Young entrepreneurs choose Granite State to launch their ventures
By CASSIDY SWANSON Union Leader Correspondent
From left, Tyler Ellwood, Mike Silva and Brendan Belzil wear some of their original designs from Offset Manufacturing. (CASSIDY SWANSON)
While many of their peers are running off to Boston, New York or the West Coast to chase their entrepreneurial dreams, some Granite State natives — whether they elected to stay here for college or returned after school — are choosing New Hampshire as the launching pad for a variety of millennial-led businesses.
Chad Johansen, a Bedford native and 2015 Plymouth State University grad, has owned his smartphone repair business, NH iPhone Repair, for three years, initially operating out of his parents’ home. In June, he took his business to the next level, opening a storefront location at 1 Hardy Road in Bedford.
“I’ve always had a little bit of an entrepreneurial spirit,” said Johansen. He considered looking for another job after graduation, but after success with running his own one-man business fixing phones — which he taught himself how to do — he decided to make it a full-time venture.
A small business and entrepreneurship major, Johansen credits his professors at Plymouth for their help getting him to this point. He continues to rent a space at the Enterprise Center at Plymouth and works out of there one day a week now, and says he’ll be commuting more once the school year starts.
Johansen said he’s looking to hire two employees for NH iPhone Repair, one in Bedford and one in Plymouth.
“It’s been crazy,” he said. “I’m really just hoping to grow this and expand.”
While many of his friends have traveled south to Massachusetts post-grad, Johansen says he has no intention of moving his business out of New Hampshire.
“You can’t beat the state — you can go an hour to the mountains, you can go an hour to the lakes, you can go an hour to Boston — you really have everything here,” he said. “I think there needs to be more opportunities in the state (for millennials), and I think if young people look at starting their own business or creating something of their own, (getting them to) stay here is great.”
Johansen said he’d like to see more small business incubators in the state’s major hubs like Manchester, as he’s seen in the Boston area. He also said he’d like to see more networking opportunities for young, small business owners like himself to share ideas and learn from more experienced entrepreneurs.
He also thinks colleges and universities in the state should have a greater emphasis on teaching aspiring entrepreneurs who wish to stay in New Hampshire about the state’s tax structure, business resources and government — preferably taught by fellow small business owners.
“If you have a professor that has the experience and the knowledge of how to start up a business, you can bounce ideas off of them, (and) they can tell you all the things that you’re doing great and that you should take a look at,” he said.
A future in custom clothing
Two of the three members of Offset Manufacturing, based in Nashua, haven’t completed their degrees yet, but they’ve already started getting their custom clothing company off the ground. Brendan Belzil, Mike Silva and Tyler Ellwood met in high school and realized they shared a passion for creativity when they took a graphic design and printing program together at Nashua High School North.
“Clothing is just kind of a way to broadcast your own work,” said Belzil. Offset sells T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts and baseball caps featuring the trio’s original designs.
“The three of us are all really artistic, and this is just something we wanted to do,” said Silva. His family owns Stitches and Screens in Nashua, an embroidery and screen printing company, and Offset operates out of their shop.
Belzil currently attends Keene State College, while Silva, who attended Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., and Ellwood, who attended Iowa Lakes Community College, are taking time off from college to focus on the business. All three also currently work full-time for a moving company.
“The goal is to be full-time (with) Offset within the next couple of years,” said Ellwood. Eventually, they’d like to start manufacturing their own clothing items on-site in Nashua. Offset recently hired an art director with experience working with fabric, cutting and sewing clothes.
“The goal is to make our own clothing, not just sell graphic Ts,” Ellwood said.
The guys hope their brand will take off, but intend to keep their base of operations in the Granite State.
“We want to put New Hampshire on the map,” Silva said. “We want to represent where we’re from.”
Growth in organic fertilizer
Also Nashua-based but in a completely different industry, is Everton’s Organics, founded by Evan Parkinson and Joey Page. Parkinson, a rising environmental science senior at the University of New Hampshire, won the university’s Holloway Prize for innovation for his organic fertilizer, made from castings of worms fed with organic food compost.
“You’re taking something that usually goes to a landfill and [making it into] something someone can use,” Parkinson said. Worm casting fertilizer is easier on the earth than conventional fertilizer and maintain up to five times more moisture – which is especially helpful in places experiencing drought, like southern California.
The project was two years in the making and involved a lot of trial and error, Page and Parkinson said, but it’s paid off. They’re in the process of applying for a patent, and winning the Holloway has provided them with legal assistance and $10,000 in startup capital.
"All of the judges told us, ‘You've got to take this to market very soon. You're pretty much taking trash and turning it into gold,’” Parkinson said. “I’d never really thought of it like that."
Parksinson said he’s found the state’s business climate to be hospitable, and he hopes to start making a profit by the fall.
"I know in a lot of other states, like Massachusetts, it's really hard to get all these certifications…[but] New Hampshire’s pretty easy-going," he said. "There’s not a large presence of worm castings in New England, which we want to bring, and New Hampshire’s kind of smack dab in the middle of everything."
Kate Luczko, president and chief executive officer of Stay Work Play New Hampshire, said that while the Granite State may lack the number of startups of Silicon Valley or resources of New York City, the state’s tight-knit business community offers easy access to venture capital and mentors for young entrepreneurs that’s hard to beat.
"I think that small-town feel about New Hampshire…is really great for people starting a business," she said. "We're not trying to be New York or Boston or other places. But that said, I think there’s always room for improvement in doing what we're doing."