WESTBOROUGH - On Friday, July 24, 2020, a panel of expert judges declared Speakeasy Travel Supply of Cape Cod the winner of the first COVID-19 Intrapreneur Challenge, a competition focused on companies pivoting operations to produce general-use face masks. The Challenge featured pitches from 11 established Massachusetts companies, who pitched their designs and business plans aimed at addressing the ongoing public health challenge.
Speakeasy’s goal is to produce 5,000 masks by the end of the year. Founded in 2013 and a woman owned business, Speakeasy makes a wide variety of goods for savvy travelers. Since the pandemic began, the company has pivoted operations to make adjustable cotton face masks for medical workers and the general public. As the winning company, Speakeasy was awarded a $25,000 prize to boost production of their line of masks.
“There were so many great designs in this competition so we are honored and humbled to have been selected as the winners of the first COVID-19 Intrapreneur Challenge,” said Bethany Salvon, owner of Speakeasy. “This award will help us with the production of our product and lead to further creative PPE innovations.”
The inaugural Intrapreneur Challenge is part of a series of competitions supported by a grant from the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the public agency managing the Massachusetts Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (MERT). Additional Challenges will focus on other products and services necessary to support a healthy and safe reopening of the economy during the pandemic and beyond.
“We are proud of all of the creative solutions that came out of this Challenge,” said Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy, who provided closing remarks at the online event. “Engaging the Commonwealth’s manufacturing and innovation sectors has been a crucial part our effort to address the spread of coronavirus and to ensure that our citizens and front-line responders have the PPE they need. Challenges like this provide us new opportunities to harness the innovative ideas and talent of our manufacturing sector.”
Launched in early June, the Intrapreneur Challenge program is being managed by Lever, a North Adams-based business accelerator and innovation support organization. Though only one company was awarded the $25,000 grand prize, all companies accelerated their production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in Massachusetts by participating in the Challenge. While most challenges are focused on early-stage entrepreneurs, Lever has pioneered a unique approach to supporting innovation at more mature companies. By working with product development staff at these established firms, the intrapreneurs, participants were able to "innovate from within" and to spark the type of leadership, innovation, and creativity typically associated with nimble startups. Lever worked with these intrapreneurs to optimize product-market fit, build a solid business plan, and develop robust go-to-market strategies over the five-week program. Intrapreneurs were also given access to manufacturing know-how, various domain experts, and prospective purchasers of face masks.
“We congratulate Speakeasy for their winning proposal and thank all of the participants that took part in the first COVID-19 Intrapreneur Challenge,” said Carolyn Kirk, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. “While there could only be one winner, the design of Lever’s program means that each participant received valuable feedback on their product design or business plan, helping move their innovative masks forward.”
To support its economic development mission, Lever has produced Challenges since it was founded in 2014 and worked with scores of innovators across many sectors.
“We were impressed not just by their ingenuity and adaptability, but with their conviction to help support Massachusetts’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a remarkably strong group of intrapreneurs,” said Lever Executive Director Jeffrey Thomas.
The design from Diana Coluntino of the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub in Lowell was the first runner up in the Challenge. The other finalists in the competition included:
- Peter Berzin of Contollo Mass Manufacturing in Franklin;
- Thomas Kennedy of Industrial Polymers and Chemicals Inc. of Shrewsbury;
- Sue Chouinard of Dartmouth Tailoring Studio in Dartmouth;
- Kim Clark of National Fiber Technology, LLC in Lawrence;
- Tse-Ming Hsin of Advanced Biomedical Materials Inc. in Westford;
- Tracy Lehnen of Charles River Apparel in Sharon;
- Josh Levin of LympheDIVAs in Pittsfield;
- Margaret Reilly of Eileen Steward Clothing in Plymouth; and
- Aurelie Steere of CABBAG in Boston.
A second COVID-19 Challenge is now under way. Lever is working with intrapreneurs to help Massachusetts companies pivot their operations to produce innovations that support the reopening processes.
For more information, visit https://innovation.masstech.org/intrapreneur.
About the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative
The MassTech Collaborative is a quasi-public economic development agency that strengthens the competitiveness of the tech and innovation economy by driving strategic investments, partnerships, and insights that harness the talent of Massachusetts. The Innovation Institute is the division of MassTech that advances its core mission of innovation and cluster growth across the Commonwealth. Created in 2003, the Innovation Institute intervenes in the economy in the following four ways:
- Conducts research and analysis that improves the state’s understandings of unmet needs and opportunities in the innovation economy;
- Serves as convener and key strategic broker on the landscape;
- Manages high-value projects on behalf of the Commonwealth; and
- Makes strategic investments in support of innovation-based economic development.
For more information, visit https://innovation.masstech.org/.
Founded in 2014, Lever is an economic development non-profit focused on innovation-driven job creation. Lever supports entrepreneurs with startup expertise, an investment fund, research, mentors, and access to talent. Lever has helped launch dozens of companies that have attracted more than $10M in equity investment and have created more than 200 jobs. Lever supports existing companies by helping their intrapreneurs “innovate from within” using proven entrepreneurial methods for top-line revenue growth and job creation. Since 2018, Lever has produced 11 Challenges in health technology and COVID response, awarding more than $400,000 in grants to Challenge winners. Lever's 2020-2021 COVID Challenge series, developed in partnership with MassTech, helped dozens of mature Massachusetts companies pivot to PPE production and helped six startups develop innovations to support COVID recovery. Learn more at www.leverinc.org.