The Whiteboard is proud to announce that Suzi Craig, most recently of the award-winning creative agency Fathom, has joined our team at Independent Software as Director of Community Development.
Suzi will play a critical role in our efforts to build and sustain the relationships necessary to fulfill our mission of helping entrepreneurs win.
As a conductor of positive energy and progress, Suzi is responsible for helping to strengthen connections within Connecticut’s entrepreneurial community through Independent Software’s established community programs —The Whiteboard, A100, and LaunchX — and by bringing diverse groups together from across the state to add cohesion to statewide initiatives.
After beginning her career in book publishing in New York City, Suzi spearheaded a variety of community-focused efforts in Connecticut—and found her greatest achievements there. Her roles included program director for AIGA Connecticut; initiator of Connecticut Creates and Fathom’s Community Works; and the primary champion of Operation Home for the Holidays, where 700 Connecticut National Guard troops came home to their families in 2009 before being deployed to Afghanistan.
Throughout her career, bringing people together has been an intuitive and intentional ingredient to Suzi’s success, and we’re excited that she’s brought her experience and talent to our team and community.
Last week—her first week on the job—we asked Suzi to elaborate on her passion for community development and her commitment to entrepreneurship in Connecticut. Her responses are below.
Suzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on her LinkedIn page, or in person at our offices at The Grove.
An Interview with Suzi Craig
What excites you most about community development and supporting Connecticut’s entrepreneurial community in particular? In other words, why are you here?
I’m all about getting people closer to each other and to something bigger. In my experience, it’s through our connection with others that we’re each able to fully realize our potential and the potential of those around us. It’s this work that I live for.
When I started group88, one of the first coworking spaces in Connecticut, my world opened up. I discovered that this state is more than just a place to settle down a raise a family. It’s where innovators, creators, thinkers, humanists, explorers, and others live. What greater possibilities can unfold if we unify our diverse groups and show entrepreneurs that Connecticut has everything startups need to launch and grow?
My parents ran a successful small business for years; so did my brother, my aunt and uncle, and my mom’s family. I also live with a successful entrepreneur. I want to help entrepreneurs struggle less and achieve more. Our future depends on the success of risk-takers, but taking a risk doesn’t mean you need to jump into the abyss alone. That’s where a strong, supportive community comes in, and people like me. I’m here to help that community grow and shine.
In your view, why is developing a strong entrepreneurial community important, both to the entrepreneurs themselves and to society as a whole?
Today’s way of working and being requires deep trust. Who do you trust the most? People you know. People who care about the same things you do. People you meet in person. People who have received a stamp of approval from other people you trust.
Getting to know the people who can help you, and who you can help, happens in community. When you’re hired into a company, that community is handed to you (for good or bad). As an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to find or build community. Coworking movements like Cowork CT are growing so rapidly because connection is an ingredient that can make or break an entrepreneur’s ability to survive.
At Independent Software, building a strong community that helps entrepreneurs realize their success is integral to who we are. How do you see your work fitting into the bigger picture of what we’re up to?
The work of community building is a convergence of many things—raising awareness, making connections, shepherding ideas, sharing results, and more—but for any of those activities to really take hold, they need to be in service of something bigger. I’m here because Independent Software has a vision for what Connecticut could look like if we helped our innovative startups succeed. It’s a place where our economy and our spirits are thriving because we’ve taken charge of creating our own future. Our state has all the ingredients to make it happen: technology and business talent, a stellar education system, access to funding, award-winning creative agencies, international influence, and an attractive quality of life.
There is an entrepreneurial mindset that is rooted in Connecticut’s history and it’s also being created anew in all different ways, from biotech to the social enterprises popping at reSET in Hartford. What would the future look like if we were more intentional about generating this mindset and the infrastructure to support it?
That’s what community building can do. It brings our innovators together to increase their chance of success, and it also brings them into the mainstream—so that people outside the entrepreneurial community can look back at their state and say, “That’s happening in my backyard? Go Connecticut!”
How can we and the community best leverage your talents for bringing everyone closer together?
What’s inherent in successful community building is that it scales beyond the builder. Yes, I’ll be hands-on in doing the work of connecting people, organizations, and diverse groups, and bringing them together, but I’ll also be helping others to adopt the practice of community building so that it can become a deeper part of the fabric of entrepreneurship in this state.
As past program director for AIGA Connecticut, champion of Connecticut Creates, and most recently through Fathom’s Community Works, I’ve learned that patience and perseverance are essential ingredients in community development. Getting people together for an event is one step, matchmaking is another. What really builds community is an environment that allows for connection to happen on a deep level, beyond a one-time event; you have to create a meaningful experience that they can’t live without.
What will your job look like as Director of Community Development?
Once a technology startup is known and has received investment and support, their world opens up. But, what about the high potential startups who are not yet on the radar of public and private investors? Where are they and how can we accelerate their efforts and chances of success?
Right now I’m assessing the landscape of entrepreneurs, organizations, and evangelists across Connecticut who are in the community—or who want to be—to see how I can get them more deeply connected, and with whom. Simultaneously, I am helping Independent Software evolve its outreach to ensure our team is finding entrepreneurs that are a good match to our philosophy and what we offer through the business, A100, the Whiteboard, events like LaunchX, and coworking communities like The Grove.
There are phenomenal initiatives happening across the state to grow our startup community. My goal right now is to see where I can bring more cohesion to these efforts and help early-stage startups get what they need to be successful.
What are the biggest challenges facing our community as it grows? What are some of your ideas for how we can address those challenges?
Five years ago, when group88 began, there was little infrastructure around community support for startups. Now there are innovation hubs, coworking spaces, and hacker communities in Stamford, Bridgeport, Hartford, Danbury, and Manchester—and more cropping up in New London and other areas.
Independent Software’s community programs—The Whiteboard, A100, LaunchX—are ready to scale with the growing community. Through these programs and our collaboration with Cowork CT and others, I can help bring more connectivity to what’s already in play.
When I started group88, I heard many times over from West Hartford residents that they wouldn’t drive the ten minutes over Avon mountain to use the space. And they didn’t. At least not right away.
Connecticut is a small state but it can often feel as if it’s five states in one, from the “quiet” corners to main hubs. Is there a way to build a united Connecticut? One where New Haven knows what’s happening in Hartford and diverse collaborations are happening all over the place? It may sound like a pipe dream to some but I know it’s possible. In my mind, Connecticut is worth the drive.
People will soon be meeting you for the first time. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?
Ask me about my electric car. I drive a Nissan LEAF and I’m always willing and able to talk about how much we love it, and the challenges we face in my commute to New Haven.
Now that the state provides financial incentives to businesses to install charging stations, my hope is that I will be able to use it more. My first trip to New Haven cost me $19 between parking and charging costs—not exactly sustainable for the wallet. But I’m excited to see EVs become more popular and the infrastructure expanding.
Having lived so much of your life here, what are some of your favorite things about Connecticut?
Swimming in the ocean, hiking in the mountains, walking in the neighborhoods, and meeting people every day from around the world who are bright, talented, and want to change the world.
I love city life too. I’m Connecticut-grown but wouldn’t trade my early career in New York City for anything. Now that I’m in New Haven, it’s fun to tap into the SoHo-like energy and then go for a hike in the woods.