Basements and garages generally come out ahead of business incubators in the folklore about start-ups that make it big — In Connecticut as well as Silicon Valley. Bill Stone, for example, launched what is now the $2.7 billion SS&C Technologies Holdings in his Windsor basement in 1986.
But when it comes to generating group energy, it’s hard to beat an incubator, where fledgling entrepreneurs can bounce ideas off each other and save money at the same time. Downtown Hartford needs that vibe badly, and the new “community co-working space” of the Social Enterprise Trust is designed to bring it, for new firms born with a goal of helping the world in addition to making money.
The space, launching as a fee-charging business on Monday, couldn’t be better situated. In the second floor of a classic, old office building, its massive picture windows open out onto the corner of Trumbull and Pratt streets. The marquee of the XL Center shines brightly across the street and the burgeoning life of the brick walks unfolds just below.
Christopher D. Brechlin, a young Willimantic resident involved in several IT-related and community projects, hopes to use the reSET space to catapult his idea into a winner. The business, Blueprint For A Dream, helps nonprofits use data to map their social impact using data. “It’s actually a lot more community organizing than it is sitting at a computer,” he said.
Brechlin, like a few other entrepreneurs who were at reSET’s opening reception Thursday evening, graduated from reSET’s first social enterprise accelerator earlier this year, a 10-week program that met one day a week. In the soft-opening of the month since the space opened at 99 Pratt Street, he’s been using the location for meetings and discussions.
“I have never had a more productive brainstorming session than what we had here last week,” he said.
Another graduate of the training, Karen Pace, has a job in technology at Bank of America but hopes to turn her product, Peacebar, into a game-changer. It’s a high-end energy bar made from dried apricots, cashews, almonds, walnuts, raw coconut butter, cardamom and a key ingredient — essence of tulsi leaves.
Tulsi, an aromatic herb that has sacred status in parts of India, a symbol of honor and respect, gives the Peacebar its nature as a calming yet nutritious food.
“It’s really about taking a moment and honoring yourself,” Pace said.
Why not call it a Pacebar, after her own last name? Too many other meanings, and besides, that’s not Pace’s nature.
For a fee, the incubator offers open office cubicle space with wired or wireless Internet access, printing, coffee, tea and other office amenities. Most important, what the entrepreneurs can’t find at home, is the working camaraderie of the shared space.
“I need to have some interaction with people and I don’t get that working home alone,” said Pace, who holds a masters degree in integrative health and teaches health-related classes at Bank of America.
Maureen Farmer had a natural use for her surname as founder of The Farmer’s Garden. It’s a web site, www.thefarmersgarden.com, that connects gardeners who want to share excess produce, tools and growing space with each other, and help feed the hungry.
“I want more people to have access to healthy food,” said Farmer, a programmer from New Britain, who won the social enterprise award at last year’s Start-Up Weekend in Hartford.
Part of the plan behind the incubator is to work with groups that have business skills and expertise and can become “sounding boards,” said Michelle Cote, program director for reSET.
That includes the CTNEXT, the network set up by the state last year as part of the governor’s efforts to support technology start-ups. ReSET also received some grant money from the state.
ReSET, a nonprofit group, also moved its offices to the same space, from a location at the Walker Group in Farmington, which is headed by Kate Emery, the reSET founder. The goal for reSET is to be self-sustaining within five years, Emery said. The incubator would be part of that, and there’s no set amount of time an entrepreneur would be expected to set up shop there.
It’s a small enterprise, the incubator, but it’s rightly the focus of significant attention not only for the business that might start there but also for its critical role in creating energy at the heart of the city’s office district.
“I would stay here forever,” Pace said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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