Ignite Hartford Grant Promotes Student Entrepreneurship

A new program through the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will take advantage of the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Hartford to create opportunities for students at UConn and Hartford-area partner institutions.

School of Business students at Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation CCEI in Hartford on June 18, 2019. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Over the last few years, Hartford has become home to a fast-growing innovation ecosystem. Through a new grant from Launc[H]artford and CT Next, UConn will take advantage of this growth by partnering with other Hartford-area colleges to expand entrepreneurial opportunities for students.

Ignite Hartford is a new program UConn is leading in partnership with Trinity College and Goodwin University to develop a series of educational workshops and pitch nights for student entrepreneurs.

“In our conversations with other schools, we realized there’s so many opportunities for students to engage in entrepreneurship,” says Jennifer Mathieu, director of the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI).

These workshops will take advantage of each institution’s unique capabilities and teach students essential skills for pitching ideas to investors and starting a business. UConn is taking the lead on this effort, as the University has the experience running programs like Get Seeded, which was started in 2018 and allows students to compete for seed funding and other resources by pitching their business ideas to their peers.

“We have a lot of the best practices because we’ve developed them through Get Seeded,” Mathieu says. “But we also want to leverage the capabilities these other universities have and get students from across Hartford engaged as well.”

Ignite Hartford will highlight entrepreneurship in higher education. Many institutions like UConn and its partners on this project are actively creating opportunities to support students’ entrepreneurial endeavors and expose them to the exciting world of startups.

“At Launc[H], we’re thrilled to see this type of partnership form across the higher ed community in Hartford,” says Launc[H]artford director, Michelle Cote. “Providing students with an outlet to meet fellow entrepreneurs from their school and others in the area, will only help to strengthen the culture of innovation that we are trying to build within our city. We hope that this is just the first step local students take in exploring the resources available to help support their ambitions in Hartford.”

The project has hired Leila Daneshmandi as an entrepreneur-in-residence. Daneshmandi started Encapsulate with Armin Tahmasbi Rad through UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) while completing their Ph.Ds in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Daneshmandi will share her valuable startup experience with students.

We hope that this is just the first step local students take in exploring the resources available to help support their ambitions in Hartford — Michelle Cote

Ignite Hartford will culminate in a live, virtual pitch event in May where students from partner schools can propose their ideas for seed funding.

“We want to showcase the business ideas students in the area are creating,” Mathieu says.

In the future, the project will help plug UConn into Hartford’s innovation ecosystem. Building an ever-expanding network of connections to local businesses will provide students with more opportunities for experiential learning, enabling them to work hands-on with startups and growth-stage companies.

“The connection opportunity here is huge,” Mathieu says.

Ignite Hartford is one of several programs in the city being supported by Launc[H]artford, the driving force behind the development of Hartford’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Mathieu says the organizers are already intending to reapply for this grant to continue and grow the program in future years.

“It’s nice to connect our campuses together and showcase Connecticut in general,” Mathieu says. “It shows what schools are doing and how we create a space for students to be creative and innovative.”

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