Westport accelerator extends reach internationally
Published 10:41 am, Thursday, October 20, 2016
As questions surface on the Stamford Innovation Center’s future with the incubator facing the prospect of a December eviction notice, a Westport business accelerator is contemplating extending its reach beyond Connecticut’s borders by launching a virtual version of the hands-on entrepreneurship academies it runs locally.
Created in mid-2014 by Janis Collins and Jennifer Gabler, The Refinery has to date coached four cohorts of women with ideas for startups, most of which are still working to build up their businesses, having generated some $10 million in backing from early-stage investors. The U.S. Small Business Administration recently awarded The Refinery $50,000 as part of a national grant program to boost the economic impact of successful accelerators, with the SBA funding prompting a Thursday visit by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, to hear more about The Refinery’s plans.
As opposed to the Stamford Innovation Center, which has grounded its revenue model on leasing space to startups and hosting a packed schedule of events, The Refinery has built its enterprise by providing intensive, six-week training sessions for entrepreneurs, with Gabler indicating they can be intense, with mentors often prodding participants to pivot to different ideas in the push to create viable growth companies.
Collins and Gabler are now considering running online workshops to bring their model to more people. The potential move comes after hosting “VentureCamp” sessions online to help contestants preparing to compete in the Oct. 20 VentureClash in New Haven, which was organized by Connecticut Innovations as a way to draw startups to the state with $5 million in funding in exchange for building their businesses here.
It is not the first contest to which The Refinery has committed — the organization is working with Uber and the Kansas City, Mo.-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to create an UberPitch contest on Oct. 26 in several cities nationally, in which women can pitch ideas to potential investors during a short lift in an Uber vehicle.
The Refinery has its own offices at the Westport Innovation Hub in Westport’s Saugatuck district and has run its workshops at the Westport Library — a far cry from the Stamford Innovation Center’s warren of breakout rooms and location in downtown Stamford. “In all of Fairfield County, where’s maybe the one place where the 25-year-old software engineer is going to feel comfortable — downtown Stamford, right?” Himes said Thursday speaking about the Stamford Innovation Center. “They are doing wonderful things there, but it wasn’t the model that generated the kind of rent that the city could expect on that property.”