NEW HAMPSHIRE – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) held a virtual roundtable this week with New Hampshire business owners and entrepreneurial leaders to discuss the challenges facing startups and newer businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic and priorities to support them in the next legislative relief package.
Participants included NH Tech Alliance Executive Director Julie Demers and Senior Director of Startup Initiatives Josh Cyr; Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship Program Director Sara Powell; Portsmouth’s Helios Hockey Founder and CEO Bill Near, and Berlin’s Exile Burrito Founder and Owner Adam Hammill.
“It’s an extraordinarily difficult time for everybody in every kind of business but obviously startups and young businesses have particular challenges,” said Senator Hassan. “My goal…is helping people stabilize things through the economy, keep growing if they can – and there are some sectors of the economy that have been able to do that – but really trying to make sure that people can be safe and that their finances can be as stable as possible during what is an extraordinarily difficult and unprecedented time.”
Senator Hassan also discussed the importance of robust public health measures so that the economy can continue to reopen. “One of the things that needs to be available to everybody whether it’s school systems or small business or large business is we need a national public health strategy here that makes people confident that they can get the kind of testing and PPE and [contact tracing]…in a way that means everybody can understand what protocols should be, get good guidance, and then undertake them. It’s one of the things we keep pushing for,” said Senator Hassan.
Near underscored the need for a strong public health response. “Everything you mentioned about the ability to contact trace, test, and instill confidence and then quickly close loops around incidents of COVID I think plays into where people returning to work then returning to education then returning to youth sports, I certainly see priority there in that ordering. I think we need that certainly for youth sports, so that was one of the things coming into the call I’m a huge advocate of is getting the testing to a place where folks can feel confident and heavily lean into it in our return to life,” said Near.
Participants discussed some of the ongoing struggles that newer businesses are facing, with Hammill pointing to challenges he’s faced with accessing loans. He also raised longer-term concerns, stating, “It’s scary moving into the fall and to the winter without tourism.”
In addition, participants discussed the role of communication between businesses, incubators, and state and federal partners so that businesses have access to necessary support.
“We’re trying to figure out ways on our end to scale and deliver information and be able to spread resources and information statewide,” said Demers. “I certainly feel like we’ve been the conduit and first stop in most cases.”
Cyr added, “I think it’s interesting, I think we all learned really quickly to change our culture of not wanting to ask for help...There’s been a lot of referrals between us and the [Small Business Development Center] and other organizations within the state.”
Senator Hassan has long made promoting entrepreneurship and supporting innovative businesses a top priority. During her time as governor, she laid out and implemented her Innovate NH plan - including working to hold down the cost of higher education, increasing and making permanent the state R&D tax credit, and launching the award-winning Live Free and Start initiative.
As Senator, she introduced bipartisan legislation to double the refundable R&D tax credit for startups and extend it to more small businesses and has hosted an annual Innovate NH Entrepreneurship Forum. The first bill that Senator Hassan introduced in the Senate was the Reigniting Opportunity for Innovators Act, which would help provide student loan relief for entrepreneurs.