Opinion: Now’s the time to fund Stamford’s innovation ecosystem

Stamford Advocate Op-Ed 02.25.2022

Stamford Patch Op-Ed 02.28.2022

Now’s the Time to Fund Stamford’s Innovation Ecosystem

By Wesley Bemus

As the City of Stamford prepares to submit its proposal for Stamford to receive up to $50 million of Connecticut’s highly anticipated $100 million Innovation Corridor funding (the proposal is due March 4, 2022), I’m pleased to voice my support and commend the countless individuals and organizations (public and private) who are working tirelessly to develop and expand Stamford’s vibrant technology and entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The cities that are selected to receive Innovation Corridor funding will have the exciting opportunity to make a fully transformative investment in their communities. The initiative is designed to create a projected 15,000 jobs in Connecticut over five years in high-growth sectors such as data science, advanced manufacturing, and insurance technology. When Governor Lamont announced it in October 2021, he deemed it “a key part of our plan to accelerate long-lasting and equitable economic development in Connecticut.”

For six years StamfordNext and many others have been working to grow Stamford into a robust, national hub for cutting-edge technology. We’ve made tremendous progress that ideally positions the city for further investment and support. Should Stamford be granted Innovation Corridor funding (winners will be announced this spring), the infrastructure we’ve established for fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in technology should be expanded tenfold.

In the last year alone, Stamford made great strides in innovation. For example:

  • UConn Stamford launched its Stamford Data Science Initiative that includes:
    • The opening of a Technology Incubation Program, TIP Digital, that has grown from supporting five data science startups to 23;
    • An entrepreneurship co-op program called the Stamford Startup Studio that provides students real-world experience in developing products and operating as a startup; and
    • The Data Science Faculty Fellows program that recruits top data science faculty researchers for the UConn Stamford campus.
  • AT&T and UConn partnered to bring advanced development & research technology utilizing the AT&T 5G+ network to the UConn Stamford campus to bolster the UConn Stamford Data Science Initiative.
  • The Stamford Partnership launched TechHub, a collaborative of programs and events to unite Stamford’s technology community such as:
    • The TechHub Fireside Chat Series with leaders and innovators to discuss timely issues. Most recently, Kevin Nolan, CEO of GE Appliances, and Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons were featured speakers.
    • Free weekly community co-working sessions at Third Place by Half-Full Brewery for sharing ideas, inspiration and knowledge. (Third Place is another StamfordNext-funded initiative that’s dedicated to building our innovation ecosystem. Its unique versatility as a co-working & event space, coffee house and tasting room makes it the perfect venue for fostering community.)
    • Executive networks for technology experts and business leaders to discuss data and analytics; cybersecurity; and workforce, community and economic development
    • TechFWD, a workforce development initiative to help individuals learn the digital skills needed to create and grow small businesses
  • GE Appliances announced its multimillion-dollar initiative, CoCREATE Stamford, that will return small appliance manufacturing to Stamford and offer an “innovative community makerspace” for hands-on learning.
  • Digital Currency Group, a leading investor in cryptocurrency and decentralized finance technologies, announced its relocation from New York City to Stamford by late 2022. The move is expected to bring 300 jobs to Connecticut in the booming fields of data science and blockchain technology.

Picture this:

A co-working space in UConn TIP Digital, filled with innovators, researchers, students and engineers. They’re writing algorithms, learning coding, starting companies, and pushing the known boundaries of technology. The students are completing internships with the startups and landing full-time jobs after graduation because they’ve gained invaluable real-world experience and the data science skills employers need. The startups attract investors who hope to find the next Tesla or Uber.

After business hours, Stamford’s Pacific Street corridor near Harbor Point is the hip new hang-out spot for the tech professionals and students. On Friday nights, they enjoy the latest local brew at Third Place by Half Full Brewery then head out for live music at one of the area’s growing number of cool venues.

This is happening now. This the new Stamford. Our city is exciting, innovative, and eager to continue its progress. Not only do we aim to foster innovation and support startups in their incubation; we want to be those startups’ “forever home.” Let’s show them that they don’t need to fly the nest to San Francisco or Austin to find the talent, resources, and funding they require. Let’s be a thriving technology hub so they stay here – to work and to live. And let’s continue to grow our talent pool by offering skills-based training that will prepare our workforce for the jobs of the future and entice more cutting-edge companies like DCG to make Stamford their home.

Now is the time to fund the Stamford innovation ecosystem. The Innovation Corridor grant would be optimally utilized here. Our city’s wealth of high-tech talent, progressive business, and dedicated leaders are ready to truly transform Stamford.

Wesley Bemus is the executive director of StamfordNext, a non-profit collaborative that invests in the people, technology and expertise in Stamford, Connecticut, to propel the city’s growth and enable innovation.