DURHAM - When Tom Elliott moved to Durham from Hanover in 2009, he expected to find a community of people working in start-ups and entrepreneurial ventures.
And although they were certainly around, he said they all seemed to be working in isolation.
"There was no hub or home for people in innovation or technology," he said.
There was also little connection between the University of New Hampshire's innovations and intellectual property and the greater business community.
Today, Durham is on the verge of becoming a regional entrepreneurial hub with the merging of Elliott's idea, the innovative research happening at UNH, and the re-emergence of the New Hampshire Innovation Commercialization Center as an incubator for start-up businesses. The NH-ICC is a nonprofit founded in partnership with UNH.
In 2010, Elliott took a small space above Wings Your Way on Jenkins Court and created the Idea Greenhouse.
With the support of Marc Sedam, executive director of the Office for Research Partnerships and Commercialization at UNH, the space grew to offer events and workshops for entrepreneurs as well as co-working space in downtown Durham.
Sedam previously worked in the research park triangle in North Carolina, and had seen first hand the power of universities to drive economic development.
As the NH-ICC began to undergo some changes earlier this year, Elliott and Sedam saw the opportunity to bring together the co-working entrepreneurial space of Idea Greenhouse with the incubation and acceleration organization focused on providing resources for and building a network of entrepreneurs across the state.
"To have one really focused thing in Durham that really everybody could put their arms around and try to get going was the genesis I think of this merger," Sedam said.
In early June, Idea Greenhouse dissolved and merged with NH-ICC in its new Durham location at 9 Madbury Road. NH-ICC also moved its Portsmouth office from Pease International Tradeport to Green Street.
The move to Durham was also a way to more closely link UNH with NH-ICC, which was formed in part to help commercialize UNH's innovations and intellectual property.
Sedam said it's important to be within walking distance of the university.
"The faculty and staff, and increasingly students, need to have a place to go to apply what they're learning to real world problems, and the closer we can get them, where it's easy for them to take a walk across campus and go to this place that supports what they do, is really what the next generation of universities is all about," Sedam said.
He said the open environment of co-working and start-up incubation space allows connections to happen more freely because people are literally bumping into one another and talking about what they are doing, and the proximity to downtown means more connections will happen.
The NH-ICC is also now positioned to take advantage of the university's plans to move the InterOperability Laboratory from Technology Drive to downtown in the near future.
Negotiations for the development are currently under way.
Sedam said more than 1,000 visiting businesses, including some of the top biotech and software firms in the country, come through the IOL each year for data connection testing. It also employs more than 100 students.
All agreed that having more opportunities for students to participate in real-world business applications while applying the renowned research of the university will provide an economic benefit to the region and the state.
NH-ICC Executive Director Mark Kaplan said his goal is to draw more members of the outside entrepreneurial community in to help each other, and to build a statewide network of such entrepreneurial centers, including partnerships with abi Innovation Hub in Manchester and Tech Village in Conway.
The ICC will host regular events and workshops for in-house and outside entrepreneurs, and will also offer an accelerator program for a small group of start-ups.
"We are here to try and meet the needs of the entrepreneurs and build an entrepreneurial community and vibrant economy," Kaplan said. "I do look forward to the ICC being very engaged with the university in its effort to spawn more companies and see more students become entrepreneurially driven. I think we can play a role as the first non-university off-campus nexus to what entrepreneurs on campus want to do."