Entrepreneurs looking to give back

On a Thursday in April, members of the newly formed Entrepreneurs Foundation of New Hampshire and their spouses gathered at the beautiful offices of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation in Concord to hear the hilarious and horrible behind-the-scenes story of Stonyfield Farm from someone who knows the tale as told from the inside – Meg Hirshberg, partner and spouse of Stonyfield founder Gary Hirshberg.Based on the nods, laughter and comments from Entrepreneurs Foundation members, Meg’s experience was not uncommon and, in many cases, hit very close to home. The Entrepreneurs Foundation of New Hampshire was formed by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation in partnership with a handful of New Hampshire-based entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and professional services providers who now serve as the organization’s advisory committee: Jesse Devitte, managing partner at Borealis Ventures; Matt Pierson, chair of the New Hampshire High Tech Council and of Web services startup JitterJam; Jim Cook, partner at Cook Little Rosenblatt and Manson; Mark Prestipino, former president and chief executive of Scribe Software; and Jeremy Hitchcock, chief executive of Dyn Inc.A former New Hampshire resident (but now carpetbagger from Maine), I was asked to join the committee, and Shari Landry represents the Charitable Foundation.The idea behind the initiative – which is part of nearly a dozen such organizations located primarily in city centers in the United States and abroad – is to engage entrepreneurs in philanthropic efforts for the benefit of their home communities.

Entrepreneurs from businesses of all sizes and sectors are invited to commit an early allocation of stock, shares, profits or net proceeds from their growth businesses to the Entrepreneurs Foundation initiative. Later, when the entrepreneur has realized his/her ultimate liquidity event (sale, IPO, etc.), the funds are used to invest in organizations and activities that will improve the quality of life throughout the target community.

In other regions where Entrepreneurs Foundation affiliates operate, these early gifts have amounted to many millions of dollars that have a direct impact on the communities that have helped to support the entrepreneur’s success.

In New Hampshire (one of the only statewide Entrepreneurs Foundation affiliates), participation delivers more than just the “feel-good” of knowing you may be able to give back. The EFNH group is working to create vibrant social networks among its members and affiliates, creating unique opportunities for shared connection – based on shared giving – that result in friendships and business relationships that might not have formed if not for the common values embedded in membership.

The event with Meg Hirshberg was the first of what are expected to be many social events in which members will be invited to participate. The Entrepreneurs Foundation will enhance these in-person networking opportunities with online connection tools, facilitated through newsletters, social media, e-mail, etc. While there are many networking organizations that bring members together with common interests, none has quite the same compelling blend of business and shared values.

Members in the group represent multiple sectors and various disciplines. This rich array offers a distinctive cross-section of New Hampshire and presents an opportunity for those working in the state to collaborate for the benefit of themselves, the business community and ultimately the recipients of Charitable Foundation grants funded by successful Entrepreneurs Foundation member ventures.

The new foundation will conduct a series of breakfast meetings that give prospective members a chance to hear how it works and why its members chose to be part of this network and emerging community.

The Entrepreneurs Foundation is organizing these morning info sessions throughout the state, with plans for a breakfast in the Seacoast on June 18 and intro events in Nashua and the Upper Valley in the fall.

Sign up for the blog feed at the foundation’s Web site (efnewhampshire.com/atom.xml) and/or follow EFNH on twitter (twitter.com/efnh).Contact Shari Landry (sl@nhcf.org) to talk about how you can join.

Michael Gurau is president of Clear Innovation Partners, a Maine-based firm formed to catalyze and sustain innovation and entrepreneurship in rural and urban economies. He can be reached at mg@clearinnovationpartners.com.