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Veteran Entrepreneurs Help Nonprofits Hone Narratives

  • Friends of New Hampshire Drug Courts President Ed Rajsteter receives feedback about his presentation at the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network in Hanover, N.H., on May 5, 2016. On the screen are booking photographs of Paul and Nicole, taken before they entered the Cheshire County Drug Court and successfully completed the program. Five non-profit organizations competed for a $25,000 grant voted on by an audience later in the day. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • During a workshop held at the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network in Hanover, N.H., on May 5, 2016, Greg DeFrancis, Associate Director and the Director of Education at the Montshire Museum of Science, gives a run-through of his presentation about the Tinkering Lab, an outreach program the museum would like to expand in New Hampshire and Vermont. In the foreground are scribble-bots, items made by students as part of the program. Five non-profit organizations competed for a $25,000 grant voted on by an audience later in the day. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Coach Nini Meyer, of Lyme, N.H., encourages non-profit officials to give a mission statement as part of their presentations at a workshop held at the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network in Hanover, N.H., on May 5, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ray Shedd, Director of Partnerships and Marketing for Positive Tracks, takes notes during a critique of his presentation at a workshop held at the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network in Hanover, N.H., on May 5, 2016. Positive Tracks and four other non-profit organizations were competing for a $25,000 grant, voted on by the audience in attendance at an event held later in the day. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Coaches Jake Reder, left, of Hanover, N.H., and Jenny Williams, of Norwich, Vt., give Friends of New Hampshire Drug Courts officials Donald Perlee, second from left, and Ed Rajsteter tips about their presentations during a break at the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network in Hanover, N.H., on May 5, 2016. Rajsteter is the organization's president and Perlee is their secretary. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • After practicing her pitch with a group of mentors, Family Place Executive Director Nancy Bloomfield makes a call from the entryway of the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network in Hanover, N.H., on May 5, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, May 15, 2016

Hanover — Ed Rajsteter, an organizer with the Friends of New Hampshire Drug Courts, stands before a dozen entrepreneurs seated around tables at the DEN Innovation Center in Hanover.

He’s ready to deliver a three-minute pitch on why his organization should receive a $25,000 grant to advance its work helping offenders in the state’s drug court program.

The entrepreneurs, all veterans from the Upper Valley startup scene, are there to give Rajsteter and four other finalists from area nonprofits competing for the grant pointers on how they can sharpen their presentations in order to win the funding.

Think of it as bunnies getting tips from sharks.

The participants — the bunnies — have been instructed by their “mentors” — the sharks — that they need to use their brief allotted time to explain the purpose of their organization, identify the specific problem they are trying to solve, illustrate the “innovative solution” to achieve it and show the “amplified effect” — both socially and financially — from the money they receive.

Modeled after the pitch competitions popular in the high-tech world, the recent AMP NH Awards at DEN was sponsored by the Entrepreneurs’ Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the statewide nonprofit that doles out some $30 million annually in grants and scholarships.

In addition to Friends of the New Hampshire Drug Courts, other finalists were social services provider The Family Place, of Norwich; the Montshire Museum of Science, also in Norwich; Positive Tracks, of Hanover, which encourages youth philanthropy through participation in athletic events; and The Moore Center, of Manchester, which supports individuals with developmental disabilities and brain disorders.

The finalists have shown up at around noon at DEN’s incubator-like offices — free snacks, cereal and beverages are always on hand — to rehearse their presentations. They will then adjust their pitches based on the feedback they get in time for an audience to vote a winner a few hours later.

“The challenge is to provide effective feedback that is actionable,” Matt Rightmire, managing director of venture capital firm Borealis Ventures, in Hanover, and chair of the Foundation’s Entrepreneur’s Fund, reminds the group around the table. “Let’s not overwhelm ourselves with formality,” he advises.

A retired sales and marketing executive, Rajsteter now volunteers with the nonprofit that supports the state’s drug court system by helping to fund incentive, education and training programs for people convicted of drug offenses. The support program began as the Friends of the Grafton County Drug in North Haverhill before it was rolled out to six courts across the state last year.

“Drug courts are a proven, cost-effective way of returning participants to society,” Rajsteter begins, a bit nervously and stiff, to the group.

Since nothing is supposed to persuade like statistics, Rajsteter reels off a few.

“Drug overdose is the leading cause of (accidental) deaths in this country — 50,000 a year,” he says. “People in New Hampshire convicted of drug offenses account for $1 million in medical costs and lost wages annually; “New Hampshire is ranked No. 3 in drug addiction mortality.” The recidivism rate of offenders enrolled in the drug court program drops from “70 percent to 30 percent.”

