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Nonprofit hopes to connect US startups

When Will Fuentes planned an extended business trip to Seattle last year, he tapped into the local chapter of a national networking group there. Within hours, Fuentes, who founded the Arlington, Va., software company Lemur Retail, had secured a workspace, introductions, and even restaurant recommendations via the group, the start-up America Partnership.

“Before Startup America flew out there, I already had five or six meetings set up with potential clients and other key contacts, as well as one potential acquirer,’’ Fuentes said.

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A couple of years ago, entrepreneurs would have needed several trips to make similar connections outside their own cities. Even in this era of social networks and venture conferences, start-ups are still surprisingly disconnected on a national level.

Startup America, a nonprofit with an all-star cast of deep-pocketed backers, is trying to bridge the gap. The organization, which was started in January 2011 as the brainchild of AOL co-founder Steve Case, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, wanted to bring private sector support to start-ups — without financial strings attached.

Startup America’s initial focus was to provide support to start-ups through deals on goods and services, like 40 percent off FedEx shipping and free airline flights. But the group quickly realized that start-ups needed more practical help, like sharing best practices and networking.

Soon after the partnership’s start, entrepreneurs around the country starting contacting Startup America, asking how they could create their own networks and reach out to counterparts in other states.

‘‘We’re helping to stitch together all these parts,’’ said Scott Case, a founder (no relation to Steve Case).

Taking cues from the entrepreneurs, Startup America has turned its attention to building such a network. Nearly 12,000 members are affiliated with local Startup America initiatives in 30 states. The partnership expects to add another 10 states this year.

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