TTWCP-881-01 Tech Out 2016, Michelline Dufort of NHHTC : Michelline Dufort, Director of Business Operations for NH High Tech Council (NHHTC)
On This Episode…
Michelline Dufort is a professional with deep skills and relationships in public policy, association management, non-profit organizations and strategic communications, and is a well-known entity in New Hampshire’s legislative and business arenas. Her first leadership role was as Executive Director of a Boston-based foundation that distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to area organizations until she relocated to New Hampshire to lead a prominent business association. That role led to a stint in higher education as a Vice President, and eventually to her own consulting firm with a roster that included a coalition of competitive energy suppliers and a joint venture of five healthcare systems.
In the public policy arena, Michelline launched an advocacy program for a statewide association and also has been the lead on a variety of legislative winning issues for a wide range of clients. At Cookson Strategies, Michelline leads the public policy side of the business for this small but powerhouse communications firm and oversees the operations of one of CSC’s most cherished clients, the NH High Tech Council. In the year and a half since joining CSC and NHHTC, the Council has grown in membership, programming, and engagement.
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Below is a rush transcript of this segment, it might contain errors.
Michelline Dufort – NHHTC.org TechOut Challenge
Airing Date: October 8, 2016
Craig Peterson: Welcome back to Tech Talk with Craig Peterson. We have a lot of high tech here in the Northeast in New Hampshire. It’s just amazing. And there’s a couple of organizations, I think everyone needs to know about and the awards ceremony that just happened. We’re gonna talk about the New Hampshire High Tech Council. My business has been a member for many, many years. We’ve been involved in a few things over time. Well, they just had a beautiful TechOut presentation. We’re gonna talk about what that is, how some of these tech companies can get in front of investors, who won, what that means, and more, right now. We’re joined by Michelline Dufort. She is with the New Hampshire High Tech Council as well as Cookson Strategies Corporation. We’re gonna talk about what this is all about. Michelline, welcome.
Michelline Dufort: Hi, good morning. Thank you Craig. Glad to be here.
Craig: Now, let’s talk about what’s going on here. First of all, a lot of high-tech business here in New Hampshire. I know we used to be the second or third most high-tech state in the union per capita. Since then we’ve had some things change here. Some of the companies have moved, some of them have closed. But there’s a lot of upstart technology right around here.
Michelline: Oh my gosh. There sure is, you know, and I feel that every day we come across someone who’s doing something fantastic and new. I think we have slipped a little bit. I think the last I heard is we are 6th per capita. And that is for probably a number of reasons that I’m sure you talk about a great deal. But that does not mean we have any lack. It means we are surrounded by technology and innovations and entrepreneurs. And I think too, the climate right now is that a lot of folks on a big stage we’re talking about that we hear about it in political circles. You certainly hear about that part of economy certainly being towards the elections. And we think that’s great. The more light shone on it the better.
Craig: Yeah, I absolutely agree with that. Of course we have universities here in New Hampshire, some of which have expanded, moved from colleges to full universities. Kids coming out with great ideas. And some businesses moving here. In fact I’ve just interviewed another business moving from Europe right here to New Hampshire. And I think that’s great thing too. So, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, that’s long been a kind of a pillar of what I talk about on the show. We’ve got Dean Kamen here in Manchester, of course, big thing for him. The New Hampshire FIRST competitions which just started up here again for this season, with the LEGO League moving all the way on up. Tell me, are there opportunities for our kids here in New Hampshire to get into the high tech field or is it kind of a closed thing?
Michelline: Oh gosh, that’s a great question. I think there are ample opportunities and I think as you said, we work a lot with educators in a lot of different ways and we know that a lot of people are teaching towards that, trying to fill that pipeline on all levels, and I think too, there are so many STEM-related organizations that are trying to get at that students as early as they can right up through the CTE centers and many of the high schools and then you find those partnerships that go right into the community colleges or into the college university systems. I think there’s ample opportunity absolutely.
