  Not the typical teen conversation, but Holt indicates that students have been quite interested in learning more.

“The younger generation has a passion for community,” Holt has observed, “and they see the practical value. This has really opened their eyes.”

Some of the lessons are already being integrated into the school’s business classes – which seem “real” with a financial institution’s branch office just down the hall.  The branch is open during lunch periods, study halls, and other times convenient to students, teachers and staff, without being a distraction from more traditional school curricula.

Outgoing Connecticut State Treasurer Denise L. Nappier, a longstanding proponent of financial literacy, has stressed that “Financial education is important during all stages of life, because economic opportunity can be a catalyst for change and enduring success,” adding that “information and training can help them build a better future.”

With the program off to a solid start, Holt said that Nutmeg State FCU would be interested in a similar initiative in another high school near one of their 11 credit union branches in Connecticut. They are headquartered in Rocky Hill, having been chartered in 1936. In addition to Rocky Hill, they’re located in Manchester, New Britain, Hartford, Glastonbury, West Hartford, Cromwell, Orange, Stratford, Milford and North Haven.

The Connecticut-based credit union also reaches out to local communities in other distinctive ways. In Milford and North Haven, they have added “DMV Express” services in conjunction with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and three locations are within retail stores – the Walmart in Cromwell, and the ShopRite supermarkets in Stratford and Orange. To learn more about Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union, visit www.nutmegstatefcu.org.

Photos:  (Top right) - Rocky Hill High School Student Alisha Chhabra conveniently accesses the new Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union branch at her school.  (Midde left) - Rocky Hill High School recently celebrated the opening of its first on-site Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union branch. From left: Chuck Zettergren Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Mark Zito Superintendent, Mike Petti Vice Chairman, John Holt President & CEO, Ben Lukens Student, Alisha Chhabra Student, Michael Patano Student, Muhammed Bilal Student, Cynthia Latina Business Education Teacher, Timothy Bifolck Business Education Teacher, Mario Almeida Principal. (Bottom right) Nutmeg State FCU President and CEO John Holt.