Home 2007 September
At the United Way, Community Matters

It’s called the Day of Caring, and the name says it all.

The program was started in 1994 by the United Way of Pioneer Valley to involve area businesses and their employees in initiatives that would benefit the community and those who live, work, and play here in Western Mass. It started small, with only 12 companies and fewer than 80 employees. On Sept. 7, 1,700 employees representing 48 companies completed 209 projects in the latest Day of Caring.

Most of these projects were small in nature — spreading mulch in playgrounds, cleaning graffiti from park equipment, sweeping up litter, fixing bicycles, painting fences, for example — but together, they made a difference in the quality of life for many people.

This, in a broader sense, is how the United Way of Pioneer Valley works. It coordinates a number of programs and partners with dozens of area agencies and service providers to make a difference in the lives of more than 100,000 area residents, and make the Pioneer Valley an attractive place in which to live and work.

The United Way of Pioneer Valley plays a unique leadership role. It identifies specific community issues, coordinates the necessary resources to address those needs, and then follows up to measure the results of its funded programs.

The United Way and its board of directors are doing things in new ways — being conveners, enablers, and facilitators, all to address our community’s ongoing and ever-changing needs. The United Way strives to be proactive, not reactive, and to address needs before they become a crisis. It approaches old problems in new ways — its food and shelter programs do not just provide hot meals for the homeless, but encourage services that also provide a welcoming and safe haven, teach job skills, provide vocational training, help arrange job placement, as well as coordinate child care and transportation needs.

Other supported programs focus on areas dealing with children and young adults, the elderly, families, and health and wellness.

Many people think the United Way benefits and serves others, but not them or their families; they’re wrong. By connecting community resources to community needs, the United Way helps make the Pioneer Valley the type of place where you, your family, your employees, and your co-workers will want to live and thrive. Its involvement and impact on quality of life in the region makes it easier to recruit and retain good employees, and to increase your own property values.

It makes our community a place where our children will want to live and raise their own families, rather then heading to someplace where they believe the grass is greener.

As the Day of Caring shows, when people work together, they can make a difference — and at the United Way, we prove this 365 days a year. As this year’s United Way campaign kicks off, I see another opportunity for the people of this region to show what they can do — together.

They can show that community matters and that the United Way is a worthy investment for us and our community.

None of us can predict what personal problem or natural disaster will face us, our neighbors, and co-workers, but we can rest assured knowing the United Way and its affiliated agencies will be there with solutions when situations arise, funding the human services needs of the Pioneer Valley with integrity and innovation. For all of these reasons, I ask that you give generously and support the United Way campaign this year.

For less than the price of a cup of coffee each week, you can make a meaningful impact. Do it for your community, and do it for yourself.

Michael B. Katz, Esq. is the chairman of the 2007-2008 United Way Campaign. He is a partner at the regional law firm of Bacon & Wilson, P.C.

Sections Supplements
Everything You Need to Know about Venture Capital (but Were Afraid to Ask)

As well-known as the term ‘venture capital’ is in the public vernacular, few understand the nature of this high-risk, high-impact form of capital.

To shed some light on this complex capital source, it’s helpful to understand venture capital, first in context of other forms of growth capital, then in terms of requirements of venture-capital funders. What follows is a primer on this important subject.

The Spectrum of Capital

There is a wide spectrum of funds available to small, fast-growing businesses to support their capital needs — from loans and lines of credit to equity (provided by individuals and/or professionally managed funds). Capital sources vary according to their source (government, banks, friends and family, third-party investors) and to the risk associated with the capital. Company stage often defines your source, while risk level impacts pricing. Investors (individuals and funds investing in your company) who take the highest risk (equity investors) expect the highest return; those taking less risk (banks) can afford to charge less for the lower risk.

Venture-capital investors provide capital to fast-growing companies in return for a minority ownership position; these investors take outsized risks (company failure and loss of investment) in return for hopes of outsized returns if the company succeeds. Professional investors manage venture capital by assessing risk, negotiating investment partnerships with entrepreneurs and business owners (exchanging capital for ownership positions and, typically, a seat on the board of directors), and working with company management to optimize success — profitable growth and, ultimately, selling the company — in order to realize returns commensurate with risk taken.

Profile of a Venture-capital Company

Venture investors look for businesses that have potential to grow to a relatively large size, revenue-wise, within a four- to seven-year period. Business characteristics that VCs look for include:

  • Strong gross margins: A business with relatively low gross margins (less than 35%) is a business competing on price or service, both of which are not strong differentiators. Businesses with stronger gross margins suggest an ability to compete on other criteria (product or service quality and/or uniqueness). Higher-gross-margin businesses indicate something special about the business and, more practically, provide the company with more internally generated cash when selling product, thereby enabling the company to self-fund rapid growth to a much greater degree than lower-margin businesses.
  • Scalable business model: Scalability can be viewed through two lenses: product/service model and financial scalability. A scalable product model might be described best as ‘make once, sell many times.’ A software product, or a branded consumer product, offers scalability in this sense. Custom precision machining — where each design is developed uniquely for a given customer — is a model that does not scale as well. Financial scalability relates in part to gross margin (does the business provide meaningful self-funding?) and in part to the ability to find capital sources at different levels of growth. Software, as noted, is a high-gross-margin business (99%) and often is easier to secure subsequent rounds of financing.
  • Barriers to entry/competitive position: Venture-capital investors seek businesses that are difficult for competitors to enter.
    Barriers to entry can be technology-based (intellectual property and/or patents) and/or market based; an established brand with good on-shelf presence is a barrier to competitors — admittedly, less defensible than a technology patent. Generally, a venture investor will seek to invest in companies whose products (if performance-oriented, like technology) have multi-fold performance or cost advantages over competitive products.
    One way to characterize this would be to say that the product would need to perform 10 times better than, or be available at one-tenth the cost of, its nearest competitor.
  • Experienced management: It is often said that the jockey matters more than the horse — i.e., good management trumps good product, though both are preferable. Experience in early-stage ventures is defined in a few ways:
    Domain experience: If you spent years in the food industry and are starting a food business, then your domain experience serves you in your current venture. If you are a biotech person starting a software business, then your domain is relatively useless to your new venture.

Early-stage experience: A senior manager at Microsoft starting a new software company may have tremendous domain experience but lack early-stage experience. Big company resources and experience are substantially different from capital-constrained small-company experience. Small-company professionals tend to do everything in the business (make copies and clean trash as well as develop and market the product). By contrast, a big-company executive might be accustomed to having staff, services, and capital resources that would obviate the need for that individual to do lower-level work that startup executives and small business owners do.

Venture experience: A venture capital-backed startup requires an understanding of the investor’s expectations and role. While venture investors don’t expect or want to run the business themselves, there is a level of involvement and partnership that this investor class expects from founders and senior management in companies in which they invest.

Ability (and willingness) to realize value: If you seek capital from professional money managers, you need to understand that you are signing up to realize and optimize value for investors (and you!) over a certain number of years. Value is maximized for all shareholders by sale or merger with a larger player (often competitor) or through a public offering. If you intend to keep your venture as a family or lifestyle business, then venture capital is not right for you.

Assessing Risk

Venture capitalists evaluate risk in two primary areas — business and stage. Business risk looks at management, market/competition, product, finance, and legal. Failure in a startup is almost always a result of problems in one or more of these areas.

So, venture capital investors research management (reference checks, strength/weakness analysis, completeness of team), market (size, growth of market, trends), product (comparative advantage vs. existing products and services), finance (strong gross margins, capital requirements, availability and likelihood of subsequent financing), and legal (patent protection, liability risk).

The ‘grades’ for each risk area result in a summary business risk level that the investor considers in assessing what return would fairly compensate the investor for the perceived risk.

The second area of risk relates to stage of development. Early-stage ventures carry a much higher probability of failure — borne out by national statistics on small-business failure — than later-stage ventures, meaning companies with established revenue, customers, and profits. Stage risk carries a risk premium that is coupled with business risk to arrive at a picture that the investor uses to figure out what level of ownership is required for a given capital investment.

Entrepreneurs often mistake a venture investor’s need for ownership as a reflection of greed, rather than a dispassionate assessment of the true risk. Early-venture investors typically lose all their capital on a third of their portfolio, break even on a third, and make all the fund’s money on the final third. So, either investors do a poor job picking winners, or their portfolio company heads fail to deliver on the promise they hoped to realize.

Final Thoughts

Venture capital is high-impact capital that can make a meaningful economic development impact in terms of job creation as well as value creation for all stakeholders. That said, the combination of investor expectations for growth and value realization coupled with the relative scarcity of capital (compared to demand) makes it a capital source not for everyone.

That said, if you’ve got the right stuff — management, product, market, etc. — and are game for the ride, venture capital can be an unmatched capital source in its appetite for risk and support for your company’s growth.

Michael Gurau is the managing general partner of Clear Venture Partners, a venture capital fund targeting New England;[email protected]

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From iPods to eBooks, Everyday Life is Getting a Technological Shot in the Arm

The summer of the iPhone is all but behind us, but there is more new technology making headlines these days. Myriad new products, from gadgets to professional software to phones and cameras are coming onto the market.

There are trends — everything keeps getting smaller and more versatile — but the bottom line is an emphasis on communication, organization, and simplifying the everyday tasks involving life and work with some style.

