Meet Emmett Soldati, golden boy of Somersworth, entrepreneur, recent graduate of the London School of Economics, and son of a well-known Portsmouth lawyer. He has been central to the subtle identity shift the town of Somersworth has undergone in the last few years. “I grew up in the historic district, known as The Hill,” Soldati says, “and the people that I grew up with, I am still best friends with.”
Soldati opened the Somersworth bar and bread shop we are standing in, with two of these friends. He says he finished his masters and had a dream of opening first a tea shop, then a bread shop. He says most people would move to a city to save money, deferring their dreams until they are forgotten.
But Soldati says here in Somersworth “there’s cheap rent, there’s empty storefronts, and there’s a hungry thirsty crowd that will patron[ize] a business.”
Soldati’s tea shop was more successful than he expected, and a couple years later, he and his childhood friends are here, getting their bar and bread shop-off the ground.
It’s a hip place that draws a younger crowd with local brews, homemade pretzels and sandwiches. Tonight, Soldati is co-hosting a new monthly event called Startup night.
“ Here we go, here we go, take the stage,” he tells participants, who stand wrapped around a make-shift stage.
The idea is to foment local entrepreneurial spirit, in the style of pub-trivia. Soldati’s cohost, Serena Galleshaw of Seacoast Local, thought of it after participating in a similar but weekend-long event in Portland, called Startup Weekend.
First, the twenty or so participants here at the bar pitch an idea for a local startup. Next, the crowd votes the 20 ideas down to three: a nonprofit downtown hangout space for teens; a website that helps people “rent a relative” for company and assistance; and a local stock exchange.
Those three are assigned teams, and the teams write up a mini-business plan. As the clock ticks, teammates scribble logos and budgets on whiteboards. They pitch their ideas again, and multiple winners take home multiple prizes. The winner this time was Stephanie Lynn’s “#Hangout,” – the nonprofit hangout space for teens.
But the truth is, everybody wins with this kind of activity. Participants are entertained, Emmett Soldati’s got a crowd of beer-drinking, food-eating locals at his brand-new bar at 9:30 on a Thursday night, and creative juices are flowing in a sleepy town with empty storefronts.