Connecticut Small Businesses Make Pitches To Big Companies, State Agencies

Original Article: Hartford Courant

A speed-dating style of networking brought together hundreds of small business owners and representatives on June 3 looking for money-making opportunities at Connecticut’s largest companies and government agencies.

Armed with business cards and their best elevator speeches, the small business owners pitched their products or services in 10-minute sessions, moving among dozens of tables at the annual Connecticut Business Matchmaker event at the University of Hartford’s student union building.

“I’ll approach almost anyone,” said Susan Knall, a principal at G2 Communications Group LLC, a Marlborough, Mass., consulting company.

Knall said her pitch at her seven appointments will be to highlight that the company, which works with businesses to adjust to changes created by mergers, acquisitions and other sharp turns in direction, is a woman-owned enterprise. The matchmaking event makes a priority of helping connect minority- and women-owned companies to business opportunities.

Connecticut and other states are increasingly boosting small business as part of their economic development strategies, recognizing the firms’ outsized role in creating jobs.

State Sen. John Fonfara used the occasion to tout legislation he spearheaded this year intended to boost startup businesses by broadening the work of CTNext, a subsidiary of Connecticut Innovations, the state’s venture capital fund. The measure approved last month would increase state involvement in building an entrepreneurial community drawing investment and creating jobs.

“We’ve gotten a little complacent with our success,” he told the crowd. “We’ve not built the farm team that other states have.”

Small business accounts for more than 25 percent of federal contracts, or nearly $100 billion a year, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Among those listed as participants at the matchmaker event were federal agencies such as the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Navy.

Private-sector participants included United Technologies Corp., Electric Boat, The Hartford and nearly two dozen other companies. Municipal and state agencies and several universities also attended, seeking contacts for construction, manufacturing and other work.

In addition to small businesses looking for work, government agencies and businesses rely on the gatherings to find subcontractors or to fulfill requirements to give work to local companies, said Sandra Cahill, director of the university’s Entrepreneurial Center.

“Some of what they’re looking for is not too easy to find,” she said.

Diana Colcord, executive director of business development at Downes Construction Co., called the matchmaker event a “great opportunity.” The New Britain company would not otherwise have access to small businesses seeking a share of construction contracts, she said.

Business owners she meets are generally good at their jobs, but because they own small companies they often don’t have the time to complete critical paperwork, Colcord said.

She said she had lined up 10-minute meetings with 20 to 25 companies Thursday and that she doesn’t typically have trouble keeping them apart.

“I try to take pretty good notes,” Colcord said.