In this issue, BusinessWest offers a sampling of what’s new in technology and what the products hitting the market bring to the table.

Ansering the Call

Left to right, iPod Shuffle, iPod Nano, iPod Classic, and iPod Touch

The sleek, touch-screen iPhone is still making news; on Sept. 9, Apple sold its one millionth unit (after reducing its price by about $200). In response to the many iPhone owners upset with the decision to reduce the price from $599 to $399 two months after its debut, Apple CEO Steve Jobs sent an open letter — directly to the phones, of course — awarding all current iPhone users a $100 store credit toward the purchase of any Apple product.

That’s good news for fans of ‘the people’s company,’ since Apple is following up on the success of the iPhone with the sixth generation of the iPod, and the two devices closely resemble each other.

The iPod Touch was formally introduced to the public this month, and boasts many of the same features as the much anticipated iPhone. It includes a touch screen and Wi-Fi capabilities, a Safari Web browser, and connects directly to YouTube, where users can view millions of free videos. The Touch is available in eight- and 16-gigabyte models, now retailing for $299 and $399, and joins the existing suite of iPods — the Shuffle, Nano, and Classic models;apple.com.

Now Hear This

Aurvana Headphones

Apple may be the big newsmaker in the technology race, but many other companies are in the running, vying for the attention and the loyalty of increasingly in-the-know shoppers.

Another audio giant in the marketplace, Creative Labs, which manufactures the Zen series of mp3 players and accessories, has recently devised high-end, noise-canceling headphones called Aurvana, designed to augment the mp3 listening experience.

The headsets use the latest audio technology, X-Fi, or extreme fidelity, as it’s called, to improve the sound quality of an mp3 file; it does this by restoring the details of a file that are lost during compression. Aurvana headphones also feature three switches to optimize listening experiences for not only music files, but while watching television, movies, or playing games as well. The first is a noise-canceling switch, the second a ‘crystalizer’ that enhances mp3 playback, and the third is a CMSS-3D switch that creates a surround-sound effect.

The headsets are expected to be available later this month, retailing for approximately $300;creative.com.

A Picture and Thousands of Words

Just as CDs and stereos are becoming increasingly passé, paperback books, day planners, and photo albums are also gradually becoming things of the past, replaced by more effective and less expensive digital versions of each.
Photophiles in particular can now take more advantage of the digital photo frame craze than ever before, as frames are being designed with more capabilities, better performance, and more memory.

eStarling 2.0 Wi-Fi Photo Frame

The eStarling 2.0 Wi-Fi Photo Frame, for instance, takes the concept of displaying digital photos to the next level, by adding the ability to connect to the Internet wirelessly.

The seven-inch frame will display photos in a slideshow format, and can accommodate most types of camera memory cards, immediately adding any photos on the card directly into the rotation.

However, JPEG photos can also be sent directly to the eStarling via E-mail or through an RSS photo feed, such as those available through the popular photo-sharing Web site Flickr.

This allows frame owners to have photos E-mailed to them by friends or relatives, send photos to the frame via a laptop or mobile phone from virtually anywhere in the world, and also search for specific photos taken by others and posted on public sites online.

Within the Flickr community, these photos can be added to the eStarling by entering ‘tags,’ or keywords, and having them fed directly to the eStarling. The criteria could be as simple as photos of Hawaii, or as detailed as ‘red 1957 Chevys.’

Despite these new attributes, the frame is relatively simple to use. It requires a one-time setup (connecting the frame to a computer by a USB cord), and eStarling software guides the process of creating a free E-mail address to which photos can be sent. Spam blockers are also provided, and the frames retail for approximately $220;estarling.com.

Also striving to improve the leisure side of life is Sony’s PRS500 Portable Reader System, released this month. The tablet offers a space-saving solution for readers on the go in addition to employing the newest technology to alleviate eye-strain and make digital reading a more comfortable experience overall.

Using E Ink Display technology, the screen mimics the look of a paper book, but text can be magnified up to 200%. It also weighs just under nine ounces and is a half-inch thick, with a memory card slot through which books, photos, and mp3s can be uploaded.

E-books can be found online, often for free, and Sony has instituted its own virtual bookstore, the Sony Connect eBookstore. The PRS500 is currently retailing for about $275, and perhaps signals the beginning of the end for traditional, bound volumes. It’s an intriguing shift, but also one that could significantly reduce the world’s paper consumption;sonystyle.com.

The Technology of Ecology

Other products now being introduced also take the environment and energy conservation into account, in addition to technological quality, in this increasingly hooked-in world.

Dataprobe, a leading manufacturer of technology solutions for networking systems, announced last month that its iBoot product, a remote power solution that monitors, manages, and controls both corporate and personal computing devices and electronics, is now compliant with RoHS (restriction of the use of hazardous substances) and WEEE (Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment) standards in Europe.

The RoHS and WEEE directives, respectively, ban the sale and import of electronic equipment containing more than approved levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, and other elements, as well as reduce the exposure of hazardous chemicals within recycled materials.

Manufacturers in the U.S., such as Dataprobe, must meet the requirements of both in order to import their products for sale in the European Union market.

Changes to the iBoot to address the EU’s new guidelines augment its already environmentally friendly function. With a single-outlet power switch, the iBoot allows for power control over various types of equipment from anywhere, using an Internet browser. This, in turn, reduces or eliminates the need for on-site technical support, at a cost of about $275;dataprobe.com.

For those hoping to bring a little bit of alternative energy directly into the home, Tamiya Inc. has created a good starting point: the Loopwing Wind Power Generator Set, which catches a breeze and converts it to electricity.

It’s more of an educational tool than anything else, using the energy it generates to power a small rechargeable toy car, which will run for about one to two minutes for every five to 10 minutes of wind-powered charging;tamiya.com
However, the $50 Loopwing is an example of how green energy is being scaled down for more accessible use by consumers. Another product doing the same has been devised by Italian designers Alberto Medo and Francisco Gomez Paz; the duo has created the Solar Bottle, a portable water-purifying system that uses SODIS technology — Solar Water Disinfection.

Each square, stackable, four-liter bottle has one transparent side to collect UV-A rays, which, coupled with increased temperature from solar sources, effectively kill disease-causing pathogens.

A handle makes for easy carrying, and also serves as a stand while being exposed to sunlight. It’s appropriately sized for both private homes and businesses, as well as for outdoor situations such as camping or boating.

The unique design and concept behind the Solar Bottle, which is still in development, also earned Medo and Gomez Paz a 2007 INDEX Award, and could be positioned as a solution for regions of the world with poor-quality drinking water supplies. For more information on the Solar Bottle, visitinhabitat.com.

From Roomba to RoboCop?

The Solar Bottle may still be in prototype mode, but its creation is part of a larger movement of technological marvels that continue to pour into our lives at break-neck speed. According to PCWorld magazine, some of the future technology that researchers and retailers alike are keeping a close eye on are in the areas of biometric security (handprint, fingerprint, and eye-scan access among them), and artificial intelligence.

True to that trend, iRobot (irobot.com) of Burlington, Mass., the firm that gave us the Roomba robot vacuum, has just debuted a tiny “robot cop,” which carries a camera and an electroshock weapon for use by law enforcement and military personnel.

With those kinds of leaps becoming commonplace, the Jetsons’ automated amenities of ready-made meals and flying cars do not seem quite so far off. Still, it’s to be hoped that a Taser-equipped iPhone is light years away.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
The Springfield Public Forum Enters Its 72nd Year with a Call to Action
Patricia Canavan

Patricia Canavan, executive director of the Springfield Public Forum, says attendance and awareness are the organization’s most pressing issues.

Patricia Canavan, executive director of the Springfield Public Forum, said one of the primary objectives of the long-running lecture series is to underscore the power of words.

“Words make a difference,” she said, “when people are there to listen.”

Opening ears, and minds, has become a top priority for Canavan and the public forum’s executive committee and directors, largely volunteer, and supporters. Despite a list of past speakers that includes then-former President Richard M. Nixon, Ralph Nader, Maya Angelou, Ken Burns, and many others, the non-profit organization and the presentations it offers the region at no cost, have for many years now remained a well-kept secret.

But the tide is turning, albeit slowly. Canavan, who assumed the executive director’s position at the public forum just over a year ago, said the task now is not merely to continuously improve the roster of speakers, but to also fill seats with audiences that reflect the diversity of this region and create a dialogue on the global issues impacting everyone.

One Man’s Voice

One man seems to be leading that charge, though he may not know it.

This year’s lineup includes Paul Rusesabagina, former manager of the Hotel Rwanda and now an author, humanitarian, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He’ll be at Symphony Hall Oct. 18 to discuss the effects of genocide on his home country of Rwanda, and the lessons, as he says, that are “yet to be learned” from those events.

It seems that Rusesabagina’s appearance, perhaps made more notable by the Academy award-winning film based on his experiences, Hotel Rwanda starring Don Cheadle, has generated excitement in Western Mass. Canavan said phones are already ringing, and that’s momentum the forum will work tirelessly to maintain throughout the coming months.

“We’re seeing a groundswell of anticipation for Paul Rusesabagina’s talk, and that’s something we really haven’t seen for a long time,” she said.

The Springfield Public Forum has presented internationally known personalities ranging from authors to politicians to activists and beyond for nearly three-quarters of a century.