Craig: And they’re reaching out, by the sounds it here, to the schools, which I think is great. The scholarships abound in some of these programs. And there are so many of them, I only mentioned FIRST. But others include like Destination Imagination. You’ve got Odyssey of the Mind. And of course FIRST breaks into multiple things. You’ve got there LEGO League or Tech Challenge, the robotics. And then you guys over the high tech council also have Tech Women and Tech Girls. So there’s a lot of opportunities. And I think you’d agree with this Michelline, there’s a lot of high tech in our future. It doesn’t matter what career you’re looking at, everyone’s in the high tech biz.
Michelline: Oh my gosh, we say that all the time. A lot of our members don’t produce technology but they can’t get where they are without it. For instance, Fidelity, they’re a fantastic member and they know it is the technology that runs the shop over and so, we tell everyone it is every business is high tech. Every worker is a high tech worker and I think, you know, everyone looking at again filling that pipeline is the number one issue we hear from members is they wanna grow, but there’s times that the barrier to growth is that hiring where they are at. So, we say the more the merrier. Come on in, train them, and excite them and get them going and we try to build those wherever we can, those relationships.
Craig: Yeah. It can be hard as an employer, I can say this. It can be very hard to find the right people that have the right background. And high tech is wonderful. Now, the New Hampshire High Tech Council, you guys have grown in membership. You have reached out more and more. You’ve got more programs. You’re engaged in more ways and one of the ways is what I was talking about a little bit earlier. I mentioned, you have gotten together with Alpha Loft. You’ve made this TechOut, you call it a challenge or competition. Why don’t you tell us about it?
Michelline: Sure. So, this is the 5th year of TechOut. And it is a competition. And basically the background on it is a number of investors, about 5 or 6 years ago decided they wanted to pump some money into the investment community, above and beyond what they were already doing in their different venture capital groups. So they built a fund and they turned to the council and to Alpha Loft and to have us kind of be a feeder program to put people to that process towards receiving some startup investment funds. So, the way it works is every year we put a call out for applications to start ups and more and more as you and I both just said the visibility in the startup community is so much higher. We get tons of applications. We build some judges. This year the judges were from the investment community and they determined through weeding down process which groups they invite in to present to a live crowd and we give away collectively, we all those groups, a hundred thousand dollars in investment capital in one evening. So that was last night. So it was. It was incredibly energetic and exciting and is fantastic.
Craig: Yeah, I really like this. I can also say again, having started a couple of companies. Finding investors, getting in front of them. Getting, frankly, even just getting the practice to do these presentations for investors, a little roadshow that you have to do. It’s a difficult thing. So, putting this together, I think, is just fantastic. All these companies. Getting the opportunities to see, to hear, and get in front of judges, can award them real money.
Michelline: That’s right. And you know, and as you say, so last night there were 3 winners, but we say all 5 won. And what they won was that exposure, that practice. We put each of these teams together with TK Kuegler of Wasabi Ventures who is a pitch camp extraordinaire. And I ventured this process now 3 years in a row. These teams who are pretty green, pretty fresh, come in with their presentation and by the time they leave a session with him, it is completely re-worked. And all of them, in time, they just say how much it was helpful to them as they go on and as you say it’s not just one putch, they’re pitching, pitching, pitching. I mean, this is a continuing cycle for these young startups. Young companies, I don’t mean all of the young individuals. And so, that alone has a great deal of value. But you know, with 250 people in the room last night at Dine, no matter who walked away with the trophy last night, everyone walked away with tons of connections. They had a chance to exhibit what they’re producing and they had tons of interactions. And so, there’s value. There’s just value with being involved in TechOut.
Craig: Yeah. It’s phenomenal. Now, 3 prizes. You’ve mentioned the 5 companies and the number 1 price was $50,000. The 2nd place was $30,000. And the 3rd place was $20,000. Now, you explain this narrowing down process that occurred and then the judges got to decide who they thought the winners were. But this 3rd place, I don’t think, Michelline, I’ve ever heard anything quite like this before. How was that 3rd place person chosen?
Michelline: Yeah, that’s great. Well, the 1st and 2nd, that is the investment panel of judges that award that money. But the 3rd place it is so much fun to be honest. It’s just really fun. Everyone in the room, after hearing the 5 presentations, then we take out the 1st and the 2nd place winner and we’d take them off of the block there, and then, we have a live vote. And so we used a platform, we used a direct poll is a software that we used. Everyone gets online. We have dedicated Wi-Fi for the event. Everyone has 60 seconds to vote. There’s a live vote stream and so you kinda see that bar going up and you know, back and forth and back and forth like a little horse race. And then at the end, the last team comes in and they did, as you said, they walked away with $20,000 of investment funds, which was pretty darn cool.
