The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce plans to have a new office set up by the end of the year to provide business resources for local entrepreneurs and their startups and home-based businesses.
MEWS — Middletown Entrepreneurs Work Space — will open thanks to $70,000 in funding provided by the common council, Wesleyan University, Middlesex Hospital and Liberty Bank. The chamber is currently outfitting a portion of its second floor that can provide a work place for 10 to 15 people.
Chamber Vice President Jeff Pugliese said the project was born out of an unsuccessful application for the Innovation Places grant from CTNext, a network of business innovators.
“They challenged communities to create a series of catalyzing projects that would create an innovation ecosystem in their communities,” Pugliese said.
The winning applicants, announced earlier this year, already had startup incubator programs running at the time, and Middletown’s group refocused its efforts on getting a local program up and running, he said.
“Middletown was essentially starting from scratch,” Pugliese said. “We want to retain existing entrepreneurs and attract new ones. We’re trying to get home-based businesses out of the homes and get micro-businesses out of coffee shops.”
The chamber will serve as the headquarters for MEWS, which will also offer networking events and other services to provide resources for small businesses outside of the office setting. Pugliese wil be the program’s manager.
“There is a demand for this kind of initiative, and it’s important to me that this be beyond the space itself, that the meetings, the related activities that come out of these efforts are beneficial to the businesses involved,” Pugliese said.
Wesleyan provided $25,000, the common council approved $35,000 on Oct. 3, and Liberty Bank and Middlesex Hospital each contributed $5,000.
“I think it’s a good investment in terms of economic development for the city,” said Councilman Gerald Daley. “We want to build the job base here in Middletown hopefully with more high tech innovative type companies, and this is intended to attract people to get started in those fields to think about Middletown as a place to get started and grow.”
Middletown last month announced that three engineering firms have moved about 200 employees into the downtown area, and several shops and restaurants have opened recently or will open soon. City officials see MEWS adding another incentive for companies to choose Middletown as a destination.
“This is one more way to create space and provide support for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and that’s a big part of what has fueled Middletown’s economic growth,” said Mayor Daniel Drew.
He said co-working space has been on the city’s wish list for at least a few years, but the need for such a facility took a major step forward this year when the Middletown group was applying for state funding.
Drew said MEWS has the advantage of relying on strong existing relationships with Liberty Bank, Middlesex Hospital and Wesleyan.
The chamber is evaluating existing co-working operations to determine the best pricing structures and other arrangements. Having Wesleyan in the mix will encourage some of its business-focused students to stay in the area after they graduate, he said.
“There’s some great ideas coming from students on the campus,” Pugliese said. “We could, through this effort, retain some of these bright young people.”