CT Gets its Own FIG

CT Gets its Own FIG

Feeling guilty about spending so much time settled down in front of the computer screen playing games? Finding it hard to set aside the gaming mentality? Feeling you should be spending more time interacting with friends and family face-to-face? Well, you’re in luck: On April 30, you can spend an entire day face-to-facing with friends, family and strangers while continuing the gaming mindset yet leaving your computer screen behind. Amazing as it sounds, folks, it is possible!
The first annual CT Festival of Indie Games (CT FIG)  will be hosted onsite by The Grove, the Happiness Lab and Elm City Games on Saturday, April 30. April 30 also happens to be International Table Top Day, ergo, all games at the festival will be table top games (think board games, card games, dice games) as opposed to digital games.
The Connecticut festival is modeled after the annual Boston Festival of Indie Games , known as Boston FIG  which has been a tradition since 2011. Game designers and co-founders of Geek Fever Games, Jason Micelli and Matt Plourde have attended the Boston FIG for years and finally decided the time was right to give Connecticut its very own FIG. Among the sponsors for the CT FIG are the Boston FIG, whose core team has worked closely with Micelli and his partners to organize the event, and The Game Crafter, a site well known to indie game designers that produces game components and custom print-on-demand card and board games.

Jason Micelli co-founder of Geek Fever Games

Jason Micelli co-founder of Geek Fever Games

You probably won’t find any of your old favorites like Monopoly or Parcheesi as the games at the festival are designed by independent game developers and published by small game publishing houses. Micelli describes the festival as “dedicated to celebrating and highlighting indie game designers across New England.” Many of the games at the festival have yet to be launched, so you’ll get to give feedback directly to the game designers. Along with prizes to be raffled off there will be games for sale by vendors so you can bring home something completely new to show off to friends.
For designers, there will be prizes in various categories as well as the opportunity to test out their games, speak with game publishers and even be interviewed for live broadcast on Late to The Table on Twitch TV, a live streaming video platform owned by a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc.
With tickets for the entire day costing only $10 per person or $15 per household (no limit on household size) this is likely to be the most fun for the least money you’ll have all year. Crowds are expected as the event is being widely advertised, so advance registration is recommended and can be done at online at http://ct-fig.com. Directions and parking information is also available on the website.

Sweet Success


John Fitzpatrick Co-Founder and CEO of Applivate

John Fitzpatrick Co-Founder and CEO of Applivate

When John Fitzpatrick got up to give his 60-second pitch at the November 2011 Startup Weekend at The Grove’s former Orange Street location, he had never given a business pitch before. He also didn’t have a clear idea of the product he was pitching.

What he did have was a background in biology and an intimate knowledge of the constant tracking people with Type 1 diabetes must do. He knew that for people with Type 1 diabetes, keeping track of their blood sugar levels is vital, sometimes onerous, and levels that are too high or low can literally be fatal. “My wife has diabetes and we sit down to dinner every night and she would measure her blood sugar,” John told me. The readings determine the correct dose of insulin to administer. The dose is then stored in the insulin pump. “That’s data stored in these devices. The idea is, we needed to get this data off these devices and into the cloud where we can use it to help people manage their diabetes.”

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Life After The Grove

Ever stay awake wondering if there’s life after the Grove, and if so, what it holds? Well, if Raj Jalan,  co-Founder and CEO of Device 42, Inc. http://device42.com, is to be believed, the answer is ‘yes, there is life after The Grove. And it holds growth, success and even a few challenges.’

Grovers who have been around for a while may remember Device 42 from the early days when The Grove was at 71 Orange Street, or from the days when Device 42 occupied the entire third floor of the expansion wing at the Grove’s current location on Chapel Street.20160202_113639In November 2015, Device 42 moved to its new location at 600 Saw Mill Road, West Haven, having outgrown their space at The Grove. Their new offices are spacious, bright with ample onsite parking, and located only a half mile from the exit off I-95. The new space allows for an increased staff and has several quiet conference rooms, for customer demos and conference calls.

Jalan founded Device 42 in 2010 and ran it from his home till the company took off to the point where Jalan needed space for employees and to meet with customers. Realizing it was no longer feasible to run the business from home, he looked into The
Grove. “The main benefit [of The Grove] was collaboration,” Jalan said. “So many helpful people around, full of energy more – than in the usual office.”
Device 42’s product, an IT infrastructure management tool that allows companies to identify, visualize, and manage devices (physical, virtual, or cloud), networks components, software, and passwords, was already developed by the time it took up residence at The Grove. The product allows a company, using Device42 browser interface, to visualize their infrastructure, understand network interdependencies, improve network security, and mitigate the impacts of planned and unplanned IT network changes.20160202_113748

Having spent years working as a consultant to various IT companies, Jalan had first-hand knowledge of the need for such a product and, with his background, he was able to design and develop it. His experience working with companies that needed the product meant he could also market the product efficiently. In fact, Jalan told me, Device 42 was in the enviable position of being profitable from day one.
Given those advantages, Jalan was not looking to collaborate with other Grovers on product design or development, but, transitioning from a solo, service-based business consultant, to entrepreneur of a product-based business with employees, presented new challenges. It was this area, what he refers to as “mind expansion” where Jalan found the creative energy at The Grove most helpful. He mentioned another Grover, John Fitzpatrick, founder of Applivate LLC ( http://shugtrak.com), as being particularly helpful by introducing him to The Founders Lunch group, an informal group of startup entrepreneurs who meet regularly for lunch and discuss various challenges they’re facing.

