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At the Western Mass. Developers Conference last Thursday, MassMutual President, CEO, and Chairman Roger Crandall announced that the corporation will be investing $6.5 million in initiatives to assist fledgling businesses in Springfield. This is a major step forward in the ongoing efforts to promote entrepreneurship and job creation in Springfield, and a commitment that could create considerable momentum in a city that needs some.
The company announced that it will create a $5 million Springfield Venture Fund (SVF) to invest in high-potential startups in Springfield, and also commit $1.5 million over the next three years to support the creation of a startup accelerator by Valley Venture Mentors (VVM), an entrepreneur-mentoring network in Springfield which will manage the program, and DevelopSpringfield, a nonprofit organization dedicated to driving development in Springfield, which will build out a physical location for the accelerator.
The VVM Accelerator, modeled after MassChallenge, will provide startups with the space, training, connections, and opportunities they need to succeed, while creating a pool of potentially investable candidates for SVF and other seed funds. Startups accepted into the accelerator will be competing for more than $200,000 in grants to be awarded at the end of the four-month program.
These two initiatives will help provide entrepreneurs with what they need most — access to capital, and access to the support that is usually necessary to help good ideas become sound, profitable business ventures.
To be realistic, these investments probably won’t start paying dividends, in terms of large numbers of jobs, for several years, if not decades, but they are important economic-development initiatives for a city that has been historically entrepreneurial, but not in recent memory.
Indeed, the City of Homes, also known as the City of Firsts (everything from the ice skate to the monkey wrench to the parking meter was developed here), hasn’t added to that list in some time. MassMutual’s significant investments may change that equation.
More importantly, though, they will help stimulate development of what has become the most valuable commodity in any city, region, state, or country: jobs. And we’ve said on myriad occasions and in many ways, this city can’t count on recruiting major employers, such as a casino, to create the jobs that are needed. There must be organic growth, such as the developments in the 19th and early 20th centuries that made Springfield a vibrant manufacturing center and a place where people wanted to live, work, and operate a business.
MassMutual, inarguably Springfield’s leading corporate citizen, should be lauded for recognizing the importance of new-business creation, and for making the sizable investments needed to create a much-needed spark in the city.