Taking Care of Business at UNH’s Emerging Technology Center

Taking Care of Business at UNH’s Emerging Technology Center

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In a 163-year-old mill is Manchester's newest business resource, a center for innovation and possibility. Here, entrepreneurs and business leaders tap into the energy and expertise of students eager to learn and build their portfolio. For those with start-up fever or even serial-entrepreneurs, the Emerging Technology Center at UNH Manchester is the place to be.

Launched in April 2013, the Emerging Technology Center (ETC) at UNH Manchester is an extension of the college experience for students and a resource for start-ups, small businesses, and established firms in need of additional talent.

UNH Manchester Dean Ali Rafieymehr was the visionary behind the center. He saw the ETC as a great opportunity for students to get hands-on experience while also helping the business community. “The ETC is a great resource for businesses and an opportunity for students to apply their learning in a meaningful way,” Rafieymehr says.

Paul Bencal, director of the ETC, sees the center as a place for creative collaboration. “Clients come to us with business needs ranging from mobile app development and web design to content writing and accounting. We match our students’ skills with the requirements for each business project and the work begins,” says Bencal, who serves as a resource to students and monitors their progress working clients. Students also work with faculty experts on projects and are provided with training resources through the ETC.

“Clients come to the ETC on a regular basis for work sessions with student teams who then continue to work on the project using the center’s resources. The ETC is a pure development environment where projects get completed cost effectively for our clients,” Bencal says.

The ETC currently offers expertise in mobile and desktop application development, web development (including e-commerce, search engine optimization, and social media integration), business services (accounting, purchasing, inventory management), digital media communications (video production, web animation) graphic design, electrical and mechanical engineering services (including prototyping), and marketing and technical writing services.

Andrea O’Brien, business advisor with the NH Small Business Development Center (SBDC), sees the ETC as an excellent partner and resource for area businesses. While the SBDC works closely with businesses to help them adopt better management practices and become more resilient, O’Brien knows the small business community still faces the challenges of juggling a lot of things at once.

“It’s tempting for business owners, especially start-ups, to build their own website or have other technology needs where it may not be their area of expertise,” O’Brien says. “That’s where the ETC is a great resource for start-ups and small businesses.”

This was certainly true for local business owner and entrepreneur Don Byrne. Byrne was working with the SBDC and the abi Innovation Hub on the development of his latest company, METRIX411 LLC, the first software platform dedicated to self-assessment of business processes and operations.

"Don needed programmers and program support, so I recommended that he connect with the ETC. It was great to connect him with students who are eager to learn and work with business clients,” O’Brien says.

“I’m a serial entrepreneur,” says Byrne, who has led multiple start-ups, worked as a venture capitalist and an investment banker. For his newest company, Byrne needed additional computer programmers to free-up his senior-level engineers so they could handle more complex projects.

“This is any start-up company’s secret weapon,” Byrne says of the ETC. “We’re able to draw on people who we have confidence in, that have talent, and want to get more experience. We put them under the tutelage of our senior engineering team members…And they are so affordable, it’s amazing.”

Students working with Byrne include Nicole Phillips, a student from the Manchester Community College who is working on computer programming and user interface testing; Bill Robidoux, a student from UNH Manchester working on accounting for the company; and Sarah Thomas, an English student at UNH Manchester who will help write marketing copy for METRIX411.

Phillips says that her experience working with senior level engineers has been fantastic. “It's nice to get the experience of what it would be like in a real-world environment," says Phillips. "This experience will better prepare me for a job after I graduate…This is great for my resume!"

According to Byrne, the students and the ETC have saved months of time for the start-up. “When you are a small team, there is always an infinite amount of work to do. What you’re always looking for are trusted people who we can give work to…We have a trusted partner in the University of New Hampshire that we can rely on and who helps us build a diverse team and delivers a wide range of skills that act as force multipliers to our engineering team,” says Byrne.

METRIX411 is scheduled for a product release this October, following a bug-a-thon where students will test the product at the ETC. In the meantime, they’re also looking at other ways to partner with the University, including working with UNH Manchester’s Enactus (entrepreneurs in action) team this fall.

Since opening in April 2013, the ETC has provided software and database development, web design, mobile app development, engineering prototype development, and business services to start-up companies and organizations such as FIRST, Bach Solutions & Technology, HeadLyte, FifthCall, and UNH Manchester.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Emerging Technology Center at UNH Manchester may contact Paul Bencal or call 603-641-4384.

Visit UNH Manchester’s campus news blog for the latest information.