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Getting technical
NH High Technology Council opens submissions for Product of the Year

08/07/14



 A virtual universe viewed through a powerful globe-like dome, created by Nashua company Sky-Skan. 

A mask for medical purposes that uses new technology to eliminate 99.9 percent of germs, made by Hampton-based Foss Manufacturing.
A software system used by most major hotels to handle all their video services designed by Single Digits of Bedford.
These are only a few past winners of the New Hampshire High Technology Council’s Product of the Year awards. Now in its ninth cycle, the High Tech Council has opened up submissions to the 2014 contest.  
The 31-year-old nonprofit established to expand the state’s tech-driven economy by building partnerships, enhancing workforce skills and knowledge, and shaping public policy is looking for new or substantially upgraded New Hampshire-based products that were developed within the last year, solve unique problems and offer opportunity for growth. 
Those may sound like steep requirements, but every year anywhere from 12 to 20 large and small companies in the state’s growing high-tech community submit their work. 
“Sometimes we’ll have a startup with no revenue but what they believe is a really really good idea, and then we could have a company like Foss from a couple years ago,” High Tech Executive Director Matt Cookson said.
Cookson’s favorite winning product is the first one, from 2006. Nanocomp created a carbon nanotube-based fabric that was extremely light and durable. In 2006, Nanocomp was in a fairly early stage. It had just begun commercializing novel lightweight materials that had promise for body armor and the prospects of replacing copper with fabric-like conductor materials. 
“If you think about New Hampshire history, it was built on textiles, and here we were 100 years later entering a 21st-century textile technology we think is destined to change how we make products,” said Pete Antoinette, founder and CEO of Nanocomp.
Nanocomp had been a member of New Hampshire High Tech Council and thought it would be a tremendous honor to be considered or even win. Since former Gov. John Lynch handed the company its award, Nanocomp has close to quadrupled in size, and it’s moving from an 11,000-square foot space to a 60,000-square foot facility in Merrimack. It is commercializing on a much larger scale and expects to double its employee base by next year. 
“[The competition] gave our company and products enormous press and visibility around the state and region,” Antoinette said. “It helped in terms of recognition. It helped when we go out recruiting. Even today, people in the New Hampshire community know we were the inaugural winners.”
The state’s tech industry is growing, as evidenced by the more than 200 companies that are members of the NH High Tech Council. 
“Our membership is at peak these days,” Cookson said. 
The backbone of the community is made up of what Cookson called “serial entrepreneurs,” locals who have started several companies during the course of their careers.
“At the same time, we don’t produce a lot of graduates in-state in the areas of engineering and computer science, so a lot of the talent has to be recruited from out of state,” he said.
That recruitment can be challenging for a couple reasons, Antoinette said. New Hampshire has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, which can deter companies that tend to use a lot of it from coming in. Also, because New Hampshire is better known for tourism than for technology, it is difficult to get the word out to the rest of the nation that New Hampshire is a center of excellence for tech, especially when competing against large urban states with high-tech bases, like Colorado, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., Cookson said. 
Applications for the Product of the Year award can be submitted until Sept. 26. Submissions will then be judged by a panel of experts — local professionals of hardware, software, finance, business planning and marketing. After the semifinalists are announced, they will present to the judges, and the finalists competition will be Nov. 13 at the Manchester Country Club. 
“That’s a very fun event,” Cookson said. “They’ll typically set up booths, then give seven-minute presentations, and the audience will then vote.”
The judging is 50 percent judges and 50 percent real-time audience input. This year the High Tech Council will be using smartphone polling technology. 
“It’s fun to allow the audience to engage at that level,” Cookson said. “We have not used this technology  yet. We’ve used clickers before, but given the number of people who have smartphones, this would be a good time to switch over — since we are the tech competition.”
 
As seen in the August 7, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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