New Haven Advocates Lead Local Startup Program to New Heights

Caroline Smith and Margaret Lee believe investing in local entrepreneurs is at the core of building and sustaining a model that promotes local job creation and talent retention.   

That’s why they began a community problem-solving event series. Billed as Collab New Haven, the Kentucky natives brought together the Yale University and local entrepreneurial communities to collaborate, envision and develop their business ideas in August 2015.

Photo courtesy of Collab New Haven

Photo courtesy of Collab New Haven

Never more fitting, Collab New Haven is named for its central purpose: collaboration.

With Smith’s know-how in community organizing and advocacy and Lee’s expertise in startup incubation and entrepreneurship, the 2014 Yale graduates partnered to lend access to local entrepreneurs with the resources needed to boost their passion projects.

Always evolving, Collab New Haven now serves aspiring entrepreneurs through funding, mentorship and other resources as needed.

“We got together through thinking about how we can bring the Yale and New Haven entrepreneurial communities together,” Lee said. “We were really interested in the relationships that were getting made and the relationships with the new Haven residents.”

The pair met more than two years ago when they graduated from Yale. They share many similarities, especially having moved to New Haven from Kentucky about seven years ago.

Photo courtesy of Collab New Haven

Photo courtesy of Collab New Haven

Smith and Lee are now committed to Collab full time after recently stepping down as co-directors of marketing at SeeClickFix, a local technology startup that melds neighbors and local government officials to resolve millions of issues.

Moreover, Smith founded New Haven Bike Month and is the chair of the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management team. She earned the City of New Haven Individual Innovator Award, Yale Presidential Public Service Fellowship and Yale Seton Elm-Ivy Award.

Meanwhile, Lee managed the Venture Creation Program and Yale’s summer accelerator while working at the Yale Entrepreneurship Institute (now the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale).

Smith and Lee said that working at SeeClick Fix played a major role in teaching them about learning design, running a company, creating and operating a culture and what it means to work up from entry level to leadership positions.

“SeeClickFix is proof that brilliance can come from neighborhoods outside of Yale,” Smith said. “[The company] is a perfect example of how community advocates from Yale and New Haven collaborated to build something that employs [more than] 30 people in the city.”

Photo courtesy of Collab New Haven

Photo courtesy of Collab New Haven

Collab New Haven is offering a new six-week workshop, or incubator program, for early-stage entrepreneurs looking to expand their work and inspire community-based work.

An Innovation Places grant awarded to New Haven will fund Collab’s pre-seed funding to members. Based on need, entrepreneurs may receive funding up to $2,000. Other amenities include a free co-working space, one-on-one coaching sessions, assigned mentors through a growing mentoring network and access to legal and accounting services on a case-by-case basis, among others.

Applications will be available in early November, and the incubator workshops will begin in January.

Smith and Lee agree that working together has been one of their favorite parts of working on Collab. Smith says it has been rewarding joining large conversations with so many community leaders, adding that Collab wants their participants to feel like they own a part of the organization.

“We’ve been so open to asking for help and challenging the assumptions that we are making,” Lee said of Collab’s own support from local business leaders. “I think that kind of mindset lends ourselves the opportunity to connect with other people. We learn from each other a lot and try to support each other the best we can.”

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