It’s one of the oldest lecture programs in the country, and also one of only a few remaining that still present offerings to the public for free. Speakers are paid through the forum’s operating budget, infused by membership drives, corporate sponsorships, and foundation support, as well as some advertising dollars generated by its seasonal program booklets.

Jonathan Goldsmith, President of the Springfield Public Forum, and an attorney, said the primary challenge the forum faces today is gleaning that support; a number of corporate sponsors and active individual members have remained loyal to the organization through the years, but attracting new blood has been difficult.

“The challenges that the forum has encountered over the last several years are probably no different than other nonprofits,” he said, “and we’ve been very fortunate to have the sponsors who help us, but the pool of potential sponsors has definitely decreased. We have to work that much harder to pull in sponsors, and grants.”

Goldsmith added that while the forum does rely on corporate sponsorships to bring in high-quality speakers, membership is still an intrinsic aspect of its business model.

“Individual support is the bedrock of our organization, and we rely heavily on our members,” he said, noting that to attract new members, the forum must first attract new audiences.

“We’re very much focusing on expanding our audience, and we’ve made inroads this year in particular. We want to fill Symphony Hall, and we can — when Maya Angelou came, there were people on standing on the steps, and we put speakers outside. We’ve had others like that over the years, and now we’re looking to do it again.”

Canavan said that in addition to presenting internationally renowned speakers, preserving free access to the lectures for the public is another important focus for the group.

“To present speakers of our caliber for free is unusual,” said Canavan. “In addition to being free, I think the other greatest asset of the public forum is that, in an age of electronic communication and media, it offers residents of our region the opportunity to discuss important issues of our day, live and in person, with fellow citizens and notable experts.”  

Still, attendance and awareness are ongoing challenges, she said.

“In many ways, the public forum is underappreciated. One challenge we have is readying new audiences; we have a dedicated core, but we need to increase awareness that we do in fact offer something for everyone.”

This year, four speakers will visit the City of Homes, and each reflects the level of quality the forum has become known for.

The season will begin on Sept. 26 with Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, Emmy Award-winner, and author of eight books, including Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989.

Following Beschloss, on Oct. 3, is Robert Shrum, political strategist and author of No Excuses: Confessions of a Serial Campaigner, released this year. Shrum was also senior adviser for the Kerry-Edwards 2004 presidential campaign and the Gore-Leiberman campaign in 2000.

On Oct. 18, Rusesabagina will appear, and finally, on Oct. 24, Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies and author of Among the Righteous: Lost Stories of the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands, will speak to the Holocaust’s influence on Arab countries.

Canavan said speakers are often chosen to reflect current events around the globe, and this year is no exception. Beschloss and Shrum offer insight into the already-hotly contested 2008 presidential election, while Satloff examines the complexities of the war-torn Middle East.

This is a trend that has grown with the forum since its inception. It was initially created to address a general ‘need to know’ in the midst of the Great Depression, Canavan explained.

It provided an opportunity for area residents to better understand the political, social, and economic issues confronting the nation and the world, while at the same time promoting free speech and open debate — question-and-answer periods close each lecture, and have since the forum’s inception.

“Our mission, initially, was to provide adult education,” said Canavan. “What’s great about that now is the mission has endured, but become so broad. It allows me to do creative things.”

To Think, Perchance to Dream

That creativity helps to keep the forum fresh and relevant in today’s world, but it also helps bolster audience numbers and cultivate new fans.

Rusesabagina and the interest already expressed in his lecture became the kernel of an idea based on this premise, that crowds could be drawn to the forum through a set of new, innovative programs and collaborations.

One of the largest of these is a new initiative titled The City Thinks, a 10-day, citywide program the forum has instituted along with the Springfield Public Library, with grant assistance from the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation.

The City Thinks will focus on the issue of genocide in Africa this year, with Rusesabagina’s appearance and his book, An Ordinary Man, as a centerpiece.

Rusesabagina’s experiences mirror the mass murders now occurring in Darfur in many ways, and Canavan said comparisons will be drawn between the two countries as part of the event.

A kick-off reception will be held at the Museum of Fine Arts, for example, featuring Darfur activist and Smith College professor Eric Reeves, on Oct. 7.

In addition, screenings of Hotel Rwanda will be held at the central library and at the Renaissance School on Carew Street, and the documentary Ghosts of Rwanda will be shown at Elms College.

Medical volunteer Sam Grodofsky will lead a discussion at the central library regarding Rwanda’s current situation, as it slowly rebuilds, and book discussions of An Ordinary Man will also be held across the Greater Springfield area.

In keeping with the goal of recruiting lifelong audiences to the forum, children’s programming is also a part of The City Thinks; peace-oriented art projects will be staged, and an essay contest, charging students ages 12 to 21 to pen their thoughts on the patterns of genocide, is now welcoming entries.

Falling on Young Ears

“Symphony Hall should be filled with students,” said Canavan, noting that in the future, the forum’s directors are mulling the addition of more family-appropriate speakers and topics, in order to attract parents and their children.

“Many of the topics we cover are quite serious,” she said. “We want to pick speakers who appeal to different audiences, and it would be great to have at least one lecture a year that is appropriate for younger audiences as well as grown-ups.”

The forum is also targeting college students and young professionals as part of this endeavor to attract new age groups, and that’s an area where Canavan is already seeing promise.

“We’ve started a lot of outreach to area colleges and high schools, and as we strengthen our partnerships with colleges and schools, we’d love to further integrate ourselves into their curriculum.”

She added that ongoing book discussion groups centering on other works of public forum speakers have begun to crop up on area campuses, including Elms College, Western New England College, and American International College, a good sign for future collaborations. The forum is also reaching out to churches, synagogues, and specific ethnic populations in hopes of creating similar partnerships.

“We continue to research what topics will resonate within this population, and we do solicit recommendations,” she said. “It’s important to know who is out there and who is relevant.”

Closing Remarks

The stage is set and ready for those speakers, ready to engage in the “Great Discourse” that the Springfield Public Forum promises each year. It’s a formidable task to bring weighty issues to Symphony Hall, and to fill its seats with people ready to listen.

But Canavan said that, increasingly, the call to action is being answered, and she’ll keep one ear close to the ground until the power of words has created an army.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]


A Day of Caring

The United Way of the Pioneer Valley staged its 14th annual Day of Caring on Sept. 7. Hosted by Peter and Melissa Picknelly, the event included more than 1,700 employees, representing 48 companies, who completed 209 projects in several area communities.

As part of a project for the Margaret Ells Elementary School in Springfield, volunteers from Baystate Health System participated in landscaping of the school grounds and painted a map on the playground.

Volunteers from MassMutual Financial Group, Baystate Health, and Hamilton Sundstrand participated in a project to benefit Child and Family Services. Activities included maintaining and repairing adaptive sports equipment (Hamilton volunteers) and cleaning a storage unit (Mass Mutual and Baystate Health).

Volunteers from Sisters of Providence Health System, The Junior League of Greater Springfield Inc., Westfield Bank, Mass Mutual Financial Group, and Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. participated in activities to benefit Springfield Day Nursery, such as spending time with and reading to the children, cleaning the closets and playgrounds of the nursery, painting, and washing the nursery’s vehicles.

As part of a project for the Whispering Hose Therapeutic Riding Center in East Longmeadow, volunteers from Health New England, and Monarch Life Insurance Co. participated in projects such as painting a barn and fences, and cleaning their pasture.

Habitat Happenings

Employees of the Springfield-based law firm Cooley Shrair, P.C. volunteered their time recently to assist in the construction of a Habitat for Humanity home on the corner of Chester and Central streets in Springfield. “Cooley Shrair was proud to join the efforts of Habitat for Humanity,” said David Shrair, managing partner of the firm. “It’s part of our ongoing commitment to invest in and help revitalize the city.” The local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity is currently working on three homes, with five planned for completion in 2008.

Left to right, attorneys Dawn McDonald, Peter Shrair, David Shrair, and Candace Goodreau, and Denise Bryan-Dukette of Sovereign Bank work with Habitat for Humanity construction manager Dave Letellier.

Heather Hammon, Dawn McDonald, and Ryanne Nixon of Cooley Shrair work with Walter Valentine of Kleer Lumber of Westfield and Dave Letellier of Habitat.

David Shrair pulls nails with Walter Valentine of Kleer Lumber.

Attorneys Diana Sorrentini-Velez and Ryanne Nixon complete a project together.

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SCORE Volunteers Help Entrepreneurs Get Down to Business
Rick Forgay, Tom Toman, and Richard Lopatka

From left, SCORE volunteer counselors Rick Forgay, Tom Toman, and Richard Lopatka.

There are 45 volunteer counselors currently serving the Western Mass. chapter of SCORE, once (but no longer) officially known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives. Between them, these volunteers have seen just about every issue or problem that can confront a business owner, and by passing on their knowledge and experience they’re helping fledgling entrepreneurs and established business owners clear hurdles in the path to success.

Hendalee Wilson has seen more than a few friends and relatives push the panic button when the ‘check engine’ light comes on in their vehicle.

He told BusinessWest that the indicator, while helpful in that it alerts the motorist that something is wrong, can also bring on some serious anxiety, and unwarranted expense, because there are myriad reasons why the light comes on — many of them serious in nature, but some that are anything but.

