The way Jamie Coughlin sees it, the stars have aligned to create a major new force for innovation and business startups in New Hampshire at Dartmouth College, and he’s happy to be a part of it.
Coughlin, who for the past three years has been CEO of the abi Innovation Hub in Manchester, recently joined what he called “a dream team” at the Ivy League institution, where he will serve as director of new ventures and incubator programs.
The Princeton graduate and Bedford native has been working at Dartmouth since mid-summer, helping the newly created Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer (OETT) get up and running in anticipation of a Sept. 20 announcement by newly appointed Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon.
In his inaugural address, Hanlon announced the founding of the Innovation Center and New Venture Incubator for Dartmouth students, with $2.6 million from a group of alumni based in Boston and the Silicon Valley, representing firms in information technology, private equity and venture capital.
The new center will occupy existing space on campus and will be student-designed and managed. Oversight will be provided by two seasoned technology entrepreneurs — Tillman Gerngross, associate provost and a professor of bioengineering; and Trip Davis, former administrator at the University of Virginia who was named executive director of the OETT when it was created in April.
“This is a unique moment in time, in which we have the Dartmouth president, trustees and administration supporting this, and a team that’s been assembled with the experience and expertise to make it happen,” Coughlin said. “While the abi will always be near and dear to my heart, Dartmouth represents such a large opportunity. There is so much raw material and a critical mass of talent for massive impact on the local, state and global startup ecosystem.”
Coughlin will remain involved as a board member of the abi Innovation Hub, after presiding over three years of dramatic transformation. When he came to the organization, it was known as the Amoskeag Business Incubator with offices at 33 S. Commercial St.
It was well-regarded, but primarily engaged in providing workspace for conventional small business startups with 15,000 square feet divided into 45 private offices. Under Coughlin’s leadership, it was rebranded with a new name, office and mission.
After a name change to the abi Innovation Hub, the organization moved to a smaller space — 5,000 square feet in the heart of downtown, at 844 Elm St., with a large, open floor-plan and no private offices. The 40 startups now at abi are focused on technology, with the potential to grow from two employees to 100 in a few years with the right financial backing and professional advice.
Chief Operating Officer Michele Petersen, who has been with abi for six years, is handling day-to-day operations as the organization ponders its next step, according to abi board chair Kyle York, chief revenue officer at Dyn.
“We have gone through tremendous change in the past three years with Jamie at the helm,” he said. “We’ve become the flagship organization for entrepreneurship and innovation in the state. As much as we value the Manchester location, I think the future of abi is to become an organization that has statewide presence, whether it be through events, programs or other locations. The goal is to put New Hampshire on the map as an innovative, entrepreneurial state.”
York said abi is evaluating several options, including a potential merger with like-minded organizations, while considering a possible replacement for the outgoing CEO.
Coughlin sees himself contributing to that effort through his new role at Dartmouth, while still on the abi board, and serving as newly appointed president of the New Hampshire Business Incubator Network, which has been largely dormant for the past decade.
“It’s my belief that in this effort to create a ‘live free and start’ ecosystem, Dartmouth has been an underutilized asset,” he said. “Just as the Silicon Valley grew with the growth of Stanford University, I think New Hampshire can continue to develop and flourish as an entrepreneurial ecosystem with Dartmouth.”