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Alpha Loft’s Founders Series comes to Durham

As part of Alpha Loft’s “Startup Tuesday” event, two UNH alumni spoke about their successes and challenges of starting their respective businesses in the Entrepreneurship Center (ECenter) in Madbury Commons. Based out of Portsmouth, Alpha Loft is a nonprofit economic development organization dedicated to helping founders of startups getting off the ground with locations in Durham, Portsmouth and Manchester.  Alpha Loft sponsors a series of events around the Southern New Hampshire area every Tuesday, bringing in founders of startup companies that have started in the seacoast and southern New Hampshire areas.

Jay McSharry, most prominently known for founding, starting and currently owning Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Cafe in Portsmouth and the Mexican restaurant chain Dos Amigos Burritos, and Charles Denault, founder of, a company that allows customers to schedule charter planes online, spoke in the ECenter Tuesday, Feb. 28. The CEO of Alpha Loft, Mark Kaplan, moderated the event.    

At this event, both businessmen spoke about their experiences in the world of entrepreneurs and also answered questions from the crowd. McSharry spoke in regard to his business successes since 2000, when he first opened Jumpin’ Jay’s.

“Opening Jumpin’ Jay’s was a sort of meeting a demand in the area. When people come to Portsmouth, since it’s a port town, everyone wants to eat the fish,”  McSharry said. “When I was looking around Portsmouth all of the fish seemed to be fried, I wanted to start something with pan-fried or seared fish, and it took off.”

McSharry also mentioned that he is involved in real estate as more of a “hobby,” as he develops and rents out multiple condominiums in the Portsmouth area.  He said he finds success in that business venture as well.

“I work with great partners and great people and that’s really the key to some of the success I had as well. Knowing people and knowing and, more importantly, liking the industry you’re in are essential to starting your own business and making sure it succeeds,” McSharry said.

Denault spoke to his experience working with developing his own business and its website, which was unlike anything he thought he would experience. He also claimed that the idea for his startup came to him through his love of aviation.

“I started with a hot dog cart, believe it or not, and it turned into a private jet startup throughout the years and here I am now. One of the hardest parts for me was figuring out how much time it would take to get this going,” Denault said.

Denault also said that he believed the startup would take at least a year or two to get off the ground, but he’s still facing many unexpected challenges.

“One piece of advice to students that I would give today is to plan to devote a lot of time to the startup because everything takes longer than planned,” Denault said. “It takes a lot of time, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Director of the ECenter, Ian Grant, said he  has nothing but praise for students who want to start their own company.

“My big spiel to students is that know and love what you want to do and stick with it. It will take time and it may not be easy, but it’s worth it in the end and I love seeing students achieve their goals,” Grant said.

Joshua Cyr, director of education and acceleration at Alpha Loft, also had advice for students who wished to start their own business.

“There are an incredible amount of resources for students right here in the area. Right here in Alpha Loft and the ECenter, all of it is free to students and we are resources willing to help. We are open to all majors, not just business as is commonly thought,” Cyr said.

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