He found this out through personal experience; he wound up paying more than $175 for a diagnostic test that revealed he needed to replace a $15 solenoid, or relay, something he probably could have done himself.

Sensing an entrepreneurial opportunity, Wilson, a recent graduate of Western New England College and now a senior technical programmer, analyst, and project leader in the school’s Office of Information Technology, has created something called the ‘CellAssist.’ In simple terms, this device communicates with a vehicle’s on-board computer, views the internal sensor readings, and displays the diagnosis through a simple interface on almost any standard cell phone.

The data extracted from the vehicle can then be transmitted over the Internet to a worldwide system that is viewable by mechanics, repair shops, towing companies, and car manufacturers that can provide assistance as necessary, he continued, adding that his product can let people know quickly, efficiently, and cheaply just what they’re up against — which is all anyone who sees that light go on wants to know.

“A cell phone is a piece of processing power that we all carry, and I thought to myself, ‘we can harness that processing power to create a wireless diagnostic tool,’” said Wilson, who has a patent pending on his invention, but acknowledged that his business venture is still very much in the conceptual stage. And for help in shaping that concept and deciding if and how to bring his product to market, he has leaned heavily on the local chapter (#228) of SCORE, an agency formerly known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, which now goes largely by its acronym and the marketing line ‘Counselors to America’s Small Business.’

That’s because many of those providing such counsel are in fact not retired, said Tom Toman, former chief information officer with Stanhome, current president of the local chapter, and one of those advising Wilson on the many aspects of making his vision reality.

Like other volunteers we spoke with, he talked of how rewarding it is to be of assistance to people who have ideas and energy but often lack critical knowledge and experience. “It’s been an intriguing time with SCORE … it’s a great feeling when you can bring something to the table and help people through issues. These people often have a lot of the answers, but they don’t know how to bring it all together. That’s where we come in.”

There are hundreds of area business owners who have sought help from SCORE Chapter 228 and its 45 counselors. Assistance comes in a number of forms, said Rick Forgay, one of those not-yet-retired counselors who left a career in the newspaper business — his last stop was as circulation manager for the Republican — to start his own business, the Rick Forgay Leadership Institute. In fact, he was a client of the local SCORE chapter, and was so impressed with the organization and its volunteers that he became one himself.

He said SCORE volunteers provide everything from help with writing a business plan to the hard but necessary questions about whether the individual sitting across the table has what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

“One of our favorite questions is ‘is this a business or a hobby?’” he explained. “And I look for the passion level; do they have what it takes to weather the storm and stick to their guns when they’re under fire? We grill them very hard at the outset on things they may not have thought about, and sometimes we can save them considerable time, money, and pain.”

In this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at SCORE and how local counselors are helping would-be entrepreneurs and established business owners make smart decisions and avoid what can be very costly mistakes.

Checking Under the Hood

“They took it from something kind of laughable to something much more realistic.”

That’s how Wilson chose to describe how Toman and other counselors at SCORE helped transform his business plan for the CellAssist, which remains very much a work in progress.

“They brought up a lot of concerns; through their experience in business they had a lot of insight into points that potential investors would raise about the product,” he explained, adding that he first sought help roughly a year ago, or two years after he first starting conceiving his product. “They introduced me to a lot of people who have helped me understand the process of obtaining capital, which is the next critical step for me.”

The local SCORE chapter, headquartered in Springfield, has been imparting such knowledge and advice for 40 years now, and through a number of different vehicles, said Richard Lopatka, a retired United Technologies executive who has been a volunteer counselor since 1999.

He told BusinessWest that while business owners face common challenges, their ventures — and their routes to achieving success — are like snowflakes; none are identical. And because of this, the rich diversity of the SCORE volunteer base is an asset for clients, and the region as a whole.

“The journey we take with the client is very much focused on what their needs are,” said Lopatka. “We go on down the path that the client and his and her issues dictate that we take.”

In addition to direct counseling services, SCORE also hosts a number of workshops and courses, as well as an annual Women Business Owners Roundtable. Two of the workshops — ‘How to Write a Business Plan and Cash Flow’ and ‘How to Really Start Your Own Business’ — are staged monthly, while others are conducted once or a few times a year. The titles reveal the full depth and breadth of business subject matter the agency addresses. They include:

• ‘Planning Your Business Web Site’;
• ‘Building and Activating an Effective Marketing Plan’;
• ‘Increase Productivity, Growing Your Bottom Line’;
• ‘Tips on Commercializing Your Innovation’;
• ‘The ABCs of Strategic Planning’;
• ‘How to Gather and Implement Market Research’; and
• ‘How to Start and Operate a Non-profit.’

In fiscal year 2006, the 45 volunteers, including 13 women, contributed more than 5,000 hours of counseling. Overall, there were 1,500 “client services,” a 12% increase over FY ’05; 35 workshops, a 30% jump over the prior year; and a total of 412 clients attending those workshops, an 18% increase. And the projected numbers for FY ’07 show continued growth.

Meanwhile, there has been growth in facilities. The chapter continues to serve the area from Worcester to the New York border, but in recent years it has added offices in Greenfield, Agawam, and Pittsfield.

Counselors serving Western Mass. follow a formal five-step process, said Toman, adding that step one is “establishing rapport.” From there, volunteers move on to conducting a needs assessment; identifying business goals, challenges, and opportunities; preparing and implementing a plan; and finally, obtaining feedback and “setting a roadmap for mentoring.”

Overall, though, services are provided on a needs basis, with the broad goal of making entrepreneurs aware of the steps they need to take, and then helping them successfully take those steps.

“Rather than give them the whole bottle of pills to take, we’ll give them one or two pills at a time,” said Forgay. “We always encourage them to take a specific next step with their business, and then we encourage the accountability — coming back once that step’s been accomplished and going forward; it’s the accountability that they don’t get when they’re out there on their own.”

Referrals to the agency come from area banks — often after submittal of an incomplete or unrealistic business plan — and also area chambers and other economic development-related agencies, said Lopatka. Counselors are assigned usually at random, but sometimes on the basis of a specific knowledge base, such as marketing, creative design, and others.

Counselors work with clients for varying lengths of time, and often intermittently, with business owners returning when different issues or obstacles arise. In many cases, counselors become long-time mentors.

Bean Entrepreneurial

For Kristin Rigg and Samantha Sherman, help from SCORE was sought early and often with regard to a venture they’re now close to getting off the ground. It’s called Tekoa Mountain Coffee Roasters, so named because the two Westfield residents are frequent hikers on that summit, which straddles the Whip City, Russell, and Montgomery, and is known for its rattlesnakes.

“We haven’t seen any yet, but we’ve heard the stories and know someone who was bitten, so we’re real careful,” said Rigg, noting that the snakes, or the tales about them, are so legendary that she and Sherman have named one of their blends ‘Rattlesnake Roast.’ “It has a little more of a bite,” she said, without a hint of remorse in her voice.

Coming up with product names — ‘Tekoa Sunrise’ (“it’s a happy, morning coffee”) and ‘Mountain Zen’ are among the others — has been one of the few relatively easy assignments with getting this business going, said Rigg, an analytical chemist by trade who said most aspects of business were not only foreign to her, but ran counter to the way she was taught to think.

“The roasting and baking and figuring out numbers I was great with, but understanding business projections and just the entire paradigm of business is actually completely the opposite of science,” she explained. “In science, you take all the data and make a hypothesis; in business, you put out a projection and hope your data backs it up.”

SCORE has helped her learn a new way of thinking, she said, adding that this story started in 2004 when she and Sherman were working for a startup coffee shop in Hartford, one that was roasting its own blends. “We kept saying to ourselves, ‘if this were our shop we’d be doing things so much differently,’” she recalled, adding that before too long the two were talking more than hypotheticals, thanks to some chance developments.

Sherman took a job as catering manager with the food service handling Springfield Technical Community College and, upon handling some assignments in the Andrew M. Scibelli Enterprise Center on the school’s campus (where the SCORE office is located), started talking with some of the entrepreneurs doing business there. During one visit, she stopped into the SCORE facility and left with a brochure for one of its programs: ‘How to Really Start Your Own Business.’

The two attended that session and several others in the months to follow, including a program on business plan writing, and while doing so, began to solidify their own plans for a coffee-roasting venture. Over the past few years, they have assembled equipment, including several roasters, conducted market research and contrived specific blends, staged tastings (including one for SCORE counselors), and started to build a customer base. The next step is to find a location in Westfield, preferably close to the state college there, and launch their shop. SCORE has been providing help at every turn because Rigg, in particular, has been relentless in pursuit of it.

Indeed, when asked which counselors she had worked with, Rigg said, “all of them, I think.

“I just kept going back and asking more questions,” she said. “They’d answer them, I’d say, ‘OK, I need to think about these,’ and I’d make another appointment and ask more questions.

“They all have different backgrounds, so I can get help with just about anything,” she continued, referring to the counselors she’s worked with.

“Like health insurance … all I knew about it was going to the HR department and asking for it. I needed to know how to go about it as a business owner, and there was someone to help me.”

Getting the Idea

While Tekoa Mountain Roasters is not yet a success story, Lopatka, one of the many counselors to work with that client, is confident it will become one. Meanwhile, there are many successes already in the portfolio. He listed several instances where assistance from SCORE helped business owners avoid bankruptcy or shutting down their ventures.

