Work & Life: A Q&A with 3 New Haven STEM Entrepreneurs
Author: Elinor Slomba
Place is important when it comes to starting a business. It needs to have networks, resources, support, not only for your business, but for your personal life, too.
For CEOs, Susanne Radke, Erika Smith and Charlie O’Connell, that place may have been Boston, San Francisco, New York City, France or Germany. But all have found a fulfilling personal and professional home in New Haven.
Erika Smith, founder and CEO at ReNetX Bio, Inc. just closed Series-A funding for clinical trials that aim to restore neurologic function after CNS injury.
Susanne Radke, PhD is the founder of MedInContext, a medical affairs strategy consultant for biotech startups. Employed full-time in Germany with a pharmaceutical company, she decided to return to New Haven, where she had lived in the past, to grow her business.
Charlie O’Connell, founder & CEO at Fitscript, LLC launched the first digital exercise solution for people living with diabetes, GlucoseZone™ in January 2018. In February, the company received a patent and has since hired 8 new employees and raised $4.5 million in Series-A funding.
We spent some time getting to know each of these innovators and their stories of putting down roots in the Elm City.
Q: WHY HAVE YOU CHOSEN NEW HAVEN AS THE HOME BASE FOR YOUR COMPANY?
A: Erika Smith: When we were starting ReNetX Bio, Inc., there was no doubt we wanted to have the headquarters in New Haven. I love the city. The restaurants, the people are vibrant.
For us, being close to Yale is so important –– our faculty founder works at the medical school. And Boston and NYC are just a train ride away.
A: Susanne Radke: To be honest, New Haven is very similar to the north of Germany where I am from. It’s probably why it felt like home when I moved back here. Now, this is where my community is and I can see a lot of opportunity here. The incubator spaces and shared offices provide a great platform to meet with other startups and motivated innovative entrepreneurs. I can see New Haven emerging as an entrepreneur’s hub with an effective network, tools and experienced partners right on site.
A: Charlie O’Connell: I believe New Haven is ideally located and poised for our company to participate in the global economy. The combination of access to international travel, major centers of business, high quality living and social opportunities, great food and universities make New Haven an up-and-coming location that I, my wife and young family are happy and excited to be a part of.
Q: WHERE IS YOUR OFFICE LOCATED? DESCRIBE YOUR COMMUTE AND OFFICE ENVIRONMENT.
A: Erika Smith: As everyone heads into the city and waits in traffic, I’m headed in the opposite direction to New Haven from Westport. The ReNetX Bio, Inc. team works in the Regus Center on the 19th floor. It’s right in heart of the city and has a beautiful view of the water. We love all of their resources: conference rooms, printers, kitchen and the flexibility of office space. It was important to us to have an ecosystem of CEO meetups for biotech + tech groups, and Regus has been perfect for that.
A: Susanne Radke: I live in Hamden and work at The District. It’s only about a 15-minute commute. The District office environment is in the making, and so far it’s great. Everybody is very professional, driven and fun at the same time. Because there is a social aspect of working at a co-working space, I’ve been able to get to know some really amazing professionals who inspire me every day.
A: Charlie O’Connell: We are located at 5 Science Park. Luckily, I live in the East Rock neighborhood, and I can walk to work if I choose, or have less than a five minute drive to work.
Q: DESCRIBE A RECENT NETWORKING EVENT YOU ATTENDED IN NEW HAVEN. HOW WAS IT HELPFUL?
A: Erika Smith: Connecticut Innovations hosted a Women CEO meeting at the penthouse space at The Study [at Yale Hotel] downtown. There were amazing women speakers who shared their own professional journey, including Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, CEO of Cadenza Innovation, Inc. CT Innovations went above and beyond to recognize female leadership, and connected me with a strong network of impressive women based in the city.
A: Charlie O’Connell: I recently attended a ”Meet the Founders” luncheon hosted by ECIC for CT Next (a funding source for companies in CT that we have benefited from) at a new Vietnamese restaurant on the Ninth Square. The food was great, and I met several fellow entrepreneurs doing really cool things, all based in New Haven. We are also members of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, which has been a fantastic resource for us in terms of business opportunities, finding partners, and generally being aware of important trends and events happening in the greater New Haven area. I think we are just at the beginning of New Haven coming into its own and being a really great place to live, grow a business, and raise a family. It’s really exciting.
A: Susanne Radke: The Bioscience Clubhouse CT invites science-based companies to meet once a month at BAR on Tuesdays from 4:30-6 p.m. It’s an investment, but it has been really valuable for connecting with new and potential clients in the field. What I’ve noticed in New Haven is that once you have an established relationship, it lives on. Boston and San Francisco are great, of course, and I see us moving in that direction as the network grows. Meanwhile, what I’ve been able to build here is really sustaining me.
Q: DESCRIBE A PERFECT THURSDAY IN NEW HAVEN FOR YOU.
A: Charlie O’Connell: A perfect Thursday in New Haven for me would start off with a jog up to the top of East Rock park, followed by grabbing coffee at one of my favorite coffee shops. Then I would go home, spend some time with my young kids and wife before getting to work. Our business is fairly unique in that we broadcast globally live and interactive multimedia videos every Thursday night, so I would be at work fairly late that night. The perfect end to a Thursday in New Haven would probably be picking up food at a favorite quick local restaurant (I have been into Pitaziki lately!) and then home to be with my wife and kids.
Q: WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT THE COMMUNITY?
A: Erika Smith: The restaurants are phenomenal. There’s a diversity here, an eclectic community with an international flavor that really comes through. It’s not all one look, or all one taste. It’s international community is such an important part of what makes New Haven unique.
Q: WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU WISH OTHER ENTREPRENEURS KNEW ABOUT NEW HAVEN?
A: Susanne Radke: New Haven offers room for growth. You can be a stand-out, the first in your field working in a particular area, whereas in other markets that are fairly saturated it might be harder for your business to capture attention. New Haven is moving. There’s great opportunity to jump on the train and start building something. This city has ambition.