The entrepreneurial ecosystem for New Hampshire’s high-tech businesses is thriving. Much of it has to do with the ingenuity and selflessness of professionals throughout the state, sharing their time and expertise to create connections to funding, networks, skilled workers, mentorship and so much more.
One of the people leading the charge is Liz Gray, director of the Live Free and Start initiative. A joint venture of the Governor’s Office, the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority, and the Division of Economic Development, LFS is focused on job creation and making it easier for technology companies to start, grow, and succeed in New Hampshire. Liz originally hails from New York, but while attending the University of New Hampshire, she fell in love with the Granite State. She served under two governors and worked in the state senate before joining the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority as director of entrepreneurship and taking a leadership role in the LFS initiative.
1. Live Free and Start is barely a year old, yet it’s already had a major impact on the business community. To what do you attribute its success so far?
Liz Gray ~ Live Free and Start
We launched the initiative at a time when the business community was eager to have the state take a more active role in directly supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Because Live Free and Start is a joint initiative of the Governor’s Office, the NH Business Finance Authority and the Department of Resources and Economic Development, we’ve had a tremendous amount of support at the highest levels of state government. Governor Hassan is the initiative’s biggest champion and talks about the work of LFS whenever she can. I also have the pleasure of working with an advisory council made up of 14 accomplished high-tech entrepreneurs and business leaders from across New Hampshire.
Right from the start, we knew we didn’t have all the answers. We took the time to listen and learn. Governor Hassan hosted a series of business roundtables; LFS led focus groups and I met with business leaders and ecosystem partners from across the state to better understand current challenges. We brought people together. We wanted this initiative to be inclusive and focused on solving challenges that both startups and established companies identified. After taking the time to listen and ask questions, I believe we were better prepared to take action and provide strategic recommendations to the governor and legislature.
I am proud that members of the New Hampshire Legislature strongly supported two of Live Free and Start’s priorities; SB 266 (securities modernization act) and SB 223 (business name availability standard). It also supported the governor’s proposal to provide state funding to support education and acceleration programs at New Hampshire’s business incubators. Votes in the Senate and the House sent strong messages that lawmakers, too, were eager to support the state’s startup ecosystem.
2. Your mission is to create jobs and make it easier for technology companies to start, grow and succeed in New Hampshire. What does that look like on a day-to-day basis?
Live Free and Start began as an idea a little over a year ago. Every project, from the design of the website and marketing campaign, to our legislative agenda and Ultimate Connection Competition, was brand new to us and had to be developed from scratch. Needless to say, I’ve worn a lot of hats!
My days are spent drafting and shepherding our legislation through the legislative process, in meetings with our marketing agency developing the website, strategizing with the LFS Advisory Council, reaching out to companies to see if they would like to be highlighted through our Innovator of the Week series, meeting with stakeholders to discuss partnerships and initiatives, attending startup events around the state hosted by our outstanding incubator network or the New Hampshire High Tech Council, and then of course looking ahead to figure out what’s next for Live Free and Start. That’s just in the past few months!
I know I’m not alone in saying this, but there is always so much to do and never enough time in the day to get it all done. Thankfully, I love my job and the amazing people I get to work with and learn from every day. I am very optimistic that Live Free and Start can make some great progress going forward. I love knowing that I’m able to play a small part in making NH a better place for our tech startups.
3. In little more than a month, you announced the launch of the Ultimate NH Connection competition and crowned the first winner. What did you learn about the state of tech entrepreneurship in New Hampshire as a result?
Each and every day I am amazed at the groundbreaking technologies and solutions to real-world challenges being developed in New Hampshire’s tech startups. The men and women founders in our state’s e-ecosystem walk the walk. They’re up at dawn for meetings, on the phone pitching prospective clients during the day, networking at night, working in the wee hours of the morning – then doing it all over again chasing their dream.
Whether it’s their first company or their fifth, NH’s tech entrepreneurs are blazing a path forward. NH’s tech scene may be smaller than some tech hubs, but I can assure you that our companies and our founders can compete with the best of the best. I encourage you to see for yourself and learn more about what these inspiring men and women are doing through Live Free and Start’s Innovator of the Week series.
4. Ultimate NH Connection is one of many start-up/tech-focused competitions in NH. In your opinion, why has this competition model become so popular?
