WESTBOROUGH – The Innovation Institute at the MassTech Collaborative has awarded grants to three organizations to boost the development of regional startup communities. The $500,000 in grants from the Strong Entrepreneur Ecosystems program will allow the Downtown Northampton Association, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation, and Worcester’s Venture Forum to each drive more openness and collaboration among entrepreneurs, government, academia, nonprofits, and anchor institutions in each region, uniting organizations that welcome diverse innovators and encouraging them to start and scale companies.
The Strong Entrepreneur Ecosystem grant program was launched in April 2002 to provide regions with funds to design and implement entrepreneur-led economic development strategies that put local founders at the heart of development initiatives. Organizations were selected to develop strategic planning grants, receiving an initial $25,000 pilot grant to convene advisory groups of local entrepreneurs and community stakeholders to understand the unique needs of entrepreneurs in their regions.
Common themes emerging from the planning phase were the lack of awareness about the types of local business resources available to entrepreneurs and the desire for entrepreneurs to be able to connect and learn from each other, feedback which led to development of strategic plans which were then reviewed again and selected for larger grants through the program. Each grantee will use the expanded awards to address these and other challenges unique to their communities.
“We need to do everything we can to support entrepreneurs in Massachusetts and provide them with the resources they need to grow and succeed,” said Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao. “These grantees have done great work to build excitement and engagement from community organizations that are ready to support the growth of entrepreneurs in their regions and help them get their ideas to market, including by providing matching funds that will leverage the state’s support.”
“The Innovation Institute is grateful for the role that entrepreneurs play to ‘re-image’ the future of local economies,” said Patrick Larkin, Program Executive at the MassTech Collaborative and Director of the Innovation Institute at MassTech. “Communities thrive when you have a mix of successful businesses. These grantees each understand the resources in their backyards that will help entrepreneurs get off the ground and ensure startup founders know where to go when they’re ready to launch their idea.”
Details on the three awarded projects are included below:
|Grantee:||Downtown Northampton Association (DNA)|
|Focus area:||Northampton, Mass. and surrounding towns|
The award to the Downtown Northampton Association will strengthen the community of female entrepreneurs in the greater Northampton area through the creation of a new entity called “The Sphere” to provide a network of support built by and for female entrepreneurs in Northampton.
The Sphere will be a cooperative effort led by DNA, The Community Classroom, and several local entrepreneurs. Features of The Sphere include virtual resources and in person events that help female founders navigate their entrepreneurial journeys while addressing their unique challenges.
DNA will also unite the community of female founders through a “strengths and skills database” in which business owners volunteer to help peers address various business weak spots.
|Grantee:||North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation|
|Focus area:||27 cities and towns surrounding Fitchburg, Leominster, and Gardner|
The grant to North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation (NCMDC) aims to strengthen the startup community among the region’s production-based and advanced manufacturing companies. As manufacturing represents a key industry to the region, NCMDC will use the grant to organize and promote the community resources available to support small-scale and artisan manufacturers, as well as larger advanced manufacturers selling beyond the local market to reach national and international customers.
Over the course of 18 months, NCMDC will raise awareness for existing support services and develop entrepreneurial education opportunities to help local business owners enhance managerial skills and increase innovation capacity within legacy and emerging businesses.
|Grantee:||The Venture Forum|
|Focus area:||Worcester, Mass.|
Venture Forum, an entrepreneur support organization in Worcester, aims to utilize their grant to become the “front door to entrepreneurship in Central Massachusetts,” by developing a comprehensive directory of resources available to entrepreneurs in the ecosystem. The directory will include the nearly 20 entrepreneurial support organizations, incubation and co-working spaces, a central calendar of networking events and the resources available. These include funding, mentorship, and more. The ultimate goal is to drive innovation and economic growth in the community.
Venture Forum has been a mostly volunteer-run network for entrepreneurs in Worcester for more than 30 years. With recent grant awards over the past three years, Venture Forum has hired an Executive Director and began formalizing its network to provide dedicated support to tech startups in Worcester through educational workshops and its marquee ‘5 Minute Pitch’ Competition.
In addition to facilitating connections within the ecosystem for all types of entrepreneurs, Venture Forum will continue to expand its offerings for tech startups by hosting entrepreneur speaker series, convening founder networking groups, amplifying local success stories outside of the region, and deepening the region’s investor network to attract diverse sources of capital to the ecosystem.
"As home to a significant number of female entrepreneurs, as well as Smith College and neighboring Mt. Holyoke College, Northampton has a history of not just welcoming but celebrating the female entrepreneurial spirit - but as we have found through research and conversation with the female entrepreneurs currently working in our community, there are significant resource gaps to fill and connections to be made and strengthened,” said Amy Cahillane, Executive Director – Downtown Northampton Association. “Access to funding and capital, work/life balance and continuing education can all be difficult for female-identifying entrepreneurs to find and use effectively. We have a wealth of experience and skill within our female entrepreneur community and small business support networks, but have lacked the capacity to bring this community and these resources together under one umbrella. This grant, together with the generous financial commitments, support and enthusiasm from our community, will allow us to purposefully build a collaborative network that directly addresses the specific needs of our female entrepreneurs.”
