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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

$30m venture fund, Nashua tech park seek to create more entrepreneurs

NASHUA – It sounds blasphemous to say so in New Hampshire, but the go-it-alone mentality of “live free or die” makes a lousy slogan for entrepreneurs.

“We need positive collaboration, cooperation ... to build an ecosystem,” said Jesse Devitte, co-founder of Borealis Ventures, which is putting together a $30 million venture capital fund solely for New Hampshire business. “I sometimes think in New England we’re too insular, too self-contained. … We need to break down the silos.” ...

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NASHUA – It sounds blasphemous to say so in New Hampshire, but the go-it-alone mentality of “live free or die” makes a lousy slogan for entrepreneurs.

“We need positive collaboration, cooperation ... to build an ecosystem,” said Jesse Devitte, co-founder of Borealis Ventures, which is putting together a $30 million venture capital fund solely for New Hampshire business. “I sometimes think in New England we’re too insular, too self-contained. … We need to break down the silos.”

Devitte, known both for his role in creating Softdesk, one of New Hampshire’s best-known software successes, and in shaping the New Hampshire High-Tech Council, was at Nashua Technology Park on Tuesday to pitch Borealis’ new Granite Fund and to boost efforts to create more startups in Nashua and throughout the state.

Also speaking to a small crowd in an auditorium at Nashua Technology Park, a group that included a few officials from start-ups and angel investors, were representatives of the Flatley Co., which built and operates the park off Spit Brook Road near Exit 1 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike.

The park’s 750,000 square feet features tenants as established as Dell Computers and as new as Parallel Wireless, a startup out of Cambridge, Mass.

Despite the recession, interest was strong enough that the company plans to build another office building there in the next two years.

Part of Flatley’s pitch to tech tenants is a Business Innovation Center that will open next year at 200 Innovation Way, one of the massive office buildings where Digital Equipment Corp. once flourished.

The center is designed to be a home for would-be entrepreneurs and start-up firms to find advice, funding, help and possibly partners.

“In the ’70s and ’80s, this was one of the coolest places to work, and we still benefit from that old DEC legacy,” said Don Zizzi, a UMass-Lowell research associate who is consulting with the project. Zizzi noted the density of high-tech companies in Nashua. “The idea is that concept of critical mass. … Here, hundreds of serial entrepreneurs will pass by our space.”

Along with a host of tech start-up competitions as well as small but fast “seed” funding for very early startups and the Borealis Granite Fund, the center is part of pushes around the state to attract and build a core from which experience and new ideas can join and generate startups.

Probably the most important part of this is the Borealis Granite Fund, because it stands virtually alone in meeting the need for New Hampshire-based venture funding for small- to mid-size firms, rather than funding based out of Boston, New York or other parts of the country.

It also is unusual in its focus on New Hampshire companies, mandated by the state law that led to its creation – a focus Tuesday’s speakers called “local investing” as a parallel to the “local food” movement.

Granite Fund is unusual because its first investor was the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority.

The state-chartered authority passed along $4.5 million in federal money to get the fund started but has stayed a B-class investor, meaning it will not be able to interfere with decisions about funding made by Borealis Ventures partners, and also that other investors will get their money back before it does.

Devitte said this status was important in encouraging private investment in the fund from individuals or institutions, who otherwise fear they might have to stand in line behind Concord for any payoff.

Borealis still is rounding up investors for the Granite Fund as part of its expected 10-year lifespan. Devitte, who has made similar pitches from the Seacoast to Conway to Keene, said he was optimistic the fund would reach its $30 million target this year and start funding.

The Granite Fund is the third fund overseen by Borealis Ventures, which points to successes like biotech firm GlycoFi from its earlier investments.

On Tuesday, Devitte also pointed to the biotech scene in the Hanover area, which has grown around Dartmouth College in the past decade to become a much bigger player in the technology and economic scene than the area’s size would indicate.

Closer to home, several speakers mentioned Manchester and Dyn Inc., a fast-growing networking firm that has become something of a leader in developing a startup culture in that city, funding activities, space and sometimes ideas.

“They are active participants, not passive,” said Matt Rightmire, managing director of Borealis Ventures.

Manchester is also home to abi Innovation Hub, a nonprofit incubator that may have put a satellite presence in the Business Innovation Center.

They also have a suggestion for a more entrepreneur-friendly Granite State slogan: “Live Free and Start.”

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks’ blog on Twitter (@GraniteGeek.)