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Upper Valley Becoming Hub for Biotechs

Phil Ferneau and his colleagues met with numerous academics at Dartmouth College in 2001, while they were forming a venture capital firm focusing on New Hampshire startups. In his role as founding executive director of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business’s Center for Private Equity and Entrepreneurship, Ferneau advocated for turning academic research into sustainable businesses.

One of his first duties as he and his colleagues created Borealis Ventures was to persuade the college leadership that generating new firms was an appropriate role for a prestigious institution of higher learning. Dartmouth has embraced its role in establishing the groundwork for a cluster of bio-medical firms that have attracted global attention due to their impact on health sciences in the 20 years following.

The Upper Valley has established itself as a research and entrepreneurial hotbed that competes with cities like Cambridge, Massachusetts, and San Francisco. While Dartmouth’s presence in the Upper Valley played a key role in the hub’s development, other factors had to fall into place during the past two decades. “First, there was a background acceptance of entrepreneurship as a positive thing, which took years to establish,” Ferneau explained. Then you’ll need case studies and role models.

The tale of biotech’s expansion in the Upper Valley over the last two decades is mostly the storey of college academics, venture investors from companies like Borealis, and inspired entrepreneurs, whom Ferneau refers to as “Pillars of the Ecosystem.” Jake Reder, the creator of Celdara, a company that converts academic medical research into FDA-approved medications that can be commercialised, is one of those “pillars.” Tillman Gerngross, a Dartmouth professor and bioengineering entrepreneur, is the most powerful pillar.

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