But there would probably be many more such stories if business owners would seek SCORE’s help before a problem reached a critical level.

“Some people come to us too late, when they’ve already hit the wall,” Lopatka continued, noting instances when individuals seek help at times of severe financial hardship or other problems that threaten their existence. “I’ve heard many people say, ‘I wish I’d come here six months or a year ago.’”

To help prevent more of these episodes, those with the local SCORE chapter are working to make their agency and its services more visible to those in the business community or looking to enter it. Steps in this direction include a revamped Web site — www.scorewesternmass.org — that highlights the many programs and services offered, as well as new or expanded partnerships with area chambers and other business groups.

The obvious goals, said Toman, are to make more budding entrepreneurs and established business owners aware of SCORE and the many ways it can provide assistance, and to prompt such individuals to make contact before it’s too late.

Elaborating, he said ‘too late’ refers to both established businesses that are in trouble from which they can’t extricate themselves, and entrepreneurs who should have done a little more homework and sought out some practical advice before going out on their own.

“We don’t discourage anyone from going into business, but we’ll open their eyes,” he said. “We’ll ask the key questions; ‘you want to sell a T-shirt for $50, but do you have a market for that?’ Often, it’s the first time people really hear things like that. They have the idea, they have the excitement, and they have the drive, but they haven’t really thought about the financial aspects of making this a successful business.

“We’re an economic development agency,” he concluded. “We’re here to help businesses stay in business and, in the process, improve the economic health of Western Mass.”

Entrepreneurial Horsepower

As he talked about CellAssist, Wilson referenced journalistic exposés that have uncovered some exploitation of consumers on the part of some service providers handling the dreaded ‘check-engine’ light and whatever’s causing it to go on.

He said his product enables motorists to go to a garage or dealership “armed with some knowledge, something that will enable you to have an intelligent dialogue with the mechanic.”

In that respect, his invention is a lot like SCORE, which enables business owners and budding entrepreneurs to be similarly armed as they tackle the many, seemingly endless challenges to finding success in business.

And there is another similarity. They both go to work when the light comes on.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
A False Sense of Security on Flood Insurance Can Be a Costly Mistake

Despite the attention brought to the subject by hurricanes Katrina and Rita two years ago, and some local episodes that fall and since, many individuals and businesses continue to ignore the real possibility of suffering severe property damage resulting from a flood.

There are several reasons why people have a false sense of security: many believe that since they live and work in an area well away from the coastline, the danger of having a flood is relatively low; others believe their homeowners or business property insurance policies will provide coverage in the event of a flood. Still others believe that in the event of a flood, the federal government will provide assistance for flood damage. All or most of this thinking is off the mark.

Floods affect thousands of Americans every year. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 27,000 policyholders filed flood insurance claims in 2006, with thousands more being uninsured for flood damage. To many of us in Western Mass., it seems that these devastating events always occur in some other part of the country, and that here in the Bay State we have little to worry about when it comes to flooding. Recent experience tells us a different story.

In 2006 the National Flood Insurance Program paid more than $39.5 million dollars in claims to insureds in our state. This was more than the combined total payments made in all of the states bordering the Mississippi River for that same year. While some experts consider 2006 to have been an unusual year for Massachusetts, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has paid Bay State policyholders more than $2 million dollars in both 2004 and 2005.

Massachusetts areas away from the coast are at risk of suffering from floods. In fact, it is typical for the NFIP to pay between 20% and 25% of their claims in low- to moderate-risk zones. The good news about being in such a zone is that you may be eligible for a preferred risk policy, which provides very inexpensive flood insurance protection.

Many people believe that their homeowners and business property insurance will respond in the event of a flood. However, these policies in their standard format (which most insurance carriers follow) specifically exclude flood as a covered cause of loss. It is interesting to note that it was this exclusion that provided the basis for many insurance carriers to deny coverage to many homeowners in New Orleans and the southern states following Hurricane Katrina.

Insurance policies provided by the NFIP afford a rather generous definition of ‘flood.’ In order for the policy to respond, the flood must affect at least two properties in the area, or two or more acres. The flood can result from of an overflow of inland or tidal waters, what most people typically think of as a flood.

In addition, the flood could be a result of water from any source that causes an “unusual or rapid accumulation or runoff of surface water.” This source of water could be heavy rainfall, a water tower, or a broken water main. Certainly, most everyone lives and works in an area where heavy rain or a broken water main could occur and cause a flood as the NFIP policy defines one. It is important to take these sources of water into consideration when assessing your need for a flood policy.

When you purchase a flood policy from the NFIP, you have several things to consider: the coverage limit on the building, the coverage limit for the contents of the building, the per-claim deductible, and the waiting period before overage goes into effect. A maximum of $250,000 of building coverage is available for residential protection. Commercial structures can be insured to a limit of $500,000 for the building and $500,000 for the contents.

The maximum insurance limit may not exceed the insurable value of the property. For limits in excess of the maximums offered by the NFIP, private flood insurance is readily available.

Another important element to note in the NFIP’s definition of a flood is some very important wording that is not within its definition. What is missing is the requirement for the president to declare a federal disaster.

For those individuals and business owners who don’t carry flood insurance as part of their disaster recovery plan, they need to be aware that in order to receive funds through the Federal Disaster Assistance program, there are a few serious issues to consider.

First of all, as was just outlined, in order for FEMA’s Disaster Assistance Program to become involved, the U.S. president must declare that area a federal disaster.

With this declaration, FEMA can distribute funds in the form of a loan that must be repaid. In the case of a business loss, FEMA may require the business owner to first seek a loan through the Small Business Administration before they request FEMA support. Under the NFIP flood insurance policy, there is no need for a federal disaster to be declared. There is no need to pay back any claim payments. The policy will respond if the definition of a flood is met.

It is important to seriously consider the large potential physical and financial loss that a flood can cause.

While many people believe there are several ways to obtain assistance in the event of a flood, without a doubt incorporating a NFIP insurance policy into your personal or business disaster recovery plan provides a critical point of relief, at a reasonable and affordable cost. An independent insurance agent can discuss your necessary limits, coverages, and deductible options with you.

There are other elements of the policy that should also be discussed, such as valuations on claim payments, contents coverage, and basement coverage. To answer some questions on your own, you can visitwww.floodsmart.gov.

Corey Murphy is a certified insurance counselor and vice president of First American Insurance Agency in Chicopee;[email protected]

Sections Supplements
From Teen Bashes to Retirement Parties, Jx2 Has a Playlist for Everyone
Andrew Jensen

Andrew Jensen, owner of JX2 Productions, in front of his Westfield offices.

Andrew Jensen serves a diverse and demanding clientele ranging from CEOs to 16-year-olds, and he knows he’d better listen well when it comes to both — they’re equally his most promising demographics.

Owner of Jx2, a production company based in Westfield offering disc jockey, sound, and lighting services for a variety of events, Jensen is one of the region’s most inspiring youg entrepreneurs. He has learned that the only constant in his industry is the ever-growing scale of the events he helps create, spurred largely by more accessible technology and the lofty desires of party planners of all types and ages.

Recently, he’s found that the teen scene is where the action is, but that a solid reputation in the corporate arena can create a strong base for growth in an often unpredictable vocation.

The Jx2 Web site, jx2productions.com, speaks to that range. The welcome page features two boxes; click on one, and it leads to a professional, content-rich site with a professional feel.

Click on the other, and a MySpace profile page for the company appears. It’s not a shortcut, but rather the best way to reach the prom committees, student councils, and teens planning birthday bashes and bar mitzvah celebrations that regularly seek his services.

And as Jensen can attest, the means of finding these audiences may differ, but from there, the lines start to blur — corporate events aren’t just sit-down dinners anymore, and birthday parties have come a long way from pin the tail on the donkey.

It’s a Family Affair

Jensen said he first started noticing that trend in his own family, when he and his brother Eric threw a 25th anniversary party for their parents. They bought much of the equipment they’d need to provide entertainment for the event, in order to stage it themselves, and following the party, guests started asking for repeat performances.

That was in 2001, and since then Jx2, named for the Jensen brothers and now owned by Andrew (Eric still DJs occasionally), has grown to provide a wide array of event entertainment services. His father, Paul, is also now an employee.

The business is primarily a disc jockey service, but in today’s multimedia-driven age, that amounts to much more than spinning records. Jx2 offers event management and organizing, lighting and staging, and audio-visual system setup and operation. The company can provide a master of ceremonies if necessary, as well as ‘audience motivators,’ including dancers, and can provide services and equipment for events ranging from karaoke parties to trade shows.

Jensen said the core of his business is still private formal and semi-formal events, such as weddings, school dances, and jack-and-jill parties, but he added that a number of other offerings that are new to his repertoire are helping Jx2 stand out in a saturated market.

“There’s a lot of heavy competition in the area,” said Jensen. “Some are big, well-known companies, and others are small, one-person operations, but everybody takes a piece of the pie.”

In fact, Jensen once counted 26 DJs doing business in Agawam alone, not far from his offices at Shaker Farms Country Club in Westfield.