Craig: And what do these companies do here? The three, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, of course, on the website you can find out more by going to nhhtc.org. That’s New Hampshire High Tech Council .org. Who were these 3 winners?
Michelline: Sure. So the 1st one called Awato, and it is an online platform that was created so basically as you’re gearing up for your what am I going to do with my life? What am I gonna become? Choices that a lot of our kids and ourselves are making. It’s a platform to help intake questions to a series of questioning that kinda brings you along a map to help you determine what you’re good at and what you should do. And its founder is a young gentleman. He said that he found himself 6 years out of college and in completely the wrong career. So he stepped back and created a better way to look at those choices that you have when you’re overwhelmed and you’re looking at school. And he’s looking to work with different colleges. So he walked away with $50,000 and he did a great presentation. 2nd place was a company called Forcivity and its founder is Steve Baines, and I call him a serial entrepreneur because this is not his first to go at creating a startup. He’s been successful. He has found, because he works a lot in the world of sales force, an overlay software that takes sales force and makes it manageable on all levels. And he is an example of a CFO who walks into and assistants’s office and says I need a report, a huge report. And no one really knows how to crunch the data, this makes that much easier. And then the 3rd place is… we had a father and son team present, which was the father started and a 13-year-old, and this is the live crowd favorite vote. The 13-year-old presented. He and his dad created an app called KudosWall, which, you start building your resume. Think of LinkedIn, but think of it doing it from when you’re about 10 years old. My team won, you know, soccer. I was on an anti-bullying poster contest and came in 2nd place. I volunteer with, you know, my local church. Whatever it may be, you start building a resume by a drag-and-drop sort of process and so as again, you’re going towards what you’re going to be in life. It’s like a resume that is being created for you. And it really focuses on that K-12 timeframe, the K-12 community. And so, he did a great job presenting. He even took a selfie and said you’re all in my KudosWall now.
Craig: He made it. Now, New Hampshire High Tech Council, you guys do a lot of things during the year. You have various benefits for businesses. Why don’t we just take a couple of minutes here and run through that with us as well, Michelline?
Michelline: Oh sure, thank you for that. We do a number of events where we really celebrate entrepreneurs and we have an entrepreneur of the year coming up as product of the year where we choose the biggest and brightest, newest, freshest refresh or new products going on in New Hampshire and people apply for that. But I think, maybe for your fans, what would be really interesting to know is we have a relatively new program called TechWomen/TechGirls and that is female technologist driven. And every month they have a program where they bring in women who have been pioneers in tech, who come in and on a very, very informal basis, present during a breakfast, and talk about what they learned on the way. And I mean you have leaders in hardware, you have advance manufacturers. We’ve had folks’ software who’ve gone global. And it’s a great way for people to network, but also get to know each other. And through that TechWomen/TechGirls, we also we have an ambassador week where we say, put a call out to volunteers, hey, do you have an interest in showing young kids, you know back to what you said, showing young kids what can be, in a world of tech, what a tech job could look like. And then we invade the schools. We mobilize. We send in about ninety to a hundred volunteers to go into the schools. So, we continuously have programs where we try to a lot of show and tell, and we invite students to everything that we do. We have a lot of sponsors. You say, I want to sponsor and I want some of it to go to scholarships for kids. So, we really feel that we’ve kinda stepped up our game in that area of being connected with them, young learners if you will.
Craig: Alright. You can find out more by going online as I’ve said a couple of times here, the New Hampshire High Tech Council, nhhtc.org. They are always open for businesses to join them, as they continue to grow and help promote high tech jobs, careers, and businesses here in the state of New Hampshire, in fact, throughout the Northeast as well. Michelline, anything else you like to add?
Michelline: I don’t think so. You just did such a great job. I couldn’t even do better than that. So thank you for the opportunity.
Craig: Alright, Michelline Dufort, thanks for being with us today.
Michelline: Thank you so much Craig.