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NH start-up fund raises $500,000

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 28. 2012 2:59AM

MANCHESTER - abi Innovation Hub CEO Jamie Coughlin is leading a new, $500,000 New Hampshire start-up fund that will award cash prizes to 15 entrepreneurs ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 over the next five years to bolster start-up ventures and attract new companies from outside the state.

Coughlin told the New Hampshire Union Leader last week that the $500,000 in the fund has been secured from 20 local investors. He said the venture, initially called 'The Fund' while an Internet URL and website is determined, will disburse $100,000 annually.

Organizers are aiming for a Sept. 20 kickoff competition, which will be open nationally.

The goal is 'to give people or start-up companies outside of New Hampshire a reason to start thinking about New Hampshire as a destination.'

Unlike previous local competitions that included in-kind services, The Fund will be all-cash awards.

Awards will be $50,000 for first prize; $30,000 for second; and $20,000 for third prize, in a competition to be judged by the Entrepreneurial Foundation of NH, a division of the NH Charitable Foundation.

'Since we raised $500,000 and are disbursing $100,000, we have guaranteed it for five years,' Coughlin said.

Coughlin, whose title is also entrepreneur in residence at abi and who serves as a board member for the Manchester Young Professionals Network and co-chairman of its NH Startup Challenge this year, declined to identify the individual fund investors, but he said the fund was oversubscribed, 'meaning we had more interest than we needed, which we may revisit in future years.'

The group's board, besides Coughlin, consists of early-stage investor Matt Pierson; Tom Daly, chief technology officer of Dyn, a Manchester Internet firm; Matt Cookson, executive director of the New Hampshire High Technology Council; and Matt Benson, a member of the Cook, Little, Rosenblatt and Manson law firm.

The new fund builds on the Accelerator program through which abi will be bringing in five new start-ups this year offering free rent, mentorship and promotional work at the abi on South Commercial Street, formerly known as the Amoskeag Business Incubator.

The Fund is separate from the Startup NH program announced last week at abi's 'Live Free and Start' party in the Millyard.

While Startup NH is focused on national resources and support through the national Startup America venture, The Fund's purpose is to invest capital in start-ups.

The project embodies Coughlin's vision of building a start-up ecosystem for the Granite State with abi at its center.

'It started out as just myself and Matt Pierson,' Coughlin said, 'We asked ourselves, how do we take the capital component of the start-up system and (raise) it to the next level?'

'We have these great ones going on right now in VentureX and Start-Up Challenge; how do we create one that's the next level up, but that also ties it to a grouping of private individual investors that are funding it, that could potentially be resources if one of the companies really takes off?' he said.

'By adding the capital component, people don't have to leave New Hampshire to go down to Boston, just because that's the only place where the VCs (venture capitalists) are,' Coughlin said.

'The abi has been at the forefront of several of the capital sources - the creation of VentureX, the partnership with the (MYPN) Start Up Challenge, and now the partnership with (The Fund),' Coughlin said.

The Fund, which is still being legally formed, will stand alone, Coughlin said, independent of the abi.

The abi and the New Hampshire High Technology Council are jointly planning the September event, which will be a fundraiser for both as well as a competition for The Fund money, Coughlin said.

'We're still early-stage in this whole ecosystem ... I think some people are just watching and seeing how it develops,' Coughlin said.

'I think we're progressing very nicely - this is evidence of another thing that really adds some 'oomph' to the whole progression of things, because capital is a very important element to building businesses,' Coughlin said.

'This is truly the capital carrot that we've all been waiting for, or at least that I've been waiting for, to truly add some fuel to this entire ecosystem,' he said. 'Then we can keep these companies here in New Hampshire.'

New board members at abi include Tom 'TK' Kuegler, general partner of Wasabi Ventures, who provided the capital for VentureX; Matt Rightmire, managing director of Borealis Ventures in Hanover; and Alex Benik of Battery Ventures in Waltham, Mass.

The NHHTC's Cookson said The Fund is unprecedented.

'It's absolutely essential for New Hampshire to do everything in its power to grow the next generation of businesses that we'll need to advance our economy and create great jobs,' Cookson said in a statement.

'This unprecedented five-year commitment to funding and nurturing great ideas and start-ups is an excellent example of collaboration in the Granite State, and the high tech council is thrilled to be a key partner.'

A vision for the future

Coughlin, 31, has been with the abi for about a year and a half.

'The abi's evolution has been from small business, mixed use and the provisioning of space, to - fast forward - a collection of start-up individuals in which a true ecosystem can be created almost regardless of space,' Coughlin said.

Providing capital and mentorship are important steps forward and, five years from now, Coughlin said, he would like rent to be taken out of the abi equation.

'Entrepreneurs that are focused on this world of start-ups can apply to be in the abi based on the passion and merit of their idea, just as they would pitch an investor,' Coughlin said.

'What we're giving is a shared exclusive community in which those people can tap each other, access investors, access marketing professionals, access service professionals that they might not otherwise be able to access, or eventually, years later, access the expertise to help them solve and identify the issues associated with their business so that they can accelerate the growth quicker,' he said.

'On their own, they may stumble, fall, make mistakes, and by giving them expertise of working with individuals who have already made those mistakes, that's why they can be accelerated,' Coughlin said.

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