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Five Questions with Liz Gray, Live Free and Start

Friday, July 31st, 2015

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!

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