One Is a Lonely Number

To thrive in that climate, Jensen has worked to diversify his business model in a number of areas. For one, he has branched out with a new endeavor, partnering with fellow event-services provider Mark Ashe of Marx Entertainment in Enfield, Conn., to form JenMark, which focuses on the management and staging of corporate events. Combining the expertise and equipment of both businesses, JenMark puts the two DJ and entertainment companies squarely in the middle of the event-planning arena, offering a suite of services that includes database procurement to help spread the word about a corporate event, such as a conference or trade show; payment processing for events that require a fee; custom Web site development for the event; facility procurement; food procurement; audio-visual services; and on-site management.

JenMark’s first major event, a trade show catering to the sweet 16, 15, and bar and bat mitzvah crowds, will be staged on Oct. 5, and will serve to promote Ashe and Jensen’s own industry, as well as those of many of their partnering vendors.

It’s a market both entrepreneurs have been actively working to cultivate; a strong presence among the teenage crowd, the corporate crowd, and party-planning families creates a sort of perfect storm, leading to what is currently the juggernaut of the event services world — the Super Sweet 16.

It’s Gonna Be a Party, Party

Sixteenth birthday parties for both boys and girls, as well as bar and bat mitzvahs, have received a rocket-fueled boost in recent years, thanks to the success of MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen, a reality show geared toward teenagers and pre-teens.

The show created a national trend by following various would-be 16-year-olds in towns and cities across the country as they plan what they hope will be the party of the year for their classmates.

Gone are the days of birthday cake and potato chips, replaced by elaborate themes (a luau, complete with fire jugglers, for instance, or a jungle with live tigers and pumas), nationally touring musical acts, and, usually, a brand new luxury car to top off the evening. Teens who aren’t featured on the show can still flaunt their own parties by joining an online community sponsored by the show, and uploading bulletins, photos, and videos.

Jensen said the events he’s seen in Western Mass. aren’t usually quite so involved as those featured on television — yet, anyway — but they mirror MTV’s over-the-top celebrations in that everyone wants something unique, and seemingly high-end.

“The kids want it to look like a dance club,” he explained, “with music, lighting, and fun extras. The parents want it to be an upscale event. These parties are moving further and further away from anything that resembles a home or family function; now, people want to turn it into a whole production.”

Jensen is also branching out into area high schools, sending out mailings and meeting with prom committees across the region to provide music, lighting, and other variables for high school formals. Those are some of his most demanding clients, he said; every class wants something different, but each one also wants something big and bombastic, no matter how many bake sales it takes.

Even with such a boom underway, however, Jensen is also expanding his services in other areas, targeting other demographic groups in addition to companies and kids.

All Parties, Great and Small

He continues to zero in on the wedding crowd, offering an extensive suite of services to clients to make their events as seamless as possible, and hopefully to spur referrals. For instance, Jx2 will assist in booking other wedding services via a network of Western Mass. professionals, rather than just point a couple in the right direction.

“It helps with pricing, because I can negotiate with vendors to get more bang for the buck,” said Jensen, “but it also allows me to say ‘yes’ more often when a client asks for something. ‘Yes, I can get a movie screen.’ ‘Yes, I can get a popcorn machine.’ I have the connections, and that helps us expand into other areas.”

But Jensen was quick to note that his business has not been built by tacking on extras, but rather by tailoring his services to the needs of his clients. A blanket approach no longer works in his industry, said Jensen — a huge variety of entertainment choices have created a larger set of demands — and new technology allows for a little bit of spectacle at even the smallest functions.

Jx2 has recently started leasing out equipment, for instance, offering tutorials so clients can save money on a DJ by plugging in an iPod filled with favorite music, or setting up an outdoor movie screen and sound system that only requires the customer pop in a DVD.

That means families and businesses alike can plan memorable events at a much lower cost — movie-night packages start at $299. And if a client would prefer that Jx2 handle everything from soup to nuts, Jensen said he and his staff of three are ready to deliver.

The End of the Night

“We do more than come and play music,” he said, noting, for instance, that he’s drafted a 60-page guide for brides, which covers everything from common wedding-reception traditions to frequently asked questions — not just of him, but of photographers, event planners, and caterers, as well. “We try to go the extra step to help. I’m not doing it to be an event planner, but there’s so much that goes into these events that people appreciate the extra guidance.”

That help might also be increasingly necessary, judging by Jensen’s own notes for a coming event. Too many for a notebook or a software program, Jensen had instead resorted to a classroom-sized whiteboard to record his clients’ wishes and the necessary equipment. “I like to have it all in front of me,” he said.

And with both juniors in high school and senior executives to impress, he might soon need a new, even bigger whiteboard to keep things straight.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
STCC at 40: A Case of Institutional Advancement
Springfield Technical Community College

Springfield Technical Community College

Much has changed on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College since the school opened on the grounds of the Springfield Armory in 1967. But the school’s basic mission — preparing students for the workplace and thus improving the health and vitality of the region’s economy — hasn’t. As the school turns 40, it looks back on a proud track record of blending imagination and perseverance to meet that mission, but, as always, the focus is on the future.

Faye-Marie Bartlett remembers that first semester.

It was the fall of 1967, and the Springfield Technical Institute, to be known a year later as Springfield Technical Community College, was open for business — with open being the operative word.

The school had assumed several of the buildings that comprised the Springfield Armory, the closing of which had been announced in 1964, but decommissioning was still in progress when classes started that September. Bartlett, who would go on to teach Nursing and other health programs at STCC for 22 years, remembers that classrooms were created “wherever they could put them,” which meant, in most cases, large, open spaces once used for gun manufacturing.

“They put in new floors,” she recalled, “but there were no walls.”

School staff, faculty, and administrators pitched in to erect partitions, she continued, but they certainly didn’t reach the 20-foot ceilings. Baffles were hung in an attempt to contain noise, but there was a sizable gap between the top of the partitions and the bottom of the baffles. All this made for some colorful anecdotes that live on 40 years later.

“I was teaching Growth and Development,” Bartlett recalled. “The person next door was teaching Anatomy and Physiology. Across the hall, which wasn’t really a hall, just part of the room, someone was teaching Biology. You could hear it all; I like to say that you could get three classes for the price of one.”

In Growth and Development, said Bartlett, students learn about the birth and early development of humans. Her tales from 1967 provide some first-hand insight into how this unique institution was born and how it developed. Then, and throughout its 40-year history, Bartlett and others told BusinessWest, the school has used imagination and determination to overcome challenges and meet its mission.

Along the way, it has forged a reputation as one of the leaders among the state’s 15 community colleges in career programs. In recent years, the school has won national and even international acclaim for a technology park it created across the street from the main campus in former Armory buildings later used by General Electric and then Digital. The park, which has won national awards in the realm of economic development, is now home to more than a dozen businesses which together employ nearly 1,000 people.

While there are many individuals who played key roles in the creation, growth, and evolution of the college, much of the credit is given to two visionaries: Edmond Garvey and Andrew Scibelli.

It was Garvey, a former Naval officer who, as principal of the former Trade (now Putnam) High School, saw a need for a post-graduate program that would become STI, worked with local and state officials to relocate the program into the Armory, and led the college through its formative years.

And it was Scibelli, who started at the school as a Biology teacher, who would eventually take it to the next level in terms of programs, facilities, reputation, visibility, and community involvement. “He opened up those gates,” said Brian Corridan, who served the school as trustee for 10 years (seven as chairman) and has led the organization administering the technology park for the past 11, referring to the massive iron fencing, crafted from melted-down cannons that surround the campus.

Scibelli is credited not only with putting the college on the map, but also for fostering leadership and sense of entrepreneurship among those who worked beside him: four of his former vice presidents are now leading their own community colleges.

That entrepreneurial spirit remains today, said current President Ira Rubenzahl, who told BusinessWest that the school remains diligent in its work to determine and then meet the needs of its students, the region, and the local business community, which is its true mission.

Moving forward, the college — which has launched a major gifts campaign to mark its 40th anniversary and will celebrate the milestone with a gala for past and present trustees, faculty, and staff — is also taking part in national, multi-year initiative called Achieving the Dream. In simple terms, the program is focused on helping community college students meet their goals — whatever they may be, meaning specific courses, certificate programs, degrees, transfer, or job opportunities.

“We want more people to finish what they start,” said Rubenzahl, noting that, nationally, too many students leave community colleges without meeting their goals, and in doing so, risk losing out on employment opportunities and also add to the challenges facing business sectors struggling to find qualified workers.

“This isn’t a feel-good thing,” he said. “The foundations funding this believe that the American workforce is not going to be competitive if we don’t educate more individuals, because the jobs require education, and they see the community colleges as the place where that needs to happen.”

In this issue, BusinessWest looks back at STCC’s first 40 years, and ahead, to what might come next for the college that is making history at an already historic site.

Taking Their Best Shot

Scibelli has his own stories from the college’s early years.

He remembers teaching Microbiology in 1969 in the facility known then and now as Building 20. His classroom was carved out of space that was formerly a machine shop. There was plenty of room, but only 12 outlets for 33 microscopes. “So we shared — people worked in teams,” he recalled. “We just did whatever we had to do.”

Like Bartlett, Scibelli said the exercises in overcoming adversity provided some good lessons for those first students in imagination and perseverance. They also created a sense of family among faculty and staff, one strong enough to compel many individuals, including Scibelli, to stay with the school for the balance of their professional careers.

“There was a strong sense of unity that came from doing everything together,” he remembers. “There were many days when you would teach a class and then go help put up a wall someplace. We all felt we were building something special.”