In general, startup competitions are exciting, people love a good competition. They bring people together to showcase up-and-coming businesses, and of course, give out cash prizes to the winners. But in NH our startup challenges are doing more. In true NH fashion, the challenges have volunteer judges and mentors. In addition to cash prizes, our incubators, law firms, CPAs and marketing agencies are donating their time and expertise to support our entrepreneurs. This is another way New Hampshire provides a unique and extremely supportive environment for startups.
In terms of LFS’s Ultimate NH Connection, this competition truly highlighted the level of accessibility new businesses can have to stakeholders across the state. NH prides itself on being a very accessible state. In many cases, you’re an email or a phone call away from connecting with someone or something that can help move your business along. LFS was fortunate to have a number of fantastic entrepreneurs apply for the competition, and we were pleased to crown PickUp Patrol as our first winner.
The Ultimate NH Connection achieved what so many entrepreneurs would like to have the opportunity to participate in: A meeting with a diverse group of stakeholders, all of whom bring a unique perspective and want to see the company succeed. The experts that joined the meeting with Governor Hassan and the PickUp Patrol team were thrilled to be asked to be a part of the meeting and brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table. It was a very fun project to be a part of, and PickUp Patrol was able to make a number of connections that will serve them well as they expand and grow in New Hampshire. You can follow PickUp Patrol’s progress through the Ultimate NH Connection blog on the LFS site.
5. What’s next on the horizon for Live Free and Start? What are your goals for the rest of 2015?
For a young initiative, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made. In the last few months we’ve learned a lot, brought together e-ecosystem stakeholders, launched www.LiveFreeandStart.com, ran the Ultimate Connection Competition, helped get two startup friendly pieces of legislation passed (SB 266 and SB 223), and started highlighting New Hampshire tech companies for their achievements. Going forward I will be working hard to keep our website fresh with interesting blog content, expanded resource links, Innovator of the Week stories, and event posts on our statewide calendar. The Live Free and Start Advisory Council will be meeting this summer to develop a strategic plan to guide our efforts in the coming year. You can expect to see new legislative initiatives for the 2016 session, an Ultimate Connection Competition 2.0, celebratory events during NH Entrepreneurship Week and more of a focus on expanding access to capital for startups.
As we grow as an initiative, LFS will have the ability to drive change and create an even better environment for entrepreneurs to start, grow, and succeed in New Hampshire. I hope that you’ll see a lot more of LFS in the months and year ahead. To do so, we’ll need support from people like you. So come join the Live Free and Start movement and connect with us today!
There’s no way to sum up adequately, in such a short space, the impact a person like Mary Collins has had on the state of New Hampshire. At the end of May, Mary retired after more than two decades of service with the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center, working tirelessly to improve the fortunes of thousands of small businesses, as well as the overall economy of the Granite State.
On the occasion of her retirement, we asked Mary a few questions – five, to be precise – about her time with the SBDC, the business environment in New Hampshire, and whether she’ll still be involved in the inner business workings of the state she’ll continue to call home.
1. You were with the SBDC for 22 years and served as state director for 18 of them. As you look back, what are two or three things you’ll remember most fondly about your time there?
– Engagement, and the long lasting friendships that I made with colleagues, clients, stakeholders, students and staff throughout New Hampshire and the US. As SBDC state director, I covered the entire state, served on numerous boards in NH and also had the opportunity to serve on the national Association of Small Business Development Center’s board, as well as the national accreditation team. This job has provided me the opportunity to meet and engage with wonderful people throughout New Hampshire and in all states throughout the US. Each time I drove to the North Country and passed through the notch, or headed to Keene or Portsmouth, I would think how fortunate I was to have a job that allowed me to take in the beauty of New Hampshire while working!
– Legislative Activity. SBDC is a cooperative program with the US SBA, the Department of Resources and Economic Development, the University of New Hampshire and the private sector – maintaining our federal, state and local funding is a key component of this job – and I have to admit I am a political junkie and have loved this part of my job – I love going to Washington, DC and to the Hill. Yes, we have had our critical moments such as sequestration and natural and economic disasters affecting our small businesses, however during the past 18 years I’ve been fortunate to have worked closely with our entire federal delegation and its amazing staffers, as well as several New Hampshire governors and many state legislators. This can only happen in a small state like New Hampshire – my colleagues in the large states envy our access to top federal and state leadership.
– The ability to be creative! Each day I could wake up and think of some activity or process that might assist a small business client or our staff and we could actually make it happen. The job is truly entrepreneurial and only possible with a great supportive staff, which I have so appreciated.