Asked what was the biggest challenge he faced on a daily basis as the founder of a startup, Jalan didn’t hesitate:  “What to do first. You have one hundred things to do; what are the five most important?” Jalan noted that this is an area where too many startup entrepreneurs get trapped. Having run his own consulting business before Device 42, Jalan knew how to handle various administrative details such as bookkeeping, but once the company got to a certain size, doing those things himself was no longer feasible. “I’ve seen startups where they won’t spend the money to hire a resource that can do the work in two hours that it would take you ten hours to do. I was at that point at some stage, I suppose,” he admitted. “But you can only do five or ten things a day. Which five or ten?” Another constant challenge, not just for Device 42, but for any business, is finding, hiring and keeping the right people. “Our most successful hires are from networking,” Jalan told me. “Networking is absolutely necessary for everyone at every stage.”

Other advice Jalan had for entrepreneurs included being sure to keep good records and not to get discouraged when things get hard. “I think it’s all about persistence. Just keep going.” Given that Device 42 now has clients in 29 countries and is actively growing its employee base, it sounds like this is a man who knows what he’s talking about.

Elinor Slomba: The Grove’s Curatorial Eye

Now here’s a challenge for you: Find the peephole at The Grove. Yes, for all you Grovers who harbor a secret fascination with peepholes but are too proper to indulge your fantasies, you now have dispensation. Go find the peephole and indulge yourself. Telling you exactly where it is would take away the thrill of discovery- and that’s the whole idea behind peepholes, right? It’s a secret. But I will tell you it’s on the second floor.

And just how did The Grove come to have a peephole? Enter: Elinor Slomba.B&W headshot She’s also the person responsible for having Marilyn watch over you as you work and the vines that add such a fun touch of nature outside the Big Bang office and in the downstairs entryway. While Elinor is not the artist who produced these works, she is the person who curated each piece for The Grove’s permanent collection. She is also the founder of Arts Interstices http://artsinterstices.com/, which just celebrated its fourth year of business, and is dedicated to bridging the spaces (interstices) between organizations and the arts and more traditional businesses by providing a way for them to communicate and use each other’s models to their own advantage.
When Elinor was finishing her B.A. in fine art and cultural anthropology at William and Mary, a career advisor at the college suggested she consider a career in the Foreign Service, an idea that seems to amuse Elinor. It’s easy to see that she would have been well-suited to such a career. Today, instead of helping foreign countries navigate their cultural differences, she helps disparate domains recognize they each have something to offer the other. She’s expert in navigating the ‘between spaces’ and in making associations that may not be obvious at first, but once identified opens a vast array of possibilities.

It’s this associative thinking, a process Elinor describes as “definitely nonlinear,” that Elinor sees as a key tool in curating and that she helps people develop in her series of classes on curation.

“We live in a visual age. People can be energized by nontraditional gallery spaces,” she explains, when asked about curating art for business locations. In her work with The Grove, she realized that the concept of collaboration is a key element of The Grove’s culture.Marilyn9 In keeping with that value, all of the shows she has curated at The Grove have featured more than one artist. Marilyn, the piece above the elevator doors on the second floor, was part of the show Re:Generate – Art Based on Code (co-curated with another Grove member, Brian Monahan). In this piece, a collaborative effort by Dan Gries, Dannielle Kefford and Dan Bernier, the digital eye resolves the oversized pixels (made from pool noodles) to reveal the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe. The high-tech reference of the work, along with the collaborative nature of its inception, makes it uniquely appropriate for The Grove.

The two other permanent pieces, Peephole by Mark Williams, a New Haven-based artist and Climbing Ivy by Giada Crispiels, an Italian artist who completed a year-long residency at Artspace New Haven in 2012, were part of the show Navigate Complexity. Mark's wall piecePeephole is an example of artwork intended to be viewed “an eyeball at a time.” Climbing Ivy was the first piece acquired for The Grove’s permanent collection. Crispiels installed this work specifically for The Grove, constructing the vines and leaves from local newspapers and magazines.WP_000865

In addition to curating art, Elinor offers a 3-part course Open Your Curatorial Eye  for those interested in learning about how curating art and mounting an art exhibition. She is offering her next one at The Grove on January 22 http://Curatortraining.bpt.me.

