Thinking of starting a high tech or bio-medical business in San Diego and need some help? CONNECT.org might be what you need.
Steve Hoey, a program manager at CONNECT for the past two years, says that the organization is “designed to engender and support innovation in San Diego through a culture of collaboration.” CONNECT, which was founded in 1985, has several programs and most entrepreneurs start with the free Springboard program, which first began assisting entrepreneurs in 1993.
Even in the current economic downturn Hoey points out the fact that innovation doesn't slow down. More and more entrepreneurs have taken the plunge since many people have recently found themselves out of work.
To apply for the Springboard program, which typically lasts three to five months, an entrepreneur simply fills out the application form on their website (http://connect.org/springboard). Applications are then reviewed and matched to CONNECT's subject matter experts known as Entrepreneur's in Residence (EIRs).
Each year, 50 companies go through the Springboard program and about 35 complete it. These companies range in size from one or two founding entrepreneurs, with just an idea, to companies that have raised millions of dollars in funding. Two recent success stories, which Hoey mentioned, are Benchmark Revenue Management, which helps make hospitals more effective and efficient, and Biomatrica, which stabilizes biological samples at room temperature.
EIRs will coach entrepreneurs and help them refine their business plan and fill in the gaps. For example, if an entrepreneur is technical and their plan needs help with the financial forecasts then interns can be brought in from UCSD’s Rady business school to help.
The Springboard program consists of several phases. Beginning with filling out the online application and an initial meeting with one of the 80 to 90 EIRs to ensure that the Springboard program can support the applicant’s goals. Once this match has been made, the entrepreneur will meet with their EIR several times in order to solidify their plan. The entrepreneur then refines his or her business plan by conducting a dry run in front of one or two panels of experts leading up to their final presentation panel.
The final panel consists of three groups; CONNECT sponsors, investors, and domain experts. It begins with a 20 minute presentation by the entrepreneur followed by a 30 minute question and answer period and then it concludes with about 30 minutes of feedback and constructive criticism.
Once the graduation panel has been completed, most entrepreneurs usually hope to close a round funding from investors. Since this is naturally the next step, CONNECT launched a new program in December 2008 called the Deal Network where Springboard graduates now have a second opportunity to present to investors.
The most important traits that Springboard applicants require are “coachability” and a willingness to complete the entire program. If that sounds like you and you are a San Diego based entrepreneur then CONNECT's Springboard should be your first step.