The Hanover event was one of three across the state sponsored by the Foundation’s Entrepreneurs’ Fund. Foundation staff culled five finalists for each event — the Hanover event was sandwiched between competitions in Portsmouth and Manchester — from 38 applications, according to Simon Delekta, a senior program officer with the Foundation.

“This goes way beyond the $25,000 award,” Delekta said. “The grant committee wants to know how the money (can) create an outsize impact, and the mentors help (the finalists) hone their pitch.”

The Family Place would use the $25,000 to help establish a volunteer program which, despite being in existence for 30 years, it has never had, according to Nancy Bloomfield, the executive director. A volunteer program, she said, would help the nonprofit keep a lid on costs, in addition to raising awareness in the community about what it does and, research indicates, spur donations.

The Moore Center’s Timothy McGinnin said he would use the money to hire a staff person to get out the word about the center’s pilot program to keep seniors “aging in place” at home, rather opting for the much costlier alternative of a nursing home. He estimates that would help the center attract 25 new clients a year, adding up to a total of $2.5 million annually in savings.

The Montshire Museum would use the award to explore how to “scale up” production of its “tinkering kits” to distribute across New Hampshire elementary schools. Greg DeFrancis, direction of education at the Montshire, shows off the kits, which include a small electric motor, battery, wiring and colored markers that students can assemble into a robotic drawing device. DeFrancis notes the typical user spends 61 minutes preoccupied with the kit, which is supposed to foster STEM learning, compared with an average of five minutes with the museum’s hands-on exhibits.

“That’s engagement,” he said.

Positive Tracks’ Ray Shedd said the organization would apply the funds to roll out “U23 Challenge” events that help youth organize athletic events to raise money for the charity of their choice. The U23 program provides advice, promotional support, an internet-based “fundraising platform” and matching donations to youth under 23 years old. Shedd said Positive Tracks has spent 18 months developing the program and hopes to have 10 U23 Challenge events launched in New Hampshire.

DEN, although largely seen as a networking hub for Dartmouth students to brainstorm startup ideas, nonetheless “supports all entrepreneurial-based ideas, including social ventures,” said Jamie Coughlin, director of entrepreneurship at the college, and wants to help foster, along with the Foundation, “nonprofit leaders and their innovative ideas for highimpact community development.”

During the preceding weeks, Rajsteter and the other finalists met with “mentors” — entrepreneurs in the Upper Valley tapped by DEN — to craft their pitches. The theory: Put together nonprofit executives with seasoned entrepreneurs who have gone through the drill when seeking funding from investors. The veterans could show the rookie entrepreneurs how to make the strongest argument for their cause.

“People who work in the nonprofit (field) tend to have big hearts and they like to see how their work impacts others,” said David DeLucia, chief executive of Lebanon-based ImmunNext, which develops compounds to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases. But they don’t always have a lot of experience in the hard realities of what makes a successful presentation to woo funders. People with their hands on the purse strings, DeLucia explained, want to see what kind of a “return” their money will bring.

“Entrepreneurs have practiced refining a compelling story to their investors,” said DeLucia, who estimates he has participated in hundreds of such pitches over his career, both to raise capital and market products. The mentors, he said, can help the nonprofit leaders perfect their “storytelling skills.”

More than halfway through his pitch, Rajsteter flashes before-and-after photographs of two program graduates, Nicole and Paul, on the overhead screen: The first photograph reveals their mug shots, in which they appear disheveled and dazed; the graduation photograph shows them flashing wide smiles, sporting haircuts and neatly dressed.

Message: Success story.

Rajsteter moves in for the closing.

“The funds generated by this grant would allow us to create two interest-free loan programs to register their car, unexpected expenses, or enroll in a class,” he affirms.

Runtime: 4 minutes and 7 seconds. That’s 67 seconds over the allotted three minutes.

Feedback begins immediately. The room picked up on Rajsteter’s nervousness.

“Just talk to us,” advises Nini Meyer, founder and president of Positive Tracks, the Hanover nonprofit which also is competing for the award that day, “When you relaxed you knocked it out of the park.”

“OK,” Rajsteter says.

DEN’s Coughlin suggests that Rajsteter needs to distill that the purpose of his organization into a couple evocative words: “transforms lives.” That would succinctly convey the nonprofit’s purpose, Coughlin says.

DeLucia thinks Rajsteter can more effectively communicate the “transform lives” message by strategically showing Nicole and Paul’s before-and-after photographs at key moments during the pitch.

