Dartmouth College: An Innovation Hub in Northern New England

2/17/09

It takes about two hours to drive to Dartmouth College from the Boston area—not nearly as convenient as the 15- or 20-minute trip that many of the area’s venture capitalists can make between their firms and Harvard or MIT. Nevertheless, some local VCs make the trek to Dartmouth’s Hanover, NH, campus on a regular basis.

Why? The Ivy League school has churned out some promising startups in the life sciences and high-technology arenas—and for many VCs it’s also the good old alma mater. Yet the goings on at the startups and prolific academic labs in Hanover and nearby Lebanon, NH, often fly under the radar of the media in Boston. So Xconomy (well, I) made the journey to Dartmouth on President’s Day to catch up with some of the key players in the area’s innovation ecosystem. (Read on for a list of the some of the figures, companies, and institutions that make Dartmouth a hub of innovation in northern New England.)

“Dartmouth is a small school relative to the Harvards, MITs, and Stanfords of the world, but on a per capita basis it tends to be a pretty good source of entrepreneurial activity and innovation—particularly out of the engineering school and the medical school,” says Philip Ferneau, managing director and co-founder of Hanover venture firm Borealis Ventures.

In fact, the Boston area owes Dartmouth for providing the talent and/or technology behind several of its growing companies. Take EnerNOC (NASDAQ:ENOC), a Boston-based provider of hardware, software, and services to help institutions reduce their energy consumption and costs, which was co-founded by CEO Tim Healy and president David Brewster while they were students at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business in 2001 (We wrote about EnerNOC’s deal with the city of Boston recently). And Avedro, a Waltham-based startup developing an incision-free vision-correction procedure, was spun out of labs at Dartmouth’s engineering and medical schools.

So what are some of the key pieces of the Dartmouth innovation puzzle? Here’s my list, based on interviews with Borealis’ Ferneau and others in the area.

Alumni — It never hurts to have connections, and Dartmouth has many in the business community through its alumni. For example, Terry McGuire, co-founder and managing general partner of Polaris Venture Partners in Waltham, and John Ballard, an entrepreneur who founded the angel group Angeli Parvi, are Dartmouth alumni who have invested time and money in startups at the college.

Borealis Ventures — The venture firm takes a special interest in investment opportunities north of Boston and specifically at Dartmouth, says Ferneau. He co-founded the firm in 2001 after getting his MBA from Dartmouth, where he has an inside track on technologies under development.

Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network (DEN) — Gregg Fairbrothers had decided to spend his golden years near his alma mater after a career in the oil business, he says, but he wound up … Next Page »

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  • Alex

    Interesting article – but you should definitely give the Tuck School (Dartmouth MBA program) more prominent credit for the recent surge in e-ship emanating from Hanover:

    * GlyCoFi’s original business plan & fund-raising was led by Michael Horvath, a Tuck professor (and former co-founder of Kana Communications)

    * Avedro (fka ThermalVision) was launched out of Horvath’s entrepreneurship class at Tuck in 2002 and co-founded by two Tuck students (Ned Coletta & Preble Jaques)

  • TUG

    While Tuck has played an important role in advancing entrepreneurship at Dartmouth i’d like to state for the record:

    As the co-founder of GlycoFi I know for a fact that Dr. Horvath neither “led” the original business plan nor did he lead the original fund raising – That credit goes to my co-founder Charles Hutchinson who in fact led both of those effort. Financing from several VCs was secured long before Michael Horvath was hired.