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Friday, July 25, 2014

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British tech 'invasion:' delegates in Stamford to find startups with overseas potential

Updated 8:15 pm, Friday, July 11, 2014

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  • Martin Cook, director for UK Trade & Investment USA, gets a tour of the Stamford Innovation Center by the operations manager Sarah Robinson in the Old Town Hall in Stamford, Conn., on Thursday, July 10, 2014. Cook is in Stamford to promote the GREAT Tech Awards. The winner of the award will get a UK expansion package. Photo: Jason Rearick / Stamford Advocate
    Martin Cook, director for UK Trade & Investment USA, gets a tour of the Stamford Innovation Center by the operations manager Sarah Robinson in the Old Town Hall in Stamford, Conn., on Thursday, July 10, 2014. Cook is in Stamford to promote the GREAT Tech Awards. The winner of the award will get a UK expansion package. Photo: Jason Rearick

 

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STAMFORD -- Wendu Nwakanma, Wall Street liaison officer for the British Consulate General's UK Trade & Investment arm, leaned across the conference room table during a meeting at the Stamford Innovation Center on Thursday and spoke with an earnest tone to John Ventura, founder of the financial services startup Cashpath, which is headquartered on the SIC's third floor.

"It really strikes me that the problem you're trying to solve is a problem across all developed economies," Nwakanma said of Cashpath, which is creating an app to help users predict their future expenditures and cashflow. "We can completely see this being viable in the U.K."

It's a sentence that almost any startup company, even one still in the early stages of development like Cashpath, would be gratified to hear. It's also an idea that representatives from the British Consulate hope to foster: that companies with some footing in the U.S. could make a successful leap to expand into the U.K.

Nwakanma joined Martin Cook, director for the UK Trade & Investment, Maria Deam, business development associate and Ann Reinking, deputy communications officer at the British Consulate for meetings last week with several companies based at the Innovation Center, to promote this year's GREAT Tech Awards. The contest, in its second year, invites companies based in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to apply to win a chance to establish business relationships in the U.K. This is the first time that the contest has been offered outside of New York City.

"What we see is a lot of parallels with the U.K. and the area around New York City," Cook said. "This is not about us trying to encourage U.S. companies to leave the U.S., it's about how they can grow. The purpose is not to give somebody a bunch of money but to help them build their business, understand the U.K. marketplace and meet some of the key players."

Winners of the GREAT Tech Awards are flown to the U.K. for a week in November to meet with a representative from the prime minister's office, obtain mentorship from British business leaders, and receive advice on legal, accountancy and recruitment issues that businesses would face when starting operations in the U.K.

"It's a good offering," said Peter Propp, chief marketing officer at SIC. "They're putting together some good solid benefits to help startups. It was very focused on the practical help a startup would need to get a toehold in the U.K. marketplace."

He added: "At least one or two of our companies are applying."

Last year, the contest received approximately 100 applications from within New York City, and sent five winning companies overseas. One of those companies is already set up in the U.K., while the others are actively looking, Cook said.

For Ventura at Cashpath, the idea of expanding overseas is still premature, though he noted its something he might consider once the firm grows further. Currently, the Cashpath app is still in the beta stage of development, receiving feedback from a limited number of users.

Nevertheless, for a finance and technology-oriented company like Cashpath, the U.K. would be a market in which its services could be "viral," Cook said, adding that Britain has one of the biggest digital economies in Europe.

"We're really serious about solving a problem and it's great to know that (the U.K.) is a market we could be compatible with," Ventura said during the meeting. "It's remarkable that you guys are here."

ojust@scni.com