In the early 1970s, Ted Ristaino was an English major at Holy Cross about to graduate, with “no clue,” he says, of what his future held (aside from plans to marry his girlfriend Christine the week after graduation).
So just about to head out into the “real world,” he went into the Holy Cross placement office, looking for some direction. There he met Professor Bill Wetzel, visiting from UNH to talk to prospective students about going to the Graduate School here in Durham.
It was a fateful encounter that would give Ted professional direction and create a lasting relationship between the Ristainos and Wetzel for decades to come.
Wetzel encouraged Ristaino to check out the MBA program at the business school at UNH. A few weeks later, the Ristainos took a drive up and fell in love with the campus, the Seacoast and the state. Ted enrolled in the two-year MBA program and graduated with his MBA in 1975.
“None of us get where we are by ourselves; at my age you end up looking back and thinking about the mentors who helped you. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Bill Wetzel,” Ted said recently.
As Ted and Christine were building their family and careers, they stayed in touch with Wetzel. After Ted opened his own business, Yankee Equipment Systems, in 1988, Wetzel served on the board of the business as a trusted advisor for about two decades. “With Bill’s wisdom, knowledge and guidance, our company grew and flourished,” says Ted.
Ted says his time at UNH was “critical to who and where we are.
“Bill provided me with the footing on which to build a well-balanced, stable life,” says Ted. “He made a tremendous difference in my life, my family’s life and the lives of the many people who were stakeholders in our business.”
Christine says their bond with Wetzel had an impact on them both. “He really opened the doors of thought, guided you along the path … he guided us along a path of starting a business,” she says.
Wetzel died in 2018, but his legacy lives on, and his impact is honored by the Ristainos through the William “Bill” Wetzel Scholarship, which they created with a gift to UNH recently.
Wetzel was a professor of management at UNH and founding director of the Center for Venture Research here. It was Wetzel who first coined the phrase “angel investors” in 1978, as part of a pioneering study on how entrepreneurs raised seed capital in the U.S.
During his time at UNH, Wetzel held the Forbes Professor of Management Chair and received numerous awards, including the Paul College Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2017, the New Hampshire High Technology Council Lifetime Creative Vision Award in 1993, the Ernst & Young New England Entrepreneur of the Year, and others.
The UNH scholarship provides merit-based support for students in Paul College, especially those who are interested in angel investing and who are members of the Rines Angel Fund.
The Ristainos hope the students who receive the scholarship emulate their own experience as students. “I always considered myself a grinder — I was not the smartest person in the class, but I was a very hard worker,” says Ted. “I hope students who receive this scholarship are the ones that nobody else can outwork and the ones who stay focused and use the gifts they have to the best of their abilities.”
The inaugural recipient of the scholarship is Jason Plant ’23 of Sanbornton. A business administration major with a focus on entrepreneurial studies, Plant was an honors student actively involved on campus. He served as head principal for the Rines Angel Fund, which has students acting as real-world angel investors backing exceptional New England entrepreneurs.
Plant is a fitting recipient to represent the influence that Wetzel’s research had in the fields of entrepreneurial practice and public policy in an era when that was not as commonplace as it is today.
“Bill was legitimately interested in a student’s well-being both as a student and as an individual human being, and in them becoming all that they could be,” says Ted. “That’s why he taught, that’s why he mentored and guided so many students, regardless of what field of interest they had.”