‘Intrapreneur Challenge’ Launches to Increase PPE Supply in Massachusetts

Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Innovation Institute at MassTech



‘Intrapreneur Challenge’ Launches to Increase PPE Supply in Massachusetts

WESTBOROUGH, MA – Today, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts launched a new project to boost the number of homegrown companies able to manufacture personal protective equipment or PPE, a critical need in the response to the COVID-19 crisis. The COVID-19 Intrapreneur Challenge will be managed by Lever, a North Adams-based business accelerator and innovation support organization that will activate, connect, and focus companies as they pivot production capabilities to produce the materials necessary to combat the pandemic. The new effort will be supported by a $250,000 grant from the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the organization managing the Massachusetts Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (MERT).

The Intrapreneur Challenge builds on the successes of the MERT effort, which has helped 27 Massachusetts companies produce over 3.5 million pieces of PPE to date. The new accelerator programs will provide additional companies with the support and resources to pivot their operations to manufacture PPE, giving them access to a wide range of experts and proven entrepreneurial methods.

For the first challenge, Lever will select established Massachusetts companies to participate in the five-week program, working virtually with ‘intrapreneurs’ at each firm, teams at each company that will lead their company’s pivot to produce general-use face masks.

“We have been inspired by the companies that have stepped up during these challenging times through participation in the Manufacturing Emergency Response Team, and this Intrapreneur Challenge is the next logical step to continue the success to date,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. “We applaud Lever for demonstrating its leadership through this innovative approach to activating and focusing businesses who will be critical to increasing the supplies of necessary protective equipment.”

“Lever has a strong track record of sparking leadership and innovation among mature firms through the intrapreneur model,” said Carolyn Kirk, MassTech executive director and a leader of the MERT. “Lever is well positioned to support the MERT, helping activate a broader network of Massachusetts firms and providing the necessary support to accelerate development of these critical supplies.”

Lever has pioneered a unique approach to supporting innovation at mature companies through intrapreneur challenges, which spark the type of leadership, innovation, and creativity typically associated with nimble startups, allowing established firms to "innovate from within." Challenge finalists will be matched with appropriate innovation centers, experts, and mentors to help them develop and deliver products that meet COVID-19 requirements and regulations. The program will culminate with a virtual pitch event and a $25,000 prize awarded to the winner, helping kick start the commercial development of their face masks.

"The first round of this program will accelerate Massachusetts companies toward manufacture of general use (non-medical) masks. Lever will help them optimize product-market fit, build a solid business plan, and develop robust go-to-market strategies," said Jeffrey Thomas, Executive Director of Lever.

All Challenge participants will be given access to manufacturing know-how, various domain experts, raw material providers, and prospective large-scale purchasers of face masks. Participating intrapreneurs will develop and test face mask prototypes, apply entrepreneurial methods including customer development, and pitch their results and business plans to the panel of expert judges.

The model mirrors the support provided under the MERT effort, which was launched by the leaders of the Baker-Polito Administration’s Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative and led by the MassTech Collaborative. MassTech has selected Lever to run this expanded state-wide effort to allow more companies to participate in the state's PPE response.

The first round of the Challenge will be opened to the Massachusetts companies that have registered with the MERT program as of May 15, 2020 and expressed the intention to pivot to making general use face masks.

The application process will be managed by Lever, with final submissions due by Friday, June 12th, with selections made by June 19th. To participate, companies and their intrapreneur teams must be based in Massachusetts, must have been in operations for at least 3 years with annual revenues greater than $500,000 per year, and must be registered with the MERT effort as of May 15, 2020. To learn more about the program visit https://innovation.masstech.org/intrapreneur.

Launched in early March, the MERT is a coordinated effort comprised of members from academia, industry, and government to address the urgent need for PPE to support healthcare workers on the front-lines of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 response.  Since March, the MERT has received outreach from over 700 companies, including nearly 450 from Massachusetts.

In addition to guidance and support for pivoting manufactures, the MERT has also provided direct grants to boost PPE production, including more than $9.5 million in grants announced by the Baker-Polito Administration on May 21, 2020. Awards were made to 15 Massachusetts manufacturers that are producing critical items such as masks, gowns, ventilators, swabs, and testing materials, and the capacity to test them, part of $10.6 million in funding made possible through a partnership between the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, MassTech, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, Commonwealth Corporation, and the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative.



About the Innovation Institute at MassTech

The Innovation Institute is the entity that advances a core mission of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative: improving the conditions for 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 states understandings of unmet needs and opportunities in the states 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/.


About Lever

Founded in 2014, Lever’s mission is to develop a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Berkshire region. It supports entrepreneurs with expertise, work space, an investment fund, research, mentors, and access to talent. Lever has helped launch dozens of companies that have attracted more than $7 million in equity investment. To date, Lever-supported companies have created more than 150 jobs. Lever’s intern program has placed more than 115 college students in paid internships at Berkshire County companies, many of whom have gone on to enter the permanent workforce here.                           


Brian Noyes, MassTech Collaborative

noyes (at) masstech (dot) org