New Hampshire – The Next Medical Manufacturing Hub?
Ian Wright posted on May 05, 2017 | 4836 views
Former textile mills of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in Manchester, NH.
Former textile mills of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in Manchester, NH.

I landed in Manchester Airport on a grey, drizzly Tuesday and was immediately reminded of the northern regions of my native Ontario, Canada. Driving through New Hampshire, I was surrounded by coniferous forests broken up by rivers and sheer outcroppings of the rock from which the Granite State takes its nickname. Small cities and towns dot the landscape, islands in a sea of green and brown.

Textile mills line the banks of the Merrimack River like skyscrapers laid on their sides. Once the site of the early days of the Industrial Revolution in America, these buildings now sport the logos of big-name tech companies like Autodesk and Texas Instruments.

New Hampshire is aiming for something of a revival after struggling with the offshoring of the textile, shoe making and small machining industries that made up its manufacturing base in the last century.


Revitalizing Manufacturing in New Hampshire

Taken on the trip from Manchester to the Upper Valley region. (Image courtesy of the author.)
Taken on the trip from Manchester to the Upper Valley region. (Image courtesy of the author.)

Speaking to representatives from both the state and local companies, I had the distinct impression that these efforts are catalyzed around two engineers held in near-Muskian levels of reverence: Dean Kamen in the south and Tillman Gerngross in the Upper Valley.

Best known as the inventor of the Segway, Kamen made headlines at the end of last year with a $294-million USD award from the US Department of Defense (DoD) for the Manchester-based Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI). The ARMI will develop new manufacturing techniques for repairing and replacing cells, tissues and entire organs for wounded service members.

Gerngross, a professor of bioengineering at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, is a bit like the Elon Musk of life sciences, having worked to establish five companies, including GlycoFi, Inc., which was acquired by pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. in 2006 for a record-setting $400 million. Two of his ventures—Adimab LLC, a drug-discovery company with partnerships with every major pharmaceutical manufacturer; and Avitide, a highly automated biopharmaceutical manufacturer—look like they could become even more successful.

So why is New Hampshire, a state that one government official confessed still struggles with awareness, such an apparent hotspot for medical manufacturing?

Representatives from Sunrise Labs, an engineering services company specializing in medical devices, told me it has to do with the state’s close proximity to major centers of healthcare and education, such as Dartmouth and nearby Boston.

The number of life science start-ups no doubt has something to do with it as well, the result of Dartmouth’s unique approach to the intellectual property (IP) generated by its students and faculty. 

The smoke stack of the Dartmouth College steam cogeneration plant is a reminder of New Hampshire's bygone textile manufacturing. (Image courtesy of the author.)
The smoke stack of the Dartmouth College steam cogeneration plant is a reminder of New Hampshire's bygone textile manufacturing. (Image courtesy of the author.)
In 2015, engineer and director of the Technology Transfer Office, Nila Bhakuni, implemented a new IP policy which grants start-ups full IP rights in exchange for a 4-percent founders’ equity in the company. True to the state’s anti-tax ethos, this policy is intended to eliminate the “taxes” of academic research, such as milestone payments.

“We want these companies to succeed,” Bhakuni told me. “So, we’ll get out of their way.”

Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, has a strong medical engineering focus, and roughly a third of its faculty have started their own companies—the highest rate in the country, according to Dean Joseph J. Helble. The school’s PhD Innovation Program is designed to help students develop their own start-ups, with an internship component that invites students to intern at a start-up, join an incubator or even found their own company.

“Even if you have a really cool technology, it can be hard to get investors to listen to you,” noted Laura Ray, a professor of engineering and co-founder of two start up companies of her own: Sound Innovations and Clarisond. That’s why the PhD Innovation Program aims to help engineering students identify the market value and application for their research.

The DRTC. (Image courtesy of Dartmouth Regional Technology Center.)
The DRTC. (Image courtesy of Dartmouth Regional Technology Center.)
New Hampshire’s business and academic worlds are bridged by the Dartmouth Regional Technology Center (DRTC), a private, non-profit organization with a 60,500-sqft technology incubator zoned for industrial use. The DRTC is currently home to 19 companies, including Avitide and FreshAir Sensor LLC, both of which conduct their manufacturing on-site.

Adimab was originally there, too, before moving down the street into its own facility.

Despite its innovative approach, the DRTC is surprisingly modest in its aims. “We’re not looking to become the next Silicon Valley,” said Trip Davis, chair of the board of trustees at the DRTC and CEO of FreshAir.

Still, between its picturesque landscapes, leaders like Kamen and Gerngross and a host of incentives designed to encourage new and existing companies—not the least of which is the state’s notable lack of sales and income taxes—I wouldn’t be surprised to see New Hampshire become an American medical manufacturing hub.

For more information on the Granite State, visit the New Hampshire Economic Development website.

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