UNHM’s Emerging Technology Center tackles business needs

UNHM program brings industry, students together to solve business problems

A 163-year-old Manchester mill building is now home to a center for innovation and possibility.

Launched in April 2013, the Emerging Technology Center at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester is an extension of the college experience for students and a resource for startups, small businesses and established firms in need of additional talent.

UNH Manchester Dean Ali Rafieymehr was the visionary behind the ETC. He saw it as an opportunity for students to get hands-on experience while also helping the business community.

Paul Bencal, director of the center, sees it 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 with 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,” says Bencal.

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 adviser with the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center, sees another aspect to the ETC. “It’s tempting for business owners, especially startups, to build their own website or have other technology needs where it may not be their area of expertise,” says O’Brien. “That’s where the ETC is a great resource for startups and small businesses.”

‘Secret weapon’

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.

He needed additional computer programmers to free-up his senior-level engineers so they could handle more complex projects.

“This is any startup company’s secret weapon,” says Byrne 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 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.

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 startup. “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.

For more information about the Emerging Technology Center, call 603-641-4384.

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