State innovators take home $10,000 entrepreneur awards

Published May 26. 2016 

By Lee Howard  Day staff writer

New London — More than 100 people crammed into the Oasis Room at the Garde Arts Center Wednesday to crown the latest $10,000 winners of the state's Entrepreneur Innovation Awards in what organizers said was the first standing-room-only crowd in the event's two-year history.

"In Connecticut, we have some really amazing talent," said Jessica Dodge, senior program associate for the statewide startup organization CTNext and host of the "Shark Tank"-like competition. "And they've turned out some really amazing work."

Winners were OBVIA of West Hartford, a company prototyping a new type of wind turbine blade; URISE of Hartford, which is developing a digital career coach; Olie Robotics of Manchester, which is creating a robotic cleaning system for restaurants; Thrivio, an online platform to help connect the disability community to innovative solutions; and SnapSeat of Hartford, which is creating a quick and easy way to print photographs posted to Instagram.

OBVIA also was named Judge's Favorite, picking up an additional $2,000 in funding, while Thrivio won the same amount as Crowd Favorite.

Pitches were made for a wide range of companies, from social-media platforms to a vaccine developer.

In all, five of the 10 companies chosen to make pitches Thursday won at least $10,000.

Companies can win up to $30,000 in awards from the pitch competitions held quarterly in Connecticut.  The next competition will be the state's 10th.

No local companies presented during the two-hour competition, which is the first ever held in southeastern Connecticut. 

Two of the four judges, Jean Schaefer and Leland Loose, had connections to Pfizer Inc.

Ripi Singh, another of the judges, praised the entrepreneurs who gave five-minute overviews of their companies, saying that the quality of presentation has risen dramatically in the state over the past two years. He added that some presenters obviously had taken to heart previous feedback to improve their pitches.

"That is what makes an entrepreneur successful — listening," he said.

Brothers, Inventors, Turn To Turbine Blades For West Hartford Startup

Brothers, Mark Keeley and Scott Keeley, are the owners of Obvia, LLC., a company based in West Hartford designing wind turbine blades.


HARTFORD — Brothers Scott and Mark Keeley jokingly refer to themselves as the modern day Wright brothers. They are the owners of the West Hartford startup, Obvia LLC, which creates lightweight, energy-efficient wind turbine rotor blades. The Keeleys are Massachusetts natives, though Scott Keeley has called West Hartford home for 30 years, while Mark Keeley lives in Rhode Island, not far from a wind farm.

"I've always been interested in green energy and the environment," said Mark Keeley, who has a car that runs on vegetable oil and another that is an electric car with pedals. If that's not green enough, his home is heated with vegetable oil. Although he plans to switch to electric heating soon.

When Scott Keeley called his brother asking for any ideas they could develop, and quickly, Mark Keeley already had one in mind — a different type of wind turbine blade. Just a day later, Scott Keeley had a wind turbine rotor shipped to his brother's house so it could be tested.

Mark Keeley already holds six patents, but wanted to keep this invention simple. The Obvia blade are different from those consumers are used to seeing on wind turbines because they have a split curved end, "a double winglet," he said.

"The patent pending winglet reduces air pressure downstream of the blades by diffusing the slower air in the wake. This allows for greater flow through the rotor and greater energy extraction by the turbine," he said.

The typical wind turbine would take too much power out of the wind itself, "it would increase power, and then no power…Go and stall," Mark Keeley said.

The brothers said the first tests of the wind turbine blades showed 30 percent more productivity compared with current blades on the market. They also noticed they were significantly quieter. They plan on making their wind turbine blades replacement blades for existing turbines and one day hope the blades bring power to homes, boats and commercial spaces.

"I couldn't imagine a better time," said Mark Keeley of joining the green, clean, energy-efficient market.

"We're not trying to compete with solar energy," Scott Keeley said. "You can have solar energy during the day and use (wind turbine energy) during the day and at night," he said.

Earlier this year, Obvia LLC, won $10,000 for the Connecticut's Next Entrepreneur Innovation Award and $2,000 as the "judge's favorite" in the competition.

"I think there's a lot to be said with anything organic, green energy. And look at Whole Foods, it'd be really cool for a store that size to be close to nature and say they were running the store with solar on the roof and turbines in the parking lot," Scott Keeley said.

The brothers are seeking manufacturers in Connecticut and said they like the atmosphere in the state.

"We're engrained in the Connecticut, Hartford community as a startup," said Scott Keeley.