State Puts Dollars Behind Innovation Partnerships

Dec 3, 2012

The state of Connecticut is offering financial incentives to small businesses to carry out research for large corporations. As WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports, the state is acting as a matchmaker for new projects


Innovation is expensive and often risky. It also requires many creative thinkers to get it working. That’s why increasingly many big technology-based corporations are looking for new partnerships and ways to outsource research and development functions.

“So these companies are always looking for small businesses and universities that might be doing research and development in a particular topic that they’re going to care about.”

That’s Deb Santy of Connecticut Innovations, the state’s quasi-public technology investment agency. CI has launched a new competition, which its dubbed the Connecticut Innovation Challenge. Four corporations, United Technologies Research Center, BASF, Sikorsky and Ultra Electronics have come up with topics for the challenge. They’re focused around some of Connecticut’s technology strengths, including smart grid technologies, biomass fuel processes, rechargeable power and manufacturing process improvements. What the state has come up with is cash.

“Yes, and that’s what makes people actually come to the table sometimes, is a little bit of an incentive.”

$150,000 grants will be awarded to as many as five teams that advance in the competition to offset some of their costs. The small businesses themselves must come up with matching funds. Santy says the projects were chosen because of the concentration of talent in Connecticut in those particular areas. And she says it makes good sense for the state itself to be putting up cash to get some of these private collaborations off the ground.

“We’re helping the small businesses in the state of Connecticut get partnered up with some big business and doing some really great things, and getting it sort of off the ground. And that creates jobs, that creates innovation and R&D and patents and all kinds of things that are good for the state. And that ultimately generates taxes and jobs.”

The university component to the innovation challenge is also of particular interest to CI. As UConn readies its new tech park at Storrs, Santy says all of these projects will be great candidates to support the development of the that new facility.

“The last thing you want a technology park to have happen is the day you cut the ribbon and there’s no programs that are up and running and industry working together with the university already and beginning to do some stuff that would in fact influence that tech park. You want to have that happening now, not the day you cut the ribbon.”

CI says it will not dictate the way that the partnerships evolve between big and small businesses, nor the way the intellectual property may be shared, but it will be happy to see its stake returned in increased economic activity.

For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.