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Bridgeport Team Uses Artificial Intelligence To Help Small Businesses Grow

The HelpGrowCT team, from left, Chris Sacchinelli, Bruno Chima, Scott Merritt, Paul DiPrato and Matt Drovin Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
The HelpGrowCT team works on building solutions for small businesses in Connecticut. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — You don’t have to tell Chris Palmer how tough it is to succeed as a small-business owner in Connecticut.

Between taxes and insurance — don’t get him started on all the paperwork — he said it’s nearly impossible for him to responsibly grow Outdoor Design Living, a high-end outdoor kitchen and landscaping firm he started in the late 1980s in Fairfield.

“It’s very hard to run a small business in the state of Connecticut,” he said. “We could use technology help and find ways to simplify, so I can get more money to stick to my fingers.”

Enter HelpGrowCT, a new Bridgeport-based company specifically designed to empower entrepreneurship and small-business growth in Connecticut. Operating out of a former firehouse on Clarence Street, the business is exploring ideas for building the world’s first Watson-powered artificial intelligence business adviser.

“Our goal is pioneering how AI will grow small business,” said Chris Sacchinelli, the company CEO who has been working on the idea since 2013.

Born and raised in Norwalk, Sacchinelli is using experience gained in building some Boston startups and the launch of a Norwalk-based accelerator program to help build his latest endeavor.

The concept is simple, he said. Many small businesses could benefit from a consultant’s advice on savvy decision-making and marketing, but few can afford a top adviser, some of whom charge about $500 an hour.

HelpGrowCT believes it can harness technology to provide the same sort of personalized consulting, just not from a living, breathing adviser.

While it’s a for-profit business, Sacchinelli said he and his core team of three thought their combined know-how could have a positive, socially responsible effect on state businesses.

“We thought we should do something about this. Can we?” Sacchinelli said.

After two years of market research and product testing, the company is ready to go — and it’s looking for 200 to 300 Connecticut businesses to sign on for a risk-free “stress test” of its system.

At first, the businesses would be paired with human consultants for free advising using HelpGrowCT technology, Sacchinelli said. Over several phases, the company would eventually offer AI solutions to the businesses at a more affordable rate.

If it all works as planned, HelpGrowCT will have the first IBM-accredited AI accelerator program in the world, Sacchinelli said.

HelpGrowCT is also helping small businesses in a more old-fashioned way. They’ve partnered with a real estate developer to create co-working spaces at the firehouse, where entrepreneurs can bounce ideas off each other and blow off steam in the basement rec room complete with pool table.

Just three weeks in its new digs, the team is hopeful the sky’s the limit for HelpGrowCT.

“I think we can truly, truly have an impact,” Sacchinelli said.

Click here to learn more about HelpGrowCT.

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