Tracing the history of the college, its creation was prompted by a blend of need and circumstance, specifically the decommissioning of the Armory, the location of which was chosen by George Washington. It was the Armory, which employed more than 13,000 people during World War II, that gave the region not only jobs, but the foundation upon which much of the precision manufacturing base that gave the region its industrial identity was built.

Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan, who, remarkably, was also in the corner office when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced that the Armory would close, told BusinessWest that he and others fought a spirited year-and-a-half-long fight to reverse that decision — and at one point thought they had the battle won.

“But then, they changed the ground rules on us,” he said, noting that even after city leaders effectively stated a solid case for continued need for the Armory, McNamara stuck to his guns, figuratively speaking, and by early 1966 city and state leaders conceded that the closing was inevitable.

It was then — or, by some accounts, years if not decades earlier — that people started thinking about creating a college at the site, especially the west side of Federal Street, with its long brick buildings and large courtyard, used for drilling and parades when the Armory was open.

Among those doing such thinking were Ryan and Garvey, who both saw a need to expand STI — which was launched in 1964 and was soon being flooded with more applications than it could handle — and considered the Armory a natural fit.

But that proposal didn’t appeal to everyone. Some thought the Armory buildings should be used for industry and to yield much-needed tax revenue — and the buildings on the east side of Federal Street would serve both purposes, first as home to General Electric facilities, then Milton Bradley operations, and later a manufacturing center for Digital Equipment Corp. Meanwhile, others believed there wasn’t need for another two-year college, what with Holyoke Community College only 10 miles away.

Those advocating for the college eventually prevailed, and, from Ryan’s perspective, largely because of the strong case Garvey built for what would become the state’s first (and still only) technical community college.

“Ed Garvey was a genius,” Ryan recalled. “He believed that if he could keep students for an extra year, he could guarantee that they’d get a job when they graduated. That’s how the post-graduate program that would become STI got started.”

It was initially funded mostly by the city, the mayor continued, but it became clear that the community didn’t have the resources needed to take STI where Garvey wanted it to go. Working with state Rep. Anthony Scibelli, Gov. John Volpe, and industrialist Joseph Deliso Sr., Garvey and Ryan made STI a state institution, one with an historic street address.

Both Bartlett and Scibelli credited Garvey with possessing the vision and leadership skills needed to guide the school through those early years and put it on a solid foundation.

“He was a true visionary, and he was my mentor,” said Scibelli, who served Garvey as faculty member and registrar.

Said Bartlett, “he (Garvey) was very visible and very much involved in what was happening. Some presidents rarely get out of their offices, but he was always out, talking with students and faculty, and listening to what they were saying.”

Down to a Science

Garvey retired in 1974, to be succeeded by Robert Geitz, an Engineering professor at the school who served until 1981. Leonard Collamore, a History professor at the college, served as interim during a prolonged search for a president that ended with Scibelli getting the nod.

And it is Scibelli who is credited with making STCC a more respected name within academia, and especially the community it serves, and, in the process, increasing enrollment.

“Some people called it the ‘high school on the hill,’ and I bristled whenever I heard that,” Scibelli recalled. “I was determined to make the school’s reputation worthy of what I knew was going on inside those gates.”

He was able to do so, said Corridan, thanks to a combination of his own leadership skills, a strong board of trustees, and administrative teams that believed in the school and its role within the community, and wanted to expand that role.

“We explored various relationships, not only with the community immediately around us as to how we could fill voids, but also with those in certain industries,” he explained. “We asked them to tell us what they needed, and we would devise programs around that.”

He cited programs involving IBM, Ford Motor Co., and other major corporations to train potential employees as examples of how the school progressed during what he called its “transformative years.” Locally, the college worked (and continues to work) with health care providers to meet their needs in terms of both a pipeline of workers for several fields and making sure those workers have the requisite skills needed to succeed.

“We made sure that the college was going in the direction it was intended to go,” Corridan explained, “but to continue to raise the bar constantly, both locally and nationally, to meet a mission and not just be a glorified technical high school.”

Ray Di Pasquale, who served the college in a variety of positions, the last being vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, is one of the four who worked with and for Scibelli to move on to become a school’s president — in his case, the Community College of Rhode Island. He credited Scibelli with giving administrators opportunities to excel, thus enabling them to grow professionally while also taking the college to a higher plane.

“He allowed all of us to do our jobs … he made us part of a team,” said Di Pasquale. “We all did our jobs well, whether it was getting enrollment up or getting the message out about the school. We did a lot of neat stuff, and we got very involved in the city, which is very important.”

Elaborating, Di Pasquale said Scibelli opened the school’s gates and doors to the community, making it a resource, while also involving elected officials and business leaders on advisory boards and with decision-making.

“Andy saw the wisdom of expanding our horizons and getting outsiders involved,” he continued. “That brought additional dollars to the school, and by opening those gates to others and welcoming new ideas, he made the college stronger.”

This is a management style Di Pasquale said he is trying to emulate at CCRI, where he is building partnerships with business leaders and becoming heavily involved with economic development initiatives.

Technically Speaking

During Scibelli’s tenure, imagination was needed not to shape classrooms out of factory space, but to often continue programs and initiatives — and cultivate new ones — at a time of frequent budget turmoil and inconsistent support from the Commonwealth.

There was one period of severe cutbacks and even budget remissions — when money is allocated and then actually pulled back — in the late ’80s, another in the early ’90s, and other, less severe episodes in the early ’80s and again this decade, said Scibelli, adding that the college responded by becoming, in his mind, entrepreneurial.

“We started thinking like a business,” he said, adding that the school’s administrators began looking at new and different ways to find money, or generate revenue, rather than merely reduce expenses.

One of these methods was a heightened focus on grant-writing, an initiative that would yield some high-profile awards from the National Science Foundation and other groups and, ultimately, less reliance on state funding for the college’s health and well-being.

Among those grants is one from Verizon, now beyond $16 million, for the so-called Next Step Program, a New England-wide initiative to train the company’s workers through a curriculum of telecommunications technology. STCC serves as the lead school in a network of community colleges for five New England states to offer the training. Another is an NSF grant, now totaling more than $10 million, for the National Center for Telecommunications Technology (NCTT), which, as the name suggests, is an advanced technological education center to develop and pilot telecommunications and related science and math courses in high schools, community colleges, and baccalaureate-degree colleges.

The entrepreneurial thinking took on an even more literal bent in the early ’90s, when, after Digital announced it would close its Springfield plant, the college let known its intention to purchase the property and create a business park. No community college had ever embarked on such an effort, and there were many in Springfield who didn’t want STCC to take that route.

“It had never been done before, and it hasn’t been done since, at least by a community college,” said Corridan, who leads the assistance corporation that operates the park. “It was a bold step, and there was a lot of risk involved. The college didn’t have to take that step; it was already doing well and filling its role in the community, but it wanted to take that role to a much higher level.”

The park, which would later include incubator space and entrepreneurial programming housed in a building to become known as the Andrew M. Scibelli Enterprise Center, opened in 1996. This was when the technology sector was witnessing
rapid and profound expansion, and soon the facility was filled with regional and national technology-based companies.

The bursting of the dot-com bubble earlier this decade and ongoing consolidation of many aspects of the tech sector have created some vacancies and a new set of challenges for park administrators, said Corridan, who told BusinessWest that the team is already exploring some imaginative options.

Keeping the technology park filled — and vibrant — is one of the priorities for the school and the assistance corporation moving forward, said Rubenzahl, adding that a long-term strategic plan calls for ongoing partnerships with community and business leaders to ensure that students are graduating with the skills necessary to succeed in an increasingly technology-based economy.

He cited an agreement signed just last month by the college, the local chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Assoc., and the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County as just one example. The memorandum of understanding includes new courses and a new certificate program, among other things, that are designed to draw more people into the field and increase the skill levels of those already in it.

“It’s an important initiative,” said Rubenzahl, adding that there are hundreds of vacancies in the precision machining sector that are going unfilled, resulting in millions of dollars in work that must be turned down by area shops. Work to close that gap is just one of the steps the college is taking to help bolster the local economy.

Involvement with Achieving the Dream, from a long-term perspective, is another.

A privately funded initiative launched in 2004 that involves several local and national foundations, Achieving the Dream is the centerpiece of the school’s current strategic plan, he explained, and it has important implications for the college and the community.

“We want to make sure that all of our students are successful in meeting their goals,” he said. “Their goal may not be to graduate; it may be to take some courses, or get a certificate, or to transfer. We know that, across the country, community colleges, because they’re open-admission, often see students struggle to be successful; this a long-term, in-depth program to improve community college success.”

Elaborating, he said that in this, the first year of STCC’s involvement, there will be close examination of data concerning course-completion rates, retention, graduation rates, and other indices, with close attention paid to how various sub-groups — defined by gender, income, and ethnicity, for example — fare when compared to the whole.

From there, the school will work to identify gaps and close them.

“The key is to take a look at the data we’ve gathered and say, ‘where is there room for improvement, and how do we attack this issue?’” he explained, adding that, broadly speaking, this is what the school has been doing since the doors opened in 1967.

A Class Act

Bartlett remembers when the Nursing program got off the ground in 1969. There were 45 students enrolled in that first class, and they couldn’t all fit in a classroom created in a building, more like a house, that once served as officers’ quarters at the Armory.

