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Making NH's startup ecosystem our own


Creating a new company is an incredibly difficult endeavor.

It takes perseverance, stamina and stubbornness to push through the tens of thousands of decisions, and the repeated bouts of pushback, negativity and angst.

Despite the difficulty, thousands of people in New Hampshire begin the effort and launch hundreds of new ventures each year. Most find help along the way in a wide variety of forms, from support by friends and family, to classes at schools and institutions, to formal help at business incubators. This help, along with investors, mentors and others comprises a startup ecosystem.

A thriving startup ecosystem requires at least six components:

1: Talent

The talent pool needs to extend well beyond the entrepreneurs starting the companies, including others with a variety of talent and experience in product, design, marketing, sales, etc., who are willing to join new startups, so they grow and thrive.

2: Education

Ideally the talent pool is created and augmented locally, at universities and other learning institutions. Better still if the institutions themselves draw in talent to seed the ecosystem with the latest knowledge. While New Hampshire houses great institutions, like the University of New Hampshire, the state can certainly do more to support higher learning in the state, especially in the STEM fields that are core training for emerging technology talent.

3: Locations and events

Ecosystems flourish when ideas are shared. Ideas are more readily shared when startups co-locate in a single neighborhood, meet at events, and when there are common physical locations where people often gather. Events such as Tech Out, organized by the New Hampshire High Tech Council and Alpha Loft, have become important parts of the landscape in the state over the last 5 years.

4: Mentorship

When the shared ideas include lessons from experienced mentors fewer mistakes are made by the new entrepreneurs, leading to more successes. This sharing from generation to generation can kick off a virtuous cycle, turning a community into a true ecosystem. A small group of experienced entrepreneurs have committed countless hours in recent years to supporting emerging companies in New Hampshire.

5: Incubators and accelerators

A tool that combines talent, education, location and mentorship is a business incubator/accelerator. These organizations provide a program to draw in talent, bring it together in a single location, and provide the necessary education and mentorship to help first-time entrepreneurs speed their way into the market. Alpha Loft is playing this role in Manchester, Portsmouth and Durham, and recently launched its Accelerate NH program to provide training and resources to a select group of nascent companies born in the state.

6: Funding

Most new ventures require funding. While it is possible to import the necessary funding, the final component of a thriving startup ecosystem is local funding, ideally recycled from the successes of the previous generations of entrepreneurs who truly understand the complexity and difficulty of creating successful startups. Angel funders are becoming more active in New Hampshire, and patriotic capital helped form the Borealis Granite Fund to support early stage technology businesses here. However, relative to other areas of the country, the state has less capital available to emerging businesses and less support from institutional capital providers like state based endowments and pension funds.

A virtuous cycle

When the six components are combined, a virtuous cycle begins wherein new entrepreneurs find the training, help and funding required to get started. They in turn help their peers and the next generations of entrepreneurs, who continue the cycle forward.

None of this is new. Ecosystems of craftsmen date back to the antiquities. Ecosystems in the last 500 years include Venetian glassmakers of the 14th Century, Swiss watchmakers of the 16th Century and British steam engines of the 18th Century.

In more modern times, we have the tech ecosystem centered around San Francisco (aka Silicon Valley). The talent pool began with Hewlett-Packard (1939) and Fairchild Semiconductor (1957), and includes Stanford University and UC Berkeley as key educational institutions. Today this is a multibillion dollar ecosystem, containing companies like Apple, Google and Facebook, and the virtuous cycle of “The Valley” is unmatched anywhere in the world. But remember that this cycle began over six decades ago when most of the valley was orchards and farmland. No one person or small group of people set out to create this center of excellence.

New Hampshire will never be Silicon Valley, nor should we aspire to that. However, a vibrant startup ecosystem is a critical part of any modern, sustainable economic environment. New Hampshire has done a great deal to support the development of its ecosystem over the last five years. We must continue to provide that support if we want to see the fruits of that hard work.

I look forward to answering your questions and/or responding to your comments at http://abihub.org/ask-the-expert/.



Matt Rightmire is a managing director at Borealis Ventures, a venture capital firm with offices in Hanover and Portsmouth. The firm operates the Borealis Granite Fund, a pool of capital dedicated to investments in growing technology companies based in New Hampshire.

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