Ask the Expert: Entrepreneurs in NH have many options

There is no place like the Granite State to start a small business, but one size does not fit all, even in a relatively small state like New Hampshire. Building vibrant economic ecosystems is no easy feat, regardless of where you happen to set up shop, but the challenges facing rural entrepreneurs can often be more difficult.

Nationally, entrepreneurship is an increasingly urban and suburban phenomenon, taking place in mid-sized metros and outside traditional hubs like Boston and Silicon Valley. People have migrated to cities, contributing to a decline in rural entrepreneurship.

Rural New Hampshire has fewer residents than the southern region, an aging demographic, and less reliable access to high-speed Internet. But small business is the backbone of the New Hampshire economy, and there are many budding entrepreneurs who specifically choose these areas to start their enterprise.

So, what is being done to help entrepreneurs in rural areas establish and grow their businesses? In the Granite State, the answer may surprise you. With a healthy combination of local, state and federal resources, entrepreneurs in rural communities across New Hampshire have many options.

One of the closest, yet often overlooked resources, is your local town hall. If your town hall does not have an economic development office, the town manager or town planner can put you in touch with your region’s economic development commission. Economic development commissions are vast resources for those just starting in business.

From required permits and licenses, to access to capital and commercial properties, these are the people who are the most up to date on new businesses, regulations, fees and trends in your region. Also, the New Hampshire Alliance of Regional Development Corporations is a consortium of economic development organizations established to support, enhance and promote economic development efforts specific to the individual needs of the various regions of the state.

Another overlooked resource is your local bank or credit union, especially those that have a small business specialist on staff. A small business specialist will walk you through the process of setting up your business account, provide information on borrowing, and some even offer technical assistance and feedback on your business plan.

There are also regional centers across New Hampshire with a variety of resources from which rural entrepreneurs can take advantage. Some of these are set up as nonprofit entities, and some are connected to a local university. Many actively collaborate with other resource partners across the state and act as business incubators, shared workspaces and education centers that offer ongoing workshops and a variety of programs that meet the needs of their region.

There is the Hannah Grimes Center in Keene; the Dartmouth Regional Technology Center (DRTC) in Lebanon; the DEN Innovation Center in Hanover; the Enterprise Center in Plymouth; the Mount Washington Valley Tech Village in Conway, the Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network (WREN) in Bethlehem, and Alpha Loft in Portsmouth and Manchester which serves the whole state.

Additionally, makerspaces (a place in which people with shared interests can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge) are popping up across the state and some have positioned themselves as education hubs and accelerator spaces. The MAxT Makerspace in Peterborough is developing a series of business classes this fall in collaboration with the Center for Women and Enterprise, and the Claremont Makerspace has been holding ongoing workshops for business owners in its new classroom space since May, thanks to a grant that CWE received from the Clewes Fund.

In addition to the local and regional resources, the New Hampshire Division of Economic Development is a state agency focused on attracting, starting, growing and strengthening business across the state. They can help entrepreneurs navigate the ins and outs of regulatory compliance, international commerce, government contracting and more.

And finally, there is a network of federally funded Small Business Administration (SBA) resource partners across the state. New Hampshire’s SBA office is located in Concord, but the staff crisscrosses the state to deliver programs, guarantee loans, and highlight small businesses. Their resource partners include the Center for Women and Enterprise, The Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC), SCORE and the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC).

Each of the SBA resource partners offers their own version of cost-free, confidential business advising, and many offer technical trainings and workshops both in person and online. Across the state, there is an SBA resource partner to meet the needs of any entrepreneur.

So whether you’re in Pittsburg or Walpole, you have a broad network of resources available to help you launch, start and grow your business in New Hampshire.

Nancy Pearson is the New Hampshire Director for the Center for Women and Enterprise Women’s Business Center.