2. A lot has changed in the world of small business over the last two decades. But what would you say has stayed the same (and still remains important) for small businesses today?
Building a sustainable business requires a team effort – there are numerous federal and state programs to assist small businesses, yet entrepreneurs are so busy with day-to-day survival that they are not always aware, or do not have the time to search out these programs. A savvy entrepreneur will utilize all resources available to them as they build a strong foundation for their business – the payoff is measurable. What has also stayed the same is the need to have access to capital!
3. Your efforts to support business in the state go far beyond the SBDC. How has your work with the New Hampshire High Tech Council and EPSCOR (to name just two) also helped the SBDC with its own mission?
My philosophy has always been that small businesses need a voice at the table. The reality is that they do not have the time to attend outside meetings, nor are they always aware of critical opportunities. During the 13 years that I served on the board of the NHHTC, I was able to match the needs of SBDC clients with opportunities I learned about through NHHTC member companies, or those with whom we collaborated, such as legislators, entrepreneurs, academia etc.
For example, a SBDC client who needed an engineering lab to further develop his product was approached by a Massachusetts university, but he wanted to stay in New Hampshire. We were able to match that client with a lab at UNH.
The same has been true with my participation on the EPSCOR board, which has representation from Dartmouth, UNH, the state, and the private sector – all directed at grant opportunities for entrepreneurs in New Hampshire. The SBDC provides assistance to all aspects of running a small business – we can be our clients’ voices at the state, federal, and local level through our engagement in specific boards and committees.
4. What’s next for you? Are you retiring completely, moving onto another venture, or just taking time to see what will happen next?
I had been thinking about retirement for the last couple years, but I always found something else that I wanted/needed to do in my career. My husband retired four years ago and had been bugging me to join him. What finally convinced me was having time available for our long-planned trips, as well as travel to see my children and grandchildren. My son and his family are in Florida; my daughter is in Las Angeles and my four siblings and their families are located throughout the US. We have lived in New Hampshire since 1972 and we’re not leaving! We are selling our home of 38 years in Mont Vernon and are moving to Wolfeboro where we purchased a retirement home; winter months will be in Florida.
I love being active in New Hampshire and am taking time to consider my next venture. Last fall, I was appointed by Gov. Hassan to serve on the New Hampshire Judicial Conduct Committee and look forward to continuing with that committee. In the meantime, my garden needs attention and summer in Wolfeboro on Lake Winnipesaukee with good friends at our yacht club seems very attractive!
5. You stayed on as an adviser to your successor, Rich Grogan, as he settled into the state director position. What would you say are his strongest qualities?
I was extremely fortunate to have excellent advice on doing a transition plan, as I can’t imagine how one walks out the door on a Friday after 18 years in this position and is completely retired. The state director’s job is one that consumes your mind day and night. The transition was carefully thought out and approved by UNH and the SBA. A search committee was established and a national search for the new state director conducted.
Rich Grogan, our Keene regional manager, was selected for the position and officially took over April 6. In the last two months, we have communicated on all issues as they surface – the job is complex with many stakeholders and funders, including federal grants, state contracts and a staff located statewide. The transition has been extremely smooth and Rich is amazing. His grasp of the global picture and the needs of small businesses is excellent. He hit the ground running and had used his time effectively by engaging our existing network and board while forging new relationships for the SBDC. He has a great sense of humor and is well-respected by staff and colleagues.
I am very fortunate to be leaving a program I care so deeply about in the hands of someone who cares about sustaining and growing the NH SBDC. Rich knows that I am just an email or phone call away, which insures continuity for our clients, staff and partners.
Every month, we hop on the airwaves at WTPL-FM here in Concord and talk about business, programs and anything relating to the state’s economy.
This month, Michael Power of the New Hampshire Job Training Fund was the guest and if you’re connected to a business in the state, this is worth a listen, as Michael talks about the fund, how companies use it and how it helps our businesses stay competitive.
Tune us in at 3 pm on the third Wednesday of every month at 107.7FM in the greater Concord area.
Division of Economic Development
We’ve been delivering insights into the economic engines of New Hampshire through our 5 Questions segment. There are other organizations in the Granite State who help get the word out about what’s going on in the business community, and this week, we’re talking with one of the professionals involved in that reporting: Mike Cote, business and city editor at the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Cote is celebrating his third anniversary with the Union Leader this month, but he’s not new to the storytelling scene. He has more than 30 years of experience as a reporter and editor at newspapers and magazines in New Hampshire, Colorado and Florida. In his current position at the Union Leader, he assigns and edits news stories for their print and online editions, in addition to writing a weekly business column.
