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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: abi expands its entrepreneurial net

February 01. 2014 1:08AM

IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, we like to build our own from scratch.

While business leaders were meeting in Concord on Wednesday to call attention to a bunch of bills they say will make the Granite State less friendly for business, a much smaller group was gathering in Manchester to streamline their efforts to jump-start new companies and spark entrepreneurism.

While both groups share the common goal of making the state a great place to do business, their focus was worlds away.

The New Hampshire Business and Industry Association's "bad business bills" included proposed legislation that would increase the state's minimum wage, increase worker compensation costs and prohibit companies from asking prospective hires if they have a criminal background.

It's hard to imagine such issues being at the forefront of a nonprofit whose mission is to spur the creation of high-tech companies that grow into major employers. The kind of companies that wrestle more with how to attract the highly skilled workers they need than whether they should pay them a couple of bucks more an hour.

We have far more jobs in New Hampshire that teeter around that $7.25 minimum wage scale than we do of the high-tech jobs the newly christened abi HUB aims to create. According to the Labor Department, the most lowly paid software developers in the country made more than $55,000 in 2012 (with the median being $90,060).

The New Hampshire Innovation Commercialization Center (NH-ICC), which has locations in Portsmouth and Durham, and the abi Innovation Hub, based in downtown Manchester, have decided to unite their efforts and hope to set the example that in a state as small as New Hampshire, having a common vision for success makes the most sense.

"This state needs to get smart about the fact that it's small," said Kyle York, chief revenue officer for Dyn and an abi board member, during a meeting in Manchester to officially unite the two groups. "Everyone should cook together at all times."

The abi HUB will be led by Mark Kaplan, who was hired last year to run the NH-ICC, which was founded in partnership with the University of New Hampshire. Kaplan will leverage that relationship along with the connections both groups have with Dyn, the Manchester Millyard Internet performance company that employs nearly 300 workers at its newly expanded 60,000-square-foot campus. Jamie Coughlin, former CEO of the abi Innovation Hub, recently began leading entrepreneurship programs at Dartmouth College in Hanover and will continue to serve on the abi board.

Among the abi's goals are to support intellectual property and research coming out of the university and other educational institutions in the state and help commercialize them. The long-term vision is to create companies that can scale up to become major employers and in turn spin off additional companies.

"Entrepreneurs are the center of what we do, and we're here to support them by bringing together the networks in the state," Kaplan told a group of colleagues and supporters at the abi office on Elm Street. "We want to be a real hub of those networks and create a broad and deep capability to support entrepreneurs with mentorship, with advice, with service, with programs, with education."

For people like York, who said he moved to California for a few years to jump-start his career before returning to New Hampshire, creating a stronger startup culture "will change the game for what you think about when you think about New Hampshire."

That means young people will be more likely to stay here after they graduate from college when they realize they don't need to leave New Hampshire to expand their opportunities. The area's proximity to Boston and New York give it a strong edge.

"It's pretty easy to jump on a plane to the West Coast if you need to," York said.

He was talking about a round-trip flight, not a one-way ticket out of town.

If you build it, they just might stay.

Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or

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