“Show the mug shots when talking about the problem, and the graduation shots when talking about the program’s solution,” he recommends.

Rajsteter nods.

And the pitch was top heavy in statistics, the people in the room feel.

“There was a lot of data,” offers DeFrancis, himself a finalist for the award, whose run-through will follow Rajsteter’s. “We don’t need to get into the weeds. Then we can get on with the stories.”

Coughlin agrees, and points out Rajsteter probably can get under the time limit just by cutting out much of the data he presented. “You spent 1½ minutes on data,” he says.

That moves DeLucia to ask, “What numbers should be kept?”

Several member of the group reply in unison: “Recidivism.”

Rajsteter listens intently. He has about four hours to revise his pitch.

The finalists retire to different places in the room to revise their presentations.

The Family Place’s Bloomfield has found a cushioned sitting block and is working on her laptop, incorporating the feedback she has received from the group to strengthen her pitch. Her pitch went one minute and 10 seconds over the limit, so she’s cutting out some granular details about what the money would be used for. Each finalist is permitted three slides to flash on the overhead screen to accompany his or her presentation. Bloomfield’s slides were thought to be too wordy, which would make it difficult for the voting audience to read from their seats.

“I’m trying to make my slides less busy,” she explains, tapping at the keyboard.

The Moore Center’s McGinnin has also ensconced himself in the seating area to rework his presentation. The mentors suggested he recalculate the cost estimates seniors aging at home would save into annual figures from five-year totals to make it more graspable. He’s also taken the advice not to sound critical of the nursing home option, since people in the audience may have parents living there.

“I’m making it more clear as to what we would use the money for,” McGinnin said, explaining how the hired staffer would be calling upon “doctor’s offices, senior centers and mental health organizations” to bring the Moore Center’s aging-in-place program to their attention.

Shedd, from Positive Tracks, is huddling with his mentors Peter Milliken, a partner in the Hanover investment firm Tuckerman Capital, and Reese Madden, director of corporate marketing at Hypertherm, to rework his pitch to make the U23 Challenge concept more understandable to people who may not be familiar with the catchphrases of “social entrepreneurship”

One suggestion was to invoke the names of familiar charity athletic events that everyone will recognize. Shedd comes up with quick lines that he thinks will resonate: “How many people here have ever heard of the Prouty? ... Well, we provide a technology platform, one-on-one membership and matching dollars. … ”

DeFrancis, of the Montshire, has it relatively easy. His pitch ran only 10 seconds over the limit. “I wrote nine drafts,” he said, in consultation with DeLucia, his adviser. Still, it could use a little tightening, especially in explaining the rollout plan for the “tinkering kits.”

Rajsteter gets busy incorporating the suggested changes into his presentation in the hope the pictures tell the story.

He shifts the “before” mug shots of drug court enrollees earlier into the pitch and gives it a personal touch by announcing “I want to introduce you to Nicole and Paul.” He holds off showing their inspiring “after” graduation photos until the end of the pitch: “This is Nicole and Paul after graduation in January. … Our mission is to (turn) people like Nicole and Paul” into “productive members of society.”

People begin to stream into the DEN offices at 6 p.m. Coughlin is expecting about 70. A small bar serving wine and beer has been set up and servers mill about through the crowd serving canapes. The men are invariably dressed in the high-tech casual chic uniform of open collar shirts.

Rightmire, the Hanover venture capitalist and chair of the Foundation’s Entrepreneurs’ Fund, bids the guests to take their seats. Voting clickers are passed out on orange lanyards among the audience.

Rightmire explains how the finalists have been instructed to develop a pitch that “demonstrates to us how that $25,000 can turn into a $50,000 impact on the community,” and assures the audience that “telling a story in three minutes is not as easy as it looks.” He calls “really impressive” the ability of the finalists to have successfully “integrated constructive criticism in real time” into their pitches during dry runs earlier in the day.

Once again the finalists run through their presentations. By the third time that day, everyone is smoother, more confident. The pitches have been pruned to their required length.

Voting takes only a few seconds. The winner is Greg DeFrancis with the Montshire Museum of Science and its program to distribute “tinkering kits” to grade-school students in the state. Like contestants at a beauty pageant, the other finalists all applaud and hug each other, happy for winner nonetheless.

DeFrancis says the award will provide seed money to launch the program that will get the kits into the hands of 15,000 grade-school students — money for legal services, procuring a manufacturer, how to “get the kits to market.”

“The market itself will pay for it,” he said.

 

John Lippman can be reached at 603-727-3219 or jlippman@vnews.com.