Mike Cote ~ NH Union Leader
1. What kind of business news are you looking to publish these days?
Our franchise is local news. We are looking for stories about businesses and business people that reflect the Granite State’s economy.
That represents a wide range of industries, including high technology and startups, small business success stories, thriving family businesses, publicly traded companies, defense and aerospace contractors, residential and commercial real estate, construction and the trades, restaurants and retail, tourism, health care, manufacturing, professional services, agriculture – everything that goes on in New Hampshire.
We’re always looking for emerging trends that can help us tell a story about a segment of business in New Hampshire. How are small businesses responding to changes in health care insurance? What are technology companies and manufacturers doing to ensure they have the skilled workers they need? How will New Hampshire respond to its aging population? Who are the young professionals choosing to stay in New Hampshire and what contributions are they making to the state’s economy?
2. Can businesses still get a garden-variety press release published in the Union Leader anymore?
We publish short items generated from press releases, such as new business hires and related company announcements. But for the most part, we consider press releases as an entry point for a news story. We don’t publish press releases verbatim, though some might generate a short news item without further reporting.
3. What are a couple of things businesses can do to increase the chances their news release will be published in the Union Leader?
– Include the press release in the body of the email rather than as an attachment. That way, we see the information immediately and don’t have to determine whether it’s safe to open an attachment or waste time with something that is not compatible with our system. It’s OK to include the attachment, but press releases that arrive with no or very little information in the body of the email are less likely to get our prompt attention. We receive dozens of email inquiries every day. The inbox fills up all day long. Make it easy for us.
– Be brief, be clear, and avoid the use of superlatives. You might think your company is the “best-in-class industry leader,” but we’re not going to include that. Be familiar with what we publish so that your release demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to become familiar with what we do.
4. What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen business professionals make in trying to get you to publish their news for them?
Be ready. Sometimes we respond to a press release that catches our attention only to find that the sources involved in the story are unavailable for comment or are unwilling to participate. Make sure everyone on your team is aware you are seeking publicity and that it could lead to an inquiry from a reporter. For example, if you are announcing your new expanded headquarters, we will want to know why you are expanding, how many employees you have, some details about your business model, how you secured your financing.
Remember that you are not in control of the story. If your goal is to publish something exactly as you submitted it, then you should consider buying an advertisement. Working with the media does involve some risk — we will likely talk to your competitors or other outside sources about what your company does — but a news story can bring credibility that marketing alone will not accomplish.
Also, we’re not publishing news about business professionals just as a service to them, but more importantly, for our readers. What stories would you be interested in reading when you pick up the business section? Ask yourself that question before you send a press release in the hopes that it will generate something more than a brief item. Will someone unrelated to your company be interested in reading this news? Make us your best pitch.
5. How do businesses best go about submitting a release for your consideration?
You can send it to us via email to email@example.com or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also launching online links for readers to send us business information.
If you’re going to include a photo headshot, make sure it has a large enough resolution. For printing a thumbnail headshot in the newspaper 300 dpi (dots per inch) is good. We use those photos in our Newsmakers column about company hires, promotions, awards, etc.
Compiled by ZipRecruiter, “The website tracked hiring patterns to determine which cities were increasing job listing in the tech industry at the fastest rate, and which have the highest volume of tech jobs compared against other industries.”
Manchester hops on the list, as well, for its easy access to Boston and for its lack of “city-sized costs of living.”
The second is Conexus Indiana’s 2015 Manufacturing & Logistics Report Card. In this report, New Hampshire joined manufacturing powerhouse states like Alabama, Ohio and North Carolina, earning an overall ‘B’ for its manufacturing health; it was one of five states – and the only New England state – to receive an ‘A’ in human capital.
“If I were a manufacturer in a particularly high-tech activity – the medical devices or that sort of field – that required very sophisticated workers and a small operation with a high-value product that you don’t need to move on trains, New Hampshire would be very attractive to me,” Michael Hicks, director of Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, which conducted the research, told the New Hampshire Business Review.
