A Chance to Manufacture Progress
If nothing else, the recently announced initiative to take Valley Venture Mentors’ accelerator model for helping startup businesses and customize it for existing manufacturing companies wins high marks for originality (see story, page 6).
But we hope — and fully expect — that it will achieve much more than it.
Indeed, we anticipate that it will provide an important spark for this sector — which is steeped in history and part of this region’s DNA — by opening new doors to opportunity and offