As Julie Demers prepared to begin her tenure as the New Hampshire Tech Alliance‘s first full-time executive director, board members began planning a road show for her to meet with groups around the state to promote the nonprofit’s work.
While Demers embraced the idea, she wanted to alter the framework. Rather than focus on what the alliance was doing, she preferred to query people in the tech industry on what they think it should become.
“Hi, nice to meet all of you. Now tell me how we can be relevant?” Demers recalled Tuesday.
Earlier that day, Demers hosted one of the alliance’s seven “listening tour” stops at Waypoint Robotics in Nashua, where the company recently moved to accommodate an expansion. The maker of industrial robots also happened to be one of the five finalists in the alliance’s recent Product of the Year competition.
“Manufacturing was a hot topic today,” Demers said at the alliance’s new headquarters on Amherst Street in Manchester. “Now we need to think about how we’re going to explore that vertical and whether that is something that is going to emerge under our umbrella, especially as we look at startups.”
Since the tour started, Demers has also hosted meetings in Portsmouth, Lebanon and Littleton, usually attracting two to three dozen people. The remaining tour stops are Nov. 7 at Mainstay Technologies in Belmont, Nov. 19 at the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship in Keene, and Dec. 3 at Geneia in Manchester. All the sessions run from 8 to 9:30 a.m.
Forging relationships around the state and finding new ways to connect tech businesses with the support they need is a big part of Demers’ mission as she balances her outreach efforts with administrative duties. Demers was hired a few months ago, but her start date was delayed by the birth of her second child. During that time, she communicated with board members to help plan the listening tour.
“Over the summer, even when I was on maternity leave, I hopped on some of the calls because, to me, this is the most important thing that I was going to do in terms of starting. It’s really helped me to navigate and think about the big picture,” she said.
The Granite State’s tech sector employs nearly 70,000 people or about 10 percent of the workforce, according to the recently released national Cyberstates report. Those jobs on average pay an 80% higher median wage than the state median, the report said.
The alliance has about 300 member companies and nearly 5,000 individual contacts. Demers is aiming to increase the size of the group’s 100-strong volunteer base by 25 to 50 people in the months ahead, which could be determined by new committees that might emerge around focus areas.
“Around week three I started having mini listening tours with people in the community and people who are well known in this sector, and that’s when I started getting really excited,” said Demers, who works with a staff of two full-timers and one part-timer. “Those were really good conversations to have.”
The alliance organizes several events each year including Product of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year, Startup Shindig and the upcoming TechOut on Nov. 14. The Shindig is anchored by a pitch event featuring companies participating in Accelerate NH, a boot camp for startups operated by the Alpha Loft, an incubator that was folded into the alliance last year. In recent years, the alliance has added the TechWomen Annual Luncheon and the Speed Venture Summit.
“From what I’ve heard, a lot of people see the alliance as being hyper-focused in southern New Hampshire, which makes sense because there’s some gravity there in terms of what’s going on,” Demers said. “But there’s a lot going on in the Seacoast, too, and a lot going on in the Hanover-Lebanon area and throughout the whole state.”
She also wants to make sure the alliance pays close attention to Nashua, where such major players as BAE Systems and Oracle have operations.
Overall, Demers sees the big-picture mission of the alliance as increasing awareness of the state’s high-tech industry.
“People are looking to us to be the voice of the tech sector in terms of sharing our story, boasting that we are a tech-based economy,” Demers said.