So program administrators improvised, and used space in another, nearby building, formerly the officers club. Bartlett remembers wheeling a blackboard back and forth between the two facilities countless times in those early days. Like other, often extraordinary steps taken to get the job done, she says the blackboard-rolling exploits helped build camaraderie and steel administrators and faculty members for the many challenges still to come.

“We made a game out of it,” she recalled. “Any obstacle we faced we just took it on and found a way to overcome; we knew that someday, things would be better. It’s the same today, and everyone can see that things have gotten better.

Much better.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

Max’s Golf Tournament Shows the Power of Philanthropy
Ann Marie Harding; Ron Sadowski; Jennifer Baril; Edward Reiter

Gathered on the play deck at BCH are, from left, A.M.Harding, Evnts. Dir. for Max’s Tavern; R.Sadowski, V.P of Williams Distributing; J.Baril, major gifts officer for the Baystate Health Foundation; & E.Reiter, Chm.of the Dept. of Pediatrics.

They call it a “shotgun start.”

That’s the name given to the process used to get as many as 120 people around a golf course in a timely fashion for a charity tournament or even a regular Saturday morning’s play at the local municipal course. The idea is to send everyone off at the same time, using all or most of the 18 holes, enabling them to finish at the same time.

The name is derived from the fact that in the old days, the individual starting the tournament would sometimes actually fire off a shotgun to signal the start of play. Those crackles have long since been replaced by horns.

But for the start of the first Max Classic tournament in 2004, organizers, looking to evoke some nostalgia or to just get the ambitious event off with a bang — literally — fired a Revolutionary War-era cannon to get things going. The blast cracked a mirror in the lobby at Crestview Country Club in Agawam.

Seven years of bad luck? Hardly.

It’s been four years of incredibly good fortune for Baystate Children’s Hospital — which has been the beneficiary of the tournament since the start — with the promise of many more to come. Indeed, the event, so-named because Max’s Tavern is the lead presenting sponsor, is fast becoming one of the most popular tournaments on the region’s crammed slate, and the benefiting organization is one that touches, in one way or another, virtually everyone who puts a tee in the ground or places their name on a tee sign. So the future looks bright.

The past and present aren’t bad, either. In four short years, the Classic has raised more than $500,000 for the Children’s Hospital. Those who organize or play in charity tournaments might think that’s a misprint; it’s not. But perhaps more important than the number behind the dollar sign is the direction in which the money goes — toward specific equipment purchases identified as priorities by hospital administrators.

In the first year, proceeds went toward purchase of omnibeds, or high-tech incubators, for the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit — with the accent on the plural. Organizers thought they’d raise enough for one, but obviously did much better than expected. In years two and three, a total of more than $250,000 was channeled toward asthma programs at the hospital, and this year’s event raised more than $160,000 for a digital pediatric echocardiogram.

That’s roughly half the actual sticker price, said Dr. Edward Reiter, chairman of Pediatrics at Baystate Children’s Hospital, who told BusinessWest that the donation probably expedited the process of moving the echocardiogram up the list of capital purchases within the Baystate Health system. Overall, he said the golf tournament and other special events staged on behalf of the hospital have helped the facility stay on bthe cutting edge of technology and programs at a time of still-inadequate reimbursements for care and fierce competition for capital dollars.

“The challenge of the capital budget process for any children’s hospital is a dramatic one,” said Reiter. “That’s because the amount of revenue that comes in from insurance payers for clinical care doesn’t enable you to purchase all the things you need for a modern setting.

“That’s why the gifts from generous individuals and the proceeds from events like the golf tournament are so important,” he said. “New technology is very expensive, but it’s also very necessary if we’re going to provide the best care.”

In this issue, BusinessWest looks at what has become a perfect match between a company, Max’s, with a deep commitment to philanthropy, and a beneficiary that has important items on its wish list.

Round Numbers

It took some doing, but organizers of the 2007 Max Classic managed to get one of the manufacturers of the desired digital echocardiogram to bring one of the machines to the Ranch Golf Club in Southwick, one of two venues used for the tournament, so participants could see where their largesse was going.

The sales representative brought his son along to act as a ‘patient’ for demonstrations, said Jennifer Baril, major gifts officer for the Baystate Health Foundation. “We wanted to make a strong connection between the golf and the beneficiary,” she explained, adding that this has been accomplished in several ways, right down to ‘Children’s Hospital’ logos placed on the golf balls and bottles of water given to each of the players before the start of the tournament. “By making that connection, people can better relate to the hospital and see why their help is needed.”

As she talked about fund-raising efforts for the Baystate system and specifically the Children’s Hospital, Baril said there are several special events during the year involving the Children’s Miracle Network, the fund-raising platform for pediatric care — including an annual radiothon and telethon — that raise money for programs across the system. This includes two other hospitals — Baystate Mary Lane in Ware and Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield. The system also solicits major gifts from area residents and business owners that are often put toward specific purposes and programs.

The Max Classic is a type of hybrid, she explained, adding that it is a special, annual event, but one with a specific beneficiary — the Children’s Hospital in Springfield — and often very specific equipment purchases. It is quite unique, because it’s organized by a private entity, Max’s, and not the benefiting institution or non-profit group.

It all started with the philanthropic tendencies of Rich Rosenthal, founder and owner of a series of Max’s restaurants: the Tavern, within the Basketball Hall of Fame complex in Springfield, and five others in the Greater Hartford area.
When he started doing business in Connecticut, Rosenthal soon sought out a major beneficiary for fund-raising activities involving his restaurants, said AnnMarie Harding, events coordinator for Max’s Tavern, and found one in the Arthritis Foundation. His restaurant group has also staged events to benefit the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and myriad other groups, she said.

Rosenthal’s arrival in Springfield coincided with efforts among supporters of the Children’s Hospital to find new funding sources, she continued, adding that the hospital seemed like a perfect fit for Rosenthal’s efforts to find high-impact ways to benefit the Greater Springfield community.

Fund-raising efforts for that facility started with grand-opening festivities for the restaurant in the summer of 2003 — continuing a tradition involving each of the Connecticut eateries — and have been followed up with several special events, including two galas staged at the restaurant and the golf tournament, which has quickly become one of the largest and most popular in the region.

Ron Sadowski, vice president of Williams Distributing in Chicopee, a family-owned business started by his father, Bill, said that despite a saturated schedule of charity golf tournaments, he and others recruited to organize the Max Classic knew there was room for one more, especially if it was unique and had a beneficiary with which area individuals and especially business owners could relate. He’s been proven right.

The Sadowsky family, which has been very philanthropic in its own right over the past several decades, has a strong connection to the Baystate System and especially the Children’s Hospital, said Ron Sadowsky, noting that his wife, Brenna, has been involved in several fund-raising initiatives for the facility and the group Friends of Children’s Hospital.

Couple that interest with Ron Sadowsky’s major contributions over the years — in both time and money — to golf tournaments for the American Heart Assoc. and the Jimmy Fund, and it’s easy to see why the Max’s tournament has become a Sadowsky family affair, with Ron’s brother Jim and his wife Barbara also becoming major sponsors.

And to honor Bill Sadowsky and the philanthropic traditions he established for his family, the 2007 Max’s Classic was played in his memory.

Fair Way to Succeed

The first Max Classic raised just over $100,000 for the Children’s Hospital, said Harding, and has grown in size — in terms of golfers and the number printed on the check given to the hospital — each year since, to the point where the amount raised is approaching that garnered from a similar event staged in the Hartford area for the Arthritis Foundation.

This has been accomplished by gaining the support of numerous corporate sponsors, who contribute on a number of levels. For the 2007 tournament, Max’s was joined as a lead, or presenting, sponsor by Cadillac and Winer/Levsky Group. There are several other sponsorship levels, said Sadowsky, adding that the event has added new supporters each year, again because of the uniqueness of the event and the beneficiary.

“The tournament has really captured the attention of the business community,” he said. “People come back every year, and more people want to be a part of it — it’s really amazing.”

The 2007 event was played seven weeks ago, but already planning is underway for next year’s edition. This means work on the part of the tournament committee to continue to find new and intriguing ways to bring value for sponsors and individual golfers, and among those involved with the Children’s Hospital to identify specific needs that could be met by the event.

A new fiscal year will be starting soon, said Reiter, adding that he and others will soon be reviewing lists for capital requests and programming needs to determine how the 2008 Classic can best help the hospital advance its mission.

He said that it is usually easier to capture the attention of hospital administrators — or golf tournament organizers — with requests for the latest high-tech equipment that can be seen, touched, and heard. It’s harder, but no less important, to gain funding for programs that will have long-term benefits for the region.

“What are the things that your children’s hospital should be doing for the community?” he asked, noting that this question should be the basis of the discussion. “We already have a comprehensive obesity program that needs to be increased in size, and a diabetes program, which is exploding in part because of the obesity problem, that needs more staff.

“And for some reason, this region is a hotbed for asthma,” he continued, adding that he expects the golf tournament and other special events to play a key role in expanding and improving programs to combat these problems for years to come.

Rub of the Green

For the second Max Classic, organizers dispensed with the cannon and started things off with strains from a bagpiper.

It was a safer approach — no cracked mirrors — but one no less poignant.

That’s because since the start, this has been a tournament, and a unique partnership, certainly worthy of note.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]