Keene Locale Hero: Mary Ann Kristiansen
About this series: Meet our Local Heroes, a special band of folks dedicating their lives to making things even better in the great Granite State places they have chosen to live and work and play.
Rich with history, scenic views, good eats and classic New England architecture, Keene may be known as a college town, but it is also part hidden gem for the outdoorsman and local shopaholic, and part innovative hub for Granite State business owners thanks to the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship.
Located at 25 Roxbury St., the center opened its doors to the community in 2006 thanks to the vision of founder and executive director Mary Ann Kristiansen after she saw a need to support the successful startup and growth of local small businesses from experiencing a gap in her own startup experience. “I moved to Buckminster (-Kingsbury) Farm in Roxbury in 1991 and started building a home-based soap-making business,” says Kristiansen. “Through my soap-making, gardening and farming contacts, I noticed that there was a shortage of markets and a shortage of business skills for local producers to succeed in those markets. I started the Hannah Grimes Marketplace in 1997 to provide a market for local products and to provide business support for the makers of those products. The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship was founded in 2006 to support the growth of a wider range of size, stage and sector of local businesses.”
The center provides the space, tools and connections that innovative entrepreneurs need to build strong businesses, thriving local economies and vibrant communities in the Monadnock Region through a business incubator program, coaching, workshops and a variety of programs. The hope? To create a broader vision of a sustainable, thriving local economy and vibrant community, built upon the region’s heritage, culture, natural resources and the civic-minded entrepreneurial spirit of its people.
“The co-working space is wonderful and welcoming in itself, and people have loved using it the last few years for a break from working alone remotely, but all of our different offerings and opportunities for connection are what are really bringing people through the door,” says Kristiansen.
From workshops and specialized educational and training programs to peer networking and learning, Kristiansen and her team have created successful models as the “soil” for people across a range of industries to come together and create solutions that fill the gaps that are not being met in the community.
The Business Lab is one of the center’s most popular offerings. It is a fast-paced, interactive and collaborative program of seven classes held over seven weeks, designed to help entrepreneurs create, refine, implement and pitch their business. It covers the essentials of business strategy, finance and profitability, and marketing and sales to help entrepreneurs define the fundamental purpose of their business and the core value it offers to their customers.
“At the end of the seven weeks, we have a pitch night where you see the culmination of businesses being started, growing and evolving, as each person delivers their final ideas in front of friends, family and the broader community. It makes me want to burst with pride,” she says. “Each of these entrepreneurs are beaming with joy, surprised at themselves for what they’ve been able to do and create and for the connections they’ve made along the way. We are just there to help give them the vehicle to carry their dreams forward.”