Quinnipiac / ConnCORP partnership accelerates skills, supports dreams

May 31, 2023

Four men speak in a classroom

A partnership between the Quinnipiac Entrepreneurship Academy and Connecticut Community Outreach Revitalization Program (ConnCORP) has greatly accelerated skills, and supported dreams, of 18 small business owners seeking to grow minority-, women-, and veteran-owned enterprises in the Greater New Haven-Hamden area.

Their success was celebrated at the ConnCORP/Quinnipiac University Community Entrepreneurship Pitch Night and Graduation on May 25, at The Lab at ConnCORP in Hamden.

Quinnipiac leaders first partnered with ConnCORP last year. The partnership is partially funded through a Small Business Administration (SBA) grant awarded to the university.  At the May 25 event, Quinnipiac President Judy Olian reflected on the start of the two-year business accelerator partnership program, and how quickly it has progressed.

“A year ago, before we started this program, the headline was, ‘U.S. Small Business Administration Awards Grant to New Business Accelerator.’ And here we are. It has come to life. This, itself, was an entrepreneurial project,” said Olian.

The 18 graduates represent the first group to complete the 14-week program, led by School of Business associate professor of management Tuvana Rua.

“We at Quinnipiac are so proud and pleased to be associated with this program,” said Olian. “We think of ourselves as entrepreneurial. We’re nimble, we’re agile, we like breaking down the mold. We like dreaming. We like seeing those dreams realized, which is the entrepreneurial way.”

Olian thanked U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro for shepherding federal funding to the SBA. She thanked SBA District Director Catherine Marx for her support and participation.

Now in its 70th year, the SBA was founded to help secure the nation through its small businesses, said Marx, telling the gathered entrepreneurs, “…you are the innovators. You are the job creators, and you will support our nation and our community. And I am so proud that the SBA supported you through this journey. We have opened the door to SBA for all it has to offer. To Quinnipiac and ConnCORP: the door is very wide open. We are thrilled with your innovation, with your sense of community, and with the success of all these graduates.”

ConnCORP board chairman Carlton Highsmith said success would not have been possible without the generous SBA grant. He also thanked Olian, Quinnipiac Provost Debra Leibowitz, School of Business dean Holly Raider, and the entire Quinnipiac administration for supporting the vision of ConnCORP.

“They helped to take that vision we had, and crystalize it into what you see tonight,” said Highsmith.

Highsmith also chairs the board of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT). ConnCAT founding president and CEO Erik Clemons, who also leads ConnCORP, discussed developing a vision for ConnCORP with Highsmith.

“We talked about entrepreneurship, and he called entrepreneurship ‘the great equalizer,’” said Clemons. “We talked about creating a space and place, first for high school students who endeavor to be entrepreneurs, and we got with Quinnipiac School of Business, putting a program together for high school students in New Haven. That program started with about three or four young men. It ended up being young people across the state. And in the white paper that we co-wrote, he talked about the need not only for high school students, but adults. And we got busy starting ConnCORP. And now, you all sit in the vision of Mr. Carlton Highsmith.”

In addition to program visits from Marx, Olian and other thought leaders, six Quinnipiac faculty members and 70 undergraduates from several disciplines worked with the entrepreneurs at The Lab at ConnCORP.

“The learning goes both ways,” said Olian. “Our students had something to share with our 18 entrepreneurs that are here today; and at the same time, our students got to learn, too.”

Rua said School of Communication film, television and media arts students helped each entrepreneur produce small business commercials which aired at the May 25 event.

In her commercial, entrepreneur Alisha Crutchfield promoted diverse offerings at her lifestyle boutique, Bloom, in New Haven’s Westville section. Crutchfield said her hope for Bloom is, “…to shine light on local talent, creating this micro-economy through commerce that circulates dollars, resources, and upliftment back into the communities we’re curating from. Bloom is truly dreaming out loud.”

Each entrepreneur also prepared a live presentation and tabletop display for the pitch competition. The contest was judged by panelists Diane Smith, CEO, Capital 4 Change; Onyeka Obiocha, Executive Director, CT Next; Patrice Luoma, Director, M&T Bank Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Quinnipiac University; Malcom Ellis, ConnCORP board member and Global Director of Enterprise Architecture at Diageo; Melissa Bierowka, Vice President Senior Business Banking Relationship Manager, Key Bank; and Mercy Quaye, founder/CEO, The Narrative Project.

Of the night’s 10 judges’ awards, three went to entrepreneur Winter A. Carson, owner of Blush Beauty & Wellness, for best pitch delivery, best marketing plan and best business amplification. Part of Carson’s plan involves “The Blush Initiative,” a mentorship and workforce development program designed to impact personal health and wellness and improve school engagement and academic performance of high school students while exploring the field of cosmetology.

With the first group of entrepreneurs completing the program, 40 applicants are already vying for the 20 open slots available for next year, said Olian.

“I think that this could be transformational to the Greater New Haven-Hamden area,” said Olian. “ConnCORP is a special partner to us, not just because we’re doing great community work, but because we co-create and dream together about how we can do good in the community.”

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