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Lawmakers are urged to up funding for state program

By MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader

March 03. 2015 9:38PM
During the New Hampshire Innovation Research Center lunch in Concord on Tuesday, Doug Vincent, right, and Roy Wallen of Design Mentor in Pelham chat with state Sen. David Watters of Dover, left, about the medical device the Design Mentor employees are working on. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — Company CEO Doug Vincent said a state program helping businesses blossom provided three ingredients for success: connections, credibility and cash.

“It’s very hard for a small company like us to go to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to say we’re going to hire you for our study,” the president and CEO of Design Mentor, a medical device company, said Tuesday.

Several beneficiaries of the New Hampshire Innovation Research Center grants came together to urge lawmakers at a brown-bag lunch to increase funding for the public-private partnership.

“It is great to see the companies that have such good stories to tell how a little bit of state investment helped them spark a new idea, helped that idea grow,” Gov. Maggie Hassan told about three dozen legislators.

In Vincent’s case, part of the money paid for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to test the Pelham’s company’s medical prototype pump, which can replicate a human heart beat, on eight living pigs.

“It got our data that allowed us to compete nationally for federal funds,” said Vincent, who awaits word on a federal grand request for $2.8 million. He hopes to begin production in two years once funding is secured.

Jake Reder, CEO of Celdara Medical in Lebanon, has received two state grants worth about $175,000 combined, including $115,000 for cell therapy research.

“NHIRC invested in this when the rest of the world was sort of saying, ‘Oh, that’s too risky’ or it’s too new and that was a big deal for us,” Reder said.

He sold the cell therapy business to a company for $10 million up-front with additional expected payments.

He urged the state to pump more funds into the program.

“The point is if you invest in innovation, you get outsized returns, but you need to invest,” Reder said.

The program once received $500,000 a year before state budget cuts trimmed the program’s funding in recent years. It now gets $300,000 a year, according to Marc Sedam, NHIRC’s executive director.

“Please put it back to a half a million dollars,” Sedam told legislators.

Vermont and Maine each spend more than $3 million yearly on similar programs, he said.

Sedam said the program has spent $7 million over the years and likely generated more than $1 billion in private funding for those businesses.

Responses from only 21 percent of grant recipients showed creation of 650 jobs, he said

Rep. David Kidder, R-New London, said he wasn’t familiar with the program, but public-private partnerships are “very important to the state of New Hampshire.”

“I think the concept is good,” Kidder said

Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said the state needs to “look for small investments to leverage future growth.”

“This gives businesses a running start,” he said.



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