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December 16. 2012 6:18PM

Ask the Expert: Building a 'Live Free and Start' ecosystem


 


JAMIE COUGHLIN 

Almost every day I get asked by folks around our great state what it will take to create a vibrant startup ecosystem in New Hampshire. I don't confess to have a crystal ball. However, I am pretty sure about two things.

First, launching a startup is definitely not for the faint of heart and is by all accounts, a long-term effort. Second, that by having a set of critical ingredients we can increase the odds of building successful companies that will create wealth and jobs for our fellow citizens. The good news: None of this is wishful thinking, as New Hampshire is quickly becoming a startup destination with its own unique flavor.

So why does a startup ecosystem matter in the first place? Jobs. All net positive job creation happens from startup companies (defined as less than a year old). Unfortunately, from about 2006 until the present, the number of startups being formed is in decline. Now I wasn't a math major, but it seems to me that more startups equal more jobs. And that is a good thing.

So what are the critical ingredients?

Evangelists: Evangelists are the ones with the vision to see the possibilities of tomorrow. I'm often reminded of a famous Apple TV commercial that speaks to this - "Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." Evangelists often frame the vision and look to win the support of others who will believe and support that vision. Just like a startup entrepreneur who must convince investors or customers to believe in a brand new technology, startup evangelists must stand up and confidently assemble the raw materials to create an attractable value proposition for entrepreneurs. The result is that perception quickly becomes reality, and the future that was imagined becomes the present.

Competitions: Startup competitions serve as a catalyst for an emerging ecosystem. The challenge of every entrepreneur is to create momentum. I often suggest to my resident companies that they imagine a large boulder in front of them, and I ask them to think of all the ways that they can get that boulder to start moving? For a startup ecosystem, a competition can do just that. It's the juice in the equation that more substantially can also serve others' purposes. First and foremost, it helps identify who the ambitious entrepreneurs are in the community; it then helps fund and get those entrepreneurs, along with their ideas, found. I can't underscore this idea of "getting found" enough; what good is it if you have an amazing, revolutionary idea, if no one knows about it? Last but not least, done correctly, competitions can also be an event gathering of the ecosystem's supporting cast of service providers, supporters and future entrepreneurs.

Competitions also serve as a filter for the ecosystem. Through competitions we identify the "cream of the crop" and can better serve up investable entrepreneurs and business models to the angel and venture capital investors. It is ultimately that infrastructure of additional capital, groups like 10x Venture Partners and Borealis Ventures, along with their new Granite Fund, that helps accelerate the growth of the ecosystem.

Education: Students are the lifeblood of entrepreneurial cycles. Starting a new venture takes a certain level of "starry-eyed wonder" and the ability to assume risk; students often fit those exact characteristics. Our job therefore becomes one of academic application and exposure. We need to help students apply their learning through internships, one-on-one mentorships, and exposure to successful entrepreneurs.

Innovation Centers: Whether innovation centers be incubators, accelerators, or co-working spaces, these centers are a point of aggregation. They are the physical infrastructure that anchor the startup ecosystem together and allow for forced collisions to happen; put a business person and a technical person in a room together and good things will happen. New Hampshire has an amazing supply of this infrastructure and truly provides geographic coverage for the entire state.

Mentors: Mentors are individuals who provide the necessary human capital to the ecosystem. These are the respected entrepreneurs, who have lived the entrepreneurial journey and survived to tell about it. They are also the service providers, who can help a young startup form a solid foundation. It becomes a transfer of knowledge from lessons learned and we must constantly be asking ourselves, who can be these mentors? New Hampshire attracts a large amount of successful entrepreneurs because of our tax climate. The goal is to find ways to bring them out and engage with them. Their participation will be key to energizing and providing the continuous transfer of knowledge learned from the startup process.

With the new year upon us, let us unite around the varied centers of innovation around New Hampshire and choose to be active participants in creating a unique, vibrant and sustainable startup ecosystem in the Granite State.

Join me in pitching our new New Hampshire reality - Live Free and Start!

I look forward to answering your questions and/or responding to your comments about this or related topics at www.unionleader.com/expert or http://abihub.org/ask-the-expert/

Jamie Coughlin is CEO and Entrepreneur in Residence of the abi Innovation Hub, where he has led the turnaround and rebranding of the 15-year-old incubator and innovation center. Jamie received his BA from Princeton University and also currently runs the Princeton Entrepreneurs' Network. In addition, he has founded and managed a variety of businesses.


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