New Leadership For Connecticut Innovations

Mar 5, 2012

Connecticut Innovations has a new chief executive officer in charge of a potential merger and a much larger investment portfolio. Claire Leonardi spoke to WNPR’s Sujata Srinivasan on how she plans to shake up the organization.

Claire Leonardi brings more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry to her new job as CEO of Connecticut Innovations – or CI – a state-funded organization in Rocky Hill that invests in advanced technology ventures.

"I think that I would be considered a very collaborative leader. I love leading by example and I love working with people." 

Those are traits that will be needed in ample measure as Leonardi attempts to identify and manage a much larger portfolio of companies, as a result of the jobs bill passed last year. State lawmakers have effectively doubled CI’s budget, adding another $125 million in investment capital over the next five years. CI will also attract an additional $50 million or so per year from the private sector. Because start-up companies have a high risk of failure, Leonardi is planning a strategy of greater diversification.

"I would be very disappointed if, after a certain period of time, we didn't have a very diversified portfolio.  I think that there’s a great risk if you’re all in one category of business."

This means CI has to change the way it looks at the marketplace. As of now, its portfolio is almost entirely made up of IT and bioscience companies. Only a tiny portion – around eight percent – is allocated to firms in other sectors. The problem is there aren’t that many new, viable IT and bioscience ventures in Connecticut that can absorb all of CI’s funding. That’s why Leonardi is looking at other areas.

"I think that CI is best known for high technology, bioscience, and what I would like to see us do is to really look at all kinds of innovation. You can have an innovative process. It could be a new way to look at payment systems across the insurance industry. It could be healthcare-related types of businesses. That’s where we’ll get some of our deal flow."

Helping existing companies grow is also high on her list of priorities.

"Part of CI’s mission overall when it was chartered was to promote innovation in existing companies. And that is one of the things that I would like to focus on. I think that we do have to focus on helping our companies become more international and sell their products throughout the world. I mean, it’s a global economy." 

Leonardi is planning to expand the reach of the Connecticut Development Authority – or CDA – which will be integrated into CI. Currently the authority provides debt financing for more established businesses in the state. Its merger with CI is subject to approval by the legislature.

"CDA has focused a lot of its efforts on company rescues. There is a great opportunity to have CDA address a broader part of the market. Companies may need assistance in doing things like investing in their manufacturing processes to make them much more competitive over time and develop a better product or save money."

Leonardi says CI’s performance will be measured by what she calls a double bottom line – the rate of return on its investments and economic benefits to the state from new jobs, innovative goods and services for domestic and export markets, and profitability.

For WNPR, I’m Sujata Srinivasan.