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5 Questions with Mark Kaplan, Alpha Loft

Innovation.

It’s a buzz word, it’s a value proposition and it’s been appropriated to describe every kind of product or service you can imagine. But what does it truly mean to be innovative? And how do you create an environment where innovation becomes an economic engine for a state like New Hampshire?

To explore these ideas, we interviewed Mark Kaplan*, CEO of Alpha Loft. Alpha Loft is dedicated to accelerating the development of early-stage, scalable businesses, commercializing the intellectual capital developed at the University of New Hampshire and other leading educational institutions and creating sustainable employment opportunities in the state.

Mark has 30 years of executive, financial, venture capital and investment industry experience. During the past 15 years, he worked in entrepreneurial endeavors, including as a venture capitalist with Maine-based CEI Ventures. He was actively engaged in building Maine’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and now brings his decades of expertise to bear on the New Hampshire innovation economy.

Mark Kaplan ~ Alpha Loft

Mark Kaplan ~ Alpha Loft

1. Alpha Loft has evolved in recent years, making the transition from ‘incubator’ to ‘accelerator.’ How would you define the difference between those two concepts?

The transformation to become the organization now known as Alpha Loft goes beyond a transition between the two concepts, so I’d like to provide a brief history.

Alpha Loft resulted from the combination of three entities; the NH-ICC on the Seacoast, the abi Innovation Hub in Manchester and a co-working space named Alpha Loft in Portsmouth. Each separately was trying to stimulate entrepreneurship in New Hampshire, creating high growth companies and jobs, and improving the economy in the state.

The combination created a single platform operating with a focused mission across the southern part of the state. It brought together networks of people and companies to support this focused effort under a single organization, which can better leverage the state’s resources.

Today, Alpha Loft has attributes of an incubator, while also now running Accelerate NH, an accelerator program. The attributes of incubation include locations where entrepreneurs work, educational workshops where they can learn from experts, peer learning opportunities, advisors on staff, a strong network of people they can meet and learn from, networking events, and a supportive community.

Alpha Loft also works with UNH and other institutions of higher education to assist in commercializing intellectual property and research, and in bringing an entrepreneurial culture to students and faculty. In addition, we’ve focused resources on the accelerator program to take a small group of companies through an intensive three-month program of education and mentorship to dramatically accelerate their growth.

2. Your organization strives to support innovation-based businesses. What makes a business innovation-based?

An innovation-based company is one that applies technology, intellectual property, creativity, or new business models in delivering new ideas, products, and services to its market. It may be one that utilizes technology in a new way, develops new technology for the market, or creates a method of meeting market demand using a new method or approach.

3. You kicked off 2015 with an inaugural Accelerate NH class. What excited you about the roster of companies chosen by the panel of judges to participate in this groundbreaking program?

First of all, we were thrilled to receive many more applications to Accelerate NH than we anticipated, and all the more so because the quality of the applications was so high. It indicates to us there is a lot of startup activity going on and that accelerator programs are in demand.

We’re excited about this first class of Accelerate NH, which has a range of companies and entrepreneurs. We’ve got two companies developing products that include a hardware aspect, as well as software. We have a team of students from UNH who’ve already had success getting significant traffic to a page they’ve been running for a few years and are preparing to build on that foundation. We have a team that includes parents and high school students solving a problem they saw in the elementary school in their town and are now rolling out a product to solve it.

In summary, we’ve got a group of talented innovators seeking to build successful companies who recognize the benefits that will be derived from the accelerator program. It looks like a real win for everyone involved and we believe some successful growing companies will result.

4. You also run the 2015 NH Startup Challenge, in partnership with the Manchester YPN. How was the challenge different this year for applicants than it was last year?

We’re pleased to once again be partnering with MYPN on the NH Startup Challenge. MYPN manages the competition and judging process. Alpha Loft supports the competition by providing space for some of the events, advice and guidance on the competition mechanics, and with an in-kind donation of membership for the contest winner.

MYPN decided to change the competition in 2015 by adding a people’s choice award, giving the audience at the final round the opportunity to choose one of the presenters to receive $3,500 in prize money (awarded to BevNow, an app for ordering refreshments while on a golf course). This is in addition to the substantial prize package awarded to one company selected by the judging panel (VidFall, a daily-deals-style service).

5. In your opinion, why is New Hampshire the ideal place for entrepreneurs to start, launch, and scale their businesses?

New Hampshire is a great place for entrepreneurs for three primary reasons:

– It is a wonderful place to live and offers a very high quality of life;

– New Hampshire has a terrific network of highly experienced entrepreneurs, service providers, professionals and others with whom it is easy to connect and who are very willing to get engaged to help entrepreneurs just starting up;

– In southern New Hampshire, entrepreneurs can have all that and are still proximate to the active entrepreneurial ecosystem in neighboring Massachusetts, which means having the best of both worlds.

* Mark was a recent guest on nhEconomy.com’s monthly radio show on WTPL-FM107.7. Hear his conversation with Division of Economic Development Director Carmen Lorentz.

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