New Hampshire Tech Alliance

Julie Demers, executive director of the New Hampshire Tech Alliance, second from right, meets with industry representatives during a listening tour in 2019 at Waypoint Robotics in Nashua. From left: Shannon Herrmann of Alexander Technology Group, Amy Fackelman of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Amy Bewley of the Academy of Science and Design, Lisa Massiello of TECHmarc Labs Inc., Demers and Gary Sloper, an executive of Oracle + Dyn who is a board member of the alliance.

Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook sig

A STATEWIDE TRADE GROUP that promotes New Hampshire’s technology sector could use more firepower to support startup companies.

The New Hampshire Tech Alliance tweaked its business model during the pandemic, adding grants and a nonprofit foundation to its funding mix and teaming with the Small Business Development Center to launch a cybersecurity training program.

It’s still pretty scrappy, though.

The nonprofit serves 300 members with a staff of two full-time employees, a part-time finance director and an intern.

While that’s a source of pride for Executive Director Julie Demers, she and her board have bigger things in mind for the year ahead and hope to tap federal COVID-19 recovery money administered by the state to help fuel it.

“Post-pandemic we realize that we’re scrappy and we really can accomplish quite a bit with a lean staff, but we also learned that we have the ability to really think big and reimagine things and figure out a way to make them work,” Demers said by phone last week, continuing a conversation that began at the alliance’s office on Amherst Street in Manchester.

The alliance recently added Minim co-founder Jeremy Hitchcock and York IE partner Adam Coughlin, both veterans of Dyn, to its board of directors. It also recruited Jason Gagnon, an accountant with Wipfli who has spent much of his career working with startups.

“I think with the new board members that we have coming on, they have that shared vision ... of really building something from the ground up,” Demers said.

The alliance typically operates on an annual budget of about $400,000. Its programs include Accelerate NH, which works with a small batch of startup companies each year to develop their business models. Its public events include TechOut, which culminates in the awarding of $300,000 of investment capital from a local investment fund.

Demers envisions increasing the size of her staff to provide more services, such as the business mentoring provided by Joshua Cyr, who directs the alliance’s startup initiatives. But she also would like the alliance to be able to tap more money to support startups directly.

“Staffing would be the first focus, but when you look at other states, and the programming that they are offering to entrepreneurs, a lot of times the accelerator program will offer funding to them,” Demers said.

One of those other states is right next door.

The Maine Technology Institute, a nonprofit corporation established by the governor and legislature in 1999, spent $1.9 million on operation and administration in 2020, which included salaries for its 12-member staff.

Much of MTI’s work involves awarding grants and loans to support companies and technologies. About $10 million of its nearly $27 million in state funding in 2020 came from voter-approved bond funds, according to the institute’s annual report.

MTI disbursed $9.6 million to support 140 projects in 2020 and leveraged more than $58 million in matching funds from the private sector, the report said. It awarded about half of that money during the first few months of the pandemic.

“During that period, MTI awarded $4.67 million to support innovative Maine companies — including those that pivoted to offer COVID-19 mitigation solutions — and that funding was matched by almost $22 million in private sector matching funds,” MTI President Brian Whitney wrote in the report’s introduction.

It’s a model the New Hampshire Tech Alliance has been reviewing.

“They were able to leverage state and private and federal funding to really support entrepreneurs in meaningful ways,” Demers said. “I think that’s something that we would love to see in our state.”

In June, the alliance raised $25,000 for its newly launched 501(c) 3 charitable foundation during NH Gives, the annual 24-hour online fundraising campaign that supports the state’s nonprofits.

“Our priority over the next year is to really build out the New Hampshire Tech Foundation and see how that could be leveraged for staffing but also supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem as well,” Demers said.

Mike Cote is senior editor for news and business. Contact him at mcote@unionleader.com or (603) 206-7724.

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