Along with art curation, Elinor is the organizer of the meetup Artful Agilists which holds virtual meetings the first of every month at sococo.com. Through Artful Interstices she offers a range of services including coaching, a variety of training workshops including The Agile Gym™, writes guest blogs and hosts and produces virtual events. Agile is a project management method that differs from the traditional approach in that it stresses collaboration, individual participation and flexible response to dynamic situations. This method was originally designed for software projects but has gained popularity in wider settings. Elinor has adapted this method for her work with her clients.

Arts Interstices clients cross  many time zones in the U.S. and Europe.   Elinor has done projects for the New Haven Museum, Project Storefronts and Citywide Open Studios. Several Grovers participated in the public programs she produced for the New Haven Museum with the theme Connecticut at Work.
Originally from Tidewater, Virginia, Elinor has been in the New Haven area for 14 years and particularly enjoys the sense of civic space she finds in New England. “It just made me feel like I’d won the lottery to be moving up here,” she said. Elinor discovered the Grove through Meetups. “I like the day-to-day practice of being agile,” she says of working at The Grove. “If a client needs something I can’t provide, there’s usually someone in the [Grove] community who can.”

The Happiness Lab: Measuring out Happiness One Cup at a Time

Happy life cafeThey say you can’t buy happiness, but Onyeka (Ony) Obiocha and Vishal Patel are out to prove that old adage wrong. Ony and Vishal are co-founders of The Happiness Lab, well known to Grovers as ‘the place downstairs’, and billed as ‘the first coffee house in the world dedicated to happiness.’ I admit, the warm, rich sensuousness of a deep, strong latte in the morning is enough to convince me that true happiness can be found in a coffee cup, but that’s a small part of what this duo means by happiness.

Happiness here is a larger concept, where the good you do in the world comes back to nourish you. It has to do with ideas of ethical business practices; a relationship to the world that is echoed in the natural furnishings; the commitment to individual expression, evidenced in their commitment to using their space for local artists to show their work; a non-exploitive relationship with their suppliers who are all Fair Trade growers; and a 1:5 business model where they have committed themselves to an equation where the highest paid employee is limited to no more than 5 times what the lowest paid employee is paid. The business is also registered as a Benefit Corporation. Benefit corporations are for-profit corporate entities whose purpose includes creating general public benefit, which, according to Wikipedia, “includes positive impact on society and the environment, in addition, to profit as its legally defined goals.”
It means a lack of exploitation all the way along the line from the farmer to the distributor to the server. Coffee served at The Happiness Lab is roasted by Happy Life coffee roasters and are exclusively part of a sustainable harvest and workers are paid reasonable wages.
Ony was proving his business acumen as early as the fifth grade when his teacher appointed him manager of the school store for the coming year. When Ony announced this to his parents, they explained that his business career needed to be put on hold as he and his siblings would be going to Nigeria for a year. “Being appointed store manager was really a big thing,” Ony explained, but this was only a pause in his business career.Ony
Ony went on to study economics at the University of Connecticut. After graduation, he went on to work with a start-up company in Hartford, where he was responsible for building out their corporate social responsibility (CSR) work as their Program Development Officer. Both Ony and Vishal were part of reSET’s Accelerator Program in Hartford.

“I met Vishal, co-founder of A Happy Life, in the program and he told me an idea of a startup coffee roasting company with 100% of net profits going to coffee farmers in developing countries. I said, ‘You’re an idiot.’ He said ‘No, hear me out,’ and we’ve been working together ever since.”

Vishal 2(1)Vishal’s path to The Happiness Lab also started early. I couldn’t restrain myself from asking him what made him so devoted to promoting happiness. “Hmmm. Good question, I don’t know. My own happiness means so much to me,” was his initial response. But as he thought about it, he realized that back in high school he had started thinking about happiness and what it means in people’s lives. He delved into Buddhism and other religious traditions and as he put it, came to the conclusion that “life’s too short not to be happy and everyone should have a chance to experience that.”
Several years later, Vishal had a disastrous experience in Nigeria trying to get retailers to sell coffee beans grown locally. He realized that while there might not be a home market for local entrepreneurs’ products in Nigeria, there could be a market in the U.S. The challenge became one of making his brand unique. To distinguish his brand, he unabashedly promoted the idea that treating the farmers fairly would be echoed the happiness enjoyed in a flavorful cup of coffee. He also named all the roasts using words for happiness in various languages. The idea of a coffee shop wouldn’t come till later. All profits would go towards fighting poverty in farming communities. The first community that will profit from this arrangement is Kiema, Tanzania, where Vishal spent many months volunteering as a student and forged a relationship with the local coffee growers.

After The Grove expanded, Slate Ballard, one of the founders of The Grove approached Happy Life Coffee about opening up a café downstairs in the expanded portion of The Grove building. In May 2015, The Happiness Lab had its official opening.
Aside from the ethical business model that brings happiness to their suppliers and employees, The Happiness Lab offers a grab at happiness to its customers through great coffee and other quality of life improvement resources including yoga, meditation classes, and even crayons and drawing supplies!