“Over the past few years since we announced our regional economic development plan, One North Central, we’ve been inspired by the region’s public and private sectors in building an economically sound and prosperous region capable of benefiting from future growth, of which our entrepreneurs are a key part,” said Roy Nascimento, President and CEO, North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation. “With this funding, we will connect our future business owners with our strong network of advanced manufacturers to achieve increased collaboration for mutual success.”
“Worcester already has much of the infrastructure in place to support a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, but we haven’t really been able to put all the puzzle pieces together to create a cohesive support system for entrepreneurs,” said Venture Forum Executive Director, Zachary Dutton. “The commitments from community partners and investment from the State will enable Venture Forum to lead the efforts to formalize collaborative relationships between the nearly 20 entrepreneur support programs operating in the city in a way that meets the needs of our diverse and growing community of entrepreneurs.”
“The Commonwealth has no shortage of brilliant entrepreneurs with world-changing ideas,” said Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury). “What often holds these big thinkers back is a lack of funding, access, and connections. This $200,000 grant from the Innovation Institute at the MassTech Collaborative will create opportunities for those who may not have otherwise had them and drive countless small startups forward, creating good quality jobs and meaningful work in communities that have been historically underserved in Central Massachusetts. I am thrilled to see what Venture Forum and these entrepreneurs do together.”
“Thank you to the Innovation Institute at the MassTech Collaborative for awarding $200,000 to the Downtown Northampton Association (DNA) as part of the Strong Entrepreneur Ecosystems program” said Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton). “Thank you for recognizing and supporting the efforts of DNA as they continue to shatter glass ceilings for all in western Massachusetts through their work.”
"The advanced manufacturing industry is the key sector to North Central's regional economy," said Senator John J. Cronin (D - Fitchburg). "This state grant will help build out public-private partnerships to empower entrepreneurs and create pathways for our residents to high-paying careers in a growing 21st century industry. This investment in North Central from the MassTech Collaborative is a big deal."
“I am so glad that the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation is being awarded these critical funds to help foster and grow a new generation of entrepreneurs and manufacturers,” said State Representative Natalie Higgins of the 4th Worcester District (Leominster). “Advanced manufacturing provides a great career for so many Leominster residents and this will ensure more opportunities for our residents and our region.”
"Thank you to the Innovation Institute at the MassTech Collaborative for your commitment towards promoting the manufacturing industry in North Central Massachusetts,” said State Representative Michael P. Kushmerek of the 3rd Worcester District (Fitchburg and Lunenburg B). “Manufacturers rely on organizations like the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation to grow and operate the businesses that serve and employ so many in the region. Investments like these in our community are vital to continuing to expand our growing economy."
"There is a sign at the local parking garage that welcomes visitors to Northampton, home of strong coffee and strong women. The Sphere has proven just how right that sign is,” said State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa of the 1st Hampshire District. “Having been able to see their work firsthand, I believe the future of small business and Northampton's Main Street is bright thanks to the work of these passionate, dedicated entrepreneurs. The Sphere is the ultimate example of women helping women to be successful, and I am thrilled to see them receive this funding."
The Innovation Institute at MassTech has invested over $3 million dollars and overseen a variety of programs to spur the growth of entrepreneurship and startup-support organizations statewide over the past decade:
- The Pathways to Scale initiative announced in July 2021, awarded over $750,000 in grants to five organizations to build and expand mentorship programs designed to help ‘scaling’ companies gain traction as they emerge from the early startup phase. Through the program, 69 scaling companies were supported through one-to-one mentor matching, peer networks, and entrepreneurial workshops, including 51 percent minority-led companies and 46 percent female-led companies.
- Partnered with Lever Inc., a North-Adams based accelerator, to run the MA COVID-19 Intrapreneur & Innovation Challenges. A series of three challenges helped 28 established companies adopt entrepreneurial mindsets as they pivoted operations to produce much-needed PPE and innovation solutions to challenges presented by the pandemic, followed by a fourth and final challenge which accelerated the innovations of six startups that had developed connective technologies inspired by the pandemic.
- In March 2018, launched an Entrepreneur Mentoring program to identify proposals to “support community-based entrepreneurship,” which awarded $340,000 in grants to boost programs on Cape Cod, in Worcester, and two Western Massachusetts organizations;
- Through the support of the 2012 Jobs Bill, boosted three statewide entrepreneur mentoring awards under the Massachusetts Innovation Mentoring Initiative.
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.