IN THE NEWS
Stamford Advocate 10.8.2021
Fairfield County Business Journal 10.15.2021
‘The program is buzzing:’ Business startup program at UConn-Stamford sees major growth
By Paul Schott
TIP Digital, a technology incubation program for data science-focused startups hosted at the University of Connecticut’s Stamford campus, has seen the number of participating companies more than triple since its launch about eight months ago, according to data released this week by the initiative’s funding organizations.
The program now hosts 17 data science startups, compared with five at its mid-February launch. Those firms employ a total of 109 people, and seven of those businesses are generating revenues, according to TIP Digital officials.
“We’re thrilled with the significant growth we’ve achieved in such a short time,” TIP Digital Director Margaret Feeney said in a statement. “The program is buzzing with energetic entrepreneurs who are excited to be part of the community we are building. They’re making exciting progress.”
TIP Digital is a key part of the broader UConn Stamford Data Science Initiative, which is receiving $4.2 million in funding, equally provided by the university and the nonprofit collaborative StamfordNext. The latter organization makes grants to projects that support local entrepreneurs and innovation.
“TIP Digital is already exceeding our expectations for attracting and propelling the data science industry in Stamford,” StamfordNext Executive Director Wes Bemus said in a statement. “It’s exciting to see our city on the cutting edge of today’s ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ in which data is the new oil.”
The TIP Digital companies have collectively raised more than $3 million in additional seed funding since the program’s launch, according to program officials. FinTron, which focuses on personal finance, has led the group with fundraising of $2.5 million since February.
“I have loved every minute of our partnership with TIP Digital. Its management team has done everything in its power to support our growth and development as young entrepreneurs,” FinTron CEO Wilder Rumpf said in a statement. “Be it introductions, speaking engagements or just general advising, TIP is always eager to help, and the TIP community has really shown us the breadth of the incredible tech talent here in Connecticut. I look forward to growing our business in tandem with TIP and to proving the power of community.”
Whether, one of TIP Digital’s first five startups, raised $100,000 as part of its acceptance into the 2021 Summer Cohort of Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, a New York City-based program. Formerly known as ACW Analytics, Whether uses its expertise in earth and data sciences to predict the impact of severe weather on infrastructure such as electrical utilities’ assets.
“The TIP is a very nurturing environment for early-stage companies. It brings the full support of the university ecosystem,” Vijay Jayachandran, co-founder and CEO of Whether, said in an interview in March. “It makes us feel good about the support we will get as we build out our company.”
Fairfield County Business Journal
UConn Stamford’s TIP Digital initiative offers data science startups a fast track to early results
By Phil Hall
Back in February, the University of Connecticut and the nonprofit StamfordNext collaborated on the opening of a data science startup endeavor called the Technology Incubation Program — more commonly known as TIP Digital — at the UConn Stamford campus. It was the third TIP Digital outpost for UConn, which previously set up the program at its Storrs and Farmington campuses.
To say the UConn Stamford version got off to a fast start would be an understatement, with the iteration now encompassing 17 startups — seven of which are already generating revenue — that employ 109 workers.
“Right now they’re across all different industries and at all different stages,” said Margaret Feeney, director of TIP Digital, about the participating companies. “We’re interviewing an additional seven over the next month and that will round out our first-year cohort.”
TIP Digital offers startups in the data science space a variety of perks, including lab and office space, participation in educational and networking events, access to UConn’s research facilities and input from industry mentors and UConn’s entrepreneurs-in-residence. Participants also receive help on pitch development and can attend funding seminars and angel investor forums,
“We don’t put on any capital or financing and, likewise, we don’t take any equity,” Feeney noted, adding that TIP Digital instead emphasizes matching the startup with “one or multiple folks who can add value to them over the life of the relationship.”
She said the program is particular about which startups it will invite into the program, specifically seeking out entrepreneurs “doing something interesting and disruptive” while determining if UConn has “the resources they need to get to their next level.” One major beneficiary of such relationships, she noted, was the wider regional economy.
“It is a little bit of a flywheel effect,” Feeney said. “You get it going, show that there’s success, and then that builds upon itself. Folks want to start companies in Fairfield County and folks know that UConn is a great resource for talent.”
Wes Bemus, executive director at StamfordNext, agreed that the program promises to bring a new vibrancy to the local economy, particularly in the artificial intelligence (AI) sector.
“Having these companies in the incubator in Stamford is going to raise the level of artificial intelligence, which will help them be more competitive going into the future,” he said. “What’s so exciting about AI is that it’s industry-agnostic — there are companies that come from every side of the Earth and from every industry out there using AI.”
Bemus also offered hope that UConn Stamford could further expand and create “an institute or a school of data science here in this corner of the state, because we see that the industry focus is growing and becoming stronger and stronger by the minute. And we think that providing talent and resources to startups can help accelerate that even more.”
Among the TIP Digital participants that have already seen positive results from the program has been Stamford-based Noteworthy AI, which secured more than $300,000 from multiple investors. The firm — which was recently selected as one of 10 startups to participate in the TechStars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator’s 2021 energy and clean-tech program — provides real-time, AI-powered asset inspections and inventory analysis solutions for energy distribution grid operators.
“I would say that the number one value that the incubator provided to me and my company has been the mentorship and the advisors that they’ve connected us to,” said Noteworthy founder and CEO Christopher Ricciuti. “Just helping us to navigate items related to scaling the company, getting in touch with and in front of customers and fundraising were things we’ve been focused on a lot in the past few months.”
Ricciuti stated that startups face an “immense amount” of challenges, with many of them failing between their first and fifth year of operations. He recommended TIP Digital for data science companies eager to “increase the probability of your company’s ultimate success.”
Also among the first cohort is futuresTHRIVE, which is creating a groundbreaking early intervention mental health screening tool for youth that uses AI and game-based technology to identify and track pediatric mental health concerns.
“They paired me with a mentor and that mentor has significant experience in the world of assessment and mental health technology,” said Wendy Ward, founder and CEO of the Darien company. “We meet every two weeks and he’s been wonderful — everything that he has challenged me with doing has been important to the overall business. They have made a number of key introductions — and from an entrepreneur perspective, introductions are everything.”
Ward added that “the overall ecosystem of the state of Connecticut for small businesses is wildly connected, and the incubator is one of those entry points. I think Connecticut does a lot for their small business entities, but being involved in something like the incubator is a really big elevator from an overall business perspective.”