Division of Economic Development
Portsmouth is home to Pease International Tradeport, a prospering community covering 3,000 acres of world-class office and industrial space. It’s home to over 250 companies employing more than 9,525 people, occupying some 4 million square feet of business space. The facilities are managed by the Pease Development Authority and for this installment of 5 Questions, we interviewed David Mullen, executive director of the PDA.
Mullen began his career at the PDA nearly 20 years ago as its director of marketing and later served as deputy director. He also did three turns as an interim executive director after the departures of previous directors George Meyer, George Bald and Dick Green. The third time was the charm for Mullen – he officially had the interim tag struck from his title and has served as executive director since March 2009.
David Mullen ~ Pease Development Authority
1. The Pease Development Authority will soon be celebrating 25 years of operation, since it closed as an Air Force Base in 1991. What are the secrets to PDA becoming the most successful military-to-civilian conversion in the country?
The 25th anniversary of the formation of the Pease Development Authority was June 1, 2015. The success of Pease is greatly due to the real estate adage “location, location, location,” and the resulting supply/demand for real estate in this location.
Portsmouth is one of the jewels of the state and the rate of job growth in Portsmouth proper (71 percent) is more than twice that of the state (31 percent). Having been a state industrial rep from 1990 to 1998 taught me that company executives prefer to live and work within a 15-minute commute from Pease. The area provides many diverse housing opportunities, from ocean front to farmland or the city of Portsmouth itself.
Another major advantage to locating at Pease is the benefit of having easy access to a highly skilled and available three-state workforce. The demographic reach within a 45-minute commute is huge, with the ability to attract workers from as far north as Portland, as far south as Boston and as far west as Manchester, Concord and the Lakes Region.
2. PDA started off with just the airport, but has expanded considerably over the years. Can you summarize the different facilities that are now part of PDA?
The original Public Benefit Transfer to the state from the Air Force was 3,000 acres and included the airport, the golf course and the land, which is now the office and industrial park. In 2001, the New Hampshire Legislature gave the PDA oversight control of the Port of New Hampshire, which includes the main deep water terminal at Market Street; the Portsmouth Fish Pier; Rye Harbor, and Hampton Harbor. In 2008, the Legislature also gave PDA control over Skyhaven Airport in Rochester, a small general aviation airport with approximately 80 private aircraft.
3. PDA’s mission states up front that it exists to “initiate economic opportunity.” What does PDA do on a day-to-day basis to fulfill that mission?
The mission of the PDA was/is to create a diverse economic engine for the region/state and to utilize the resources of land and existing buildings to create the greatest number of high paying jobs possible. Today, Pease is home to 250+ companies who employ 9,540 people and occupy over 4.3 million square feet of office and industrial space. The total current annual payroll is in excess of $600 million a year.
The PDA day-to-day role is to continue to manage and develop the remaining available land and buildings as well as maintain airport operations and continue the expansion of commercial airline service. Currently Allegiant Airlines offers scheduled flights to Florida destinations and expects to increase the frequency of weekly flights and add new destinations over the next several years.
4. How do you communicate the New Hampshire Advantage to business looking to expand or relocate to the Granite State?
Back in 1990 when I first started working for the Department of Resources and Economic Development, there was no sales pitch for a company considering moving to New Hampshire. David Rines and I were the two state industrial representatives and we decided that we needed to demonstrate “It’s not what we give you to move to New Hampshire. Rather, it’s what we don’t charge you once you’re here, and that is the New Hampshire Advantage.” Dave and I created the State-to-State Comparisons to illustrate that you get to keep more of what you make in New Hampshire. I still continue to use State-to-State Comparisons today.
5. What’s coming up next for PDA?
The Pease International Tradeport and the PDA have come a long way in 25 years but there is still more to do on all fronts. The PDA will continue to promote development of the remaining 60+/-acres of the Pease International office/industrial park. It is estimated another 1,500,000 to 1,750,000 square feet of building space and a total of 11,000 direct jobs could be developed on the non airport land and 120 acres of airport land would be available for aviation use expansion and related development.
With respect to Skyhaven Airport, the 4,000-foot runway re-paving and installation of an approach lights system was just completed. Apron re-design, proper drainage installation, and paving is planned over the next several years. Finally, repairs to existing hangars will occur over time as warranted.
Maintenance and improvements to the Port of New Hampshire will continue, including possibly extending the main pier to accommodate larger ships as well as pier deck resurfacing. A Tiger Grant application is in process of being submitted to finance this multi-million dollar improvement plan.