WORCESTER – Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash announced an $80,000 grant to the organization Worcester Roots yesterday, an award that will support the development of cooperative businesses and non-profits in the region. The grant was awarded as part of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s (MassTech) Entrepreneurship Mentoring Grant program, an effort that aims to develop strong mentorship ecosystems across the Commonwealth. During the roundtable event, which took place at Becker College’s Center for Global Citizenship, Secretary Ash spoke with graduates of Worcester Roots’ programs, who each highlighted the critical mentoring and resources they received, support that was critical to their success.
Founded in 2001 and incorporated in 2003, Worcester Roots is a “collective of youth and adult organizers on a mission to create opportunities for economic, social, and environmental justice.” The organization focuses on growing cooperative (co-op) organizations that are building “neighborhoods that are safe for living, working, and playing.”
“We were very impressed by Worcester Roots’ application and their co-mentorship model, and look forward to seeing their impact on the Worcester entrepreneurial and start-up community,” said Secretary Ash. “These grants are part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s efforts to bring economic opportunity to citizens across the Commonwealth. By supporting entrepreneurial mentoring, we’re empowering people to make their ideas real. An active local ecosystem will help entrepreneurs create sustainable businesses that contribute meaningfully to the economy.”
“Our organization is aimed at supporting innovative startups, in emerging tech sectors, but also the small business owners and cooperatives that surround those companies and make up a vibrant, sustainable local economy,” said Pat Larkin, Director of the Innovation Institute at MassTech. “This grant is designed to keep established co-ops growing and adding more jobs, while at the same time providing a pathway for those looking to get a new idea off the ground.”
The event also featured a roundtable with executives from Worcester Roots and program alumni who run cooperatives in Massachusetts, who highlighted their experience as entrepreneurs building cooperatives and as graduates of Worcester Roots programs.
“This support fills a much needed gap in our cooperative entrepreneurship work in Worcester,” said Matt Feinstein, co-director of Worcester Roots. “It will allow us to both match startup cooperatives with experienced mentors and train a team of peer mentors who have recently been through the startup process and can help guide the new social entrepreneurs.”
"Cooperatives are needed more now than ever because we're able to pool resources, particularly brain power, to take action and to hold each other accountable so that we're able to get more done,” says Dee Wells, co-founder of Future Focus Media Cooperative, a graduate from Worcester Roots’ co-op incubation program.
MassTech’s grant will help Worcester Roots expand its operations in four key areas:
- Launch improved mentoring and individualized support through their Worcester Co-op Business Academies, a 14-week comprehensive program that will incorporate business planning, cohort building, resource connecting, and mentoring that will take place in fall 2018 and 2019;
- Create new peer-to-peer mentor program within ‘Cooperation Worcester,’ a group of Worcester Roots grads from the 2013-2017 Co-op Academy classes and other support organizations;
- Develop resources for citizens looking to start cooperatives and for businesses seeking to convert to a co-op model, a critical tool that can save local jobs and support new growth; and
- Create stable markets through anchor mission purchasing agreements, assisting co-ops to develop tools they need to ensure sufficient capacity & growth plans to engage larger institutional contracts.
The grant follows Secretary Ash’s August 31st announcement of $160,000 in grants to two organizations, Valley Venture Mentors and Holyoke SPARK, that are boosting entrepreneurship across the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts. Each of these organizations submitted proposals in response to a public procurement which launched in March 2018 and closed in May. The funding for these grants came from the fiscal year 2018 (FY2018) General Appropriations Act. In 2014, MassTech announced support for three entrepreneur mentoring awards statewide, grants which were funded through the 2012 Jobs Bill. Several members of the Massachusetts legislature highlighted the importance of these grants to organizations in the Worcester area and beyond.
“Worcester Roots continues to have a positive impact on growing and strengthening the fabric of our local economy,” said Senator Michael O. Moore. “This grant funding will go a long way to support their mission, and to provide opportunities for our friends and neighbors in the community by promoting collaboration and innovation.”
“The work of Worcester Roots provides the community with several opportunities to come together and collaborate on green projects, creating job opportunities as well as effective grassroots organized initiatives,” said Representative James O’Day. “This grant is imperative for the continuous growth of Worcester Roots and to the Worcester community as a whole.”
“In today’s economy, creativity and thinking out of the box are required to thrive. Worcester Roots does this by bringing co-op resources and training to our community, while being focused on social equity and justice. Thanks to this MassTech grant, I’m hopeful that we’ll see the co-op model expand in Worcester to support emerging business and organizations in a new way,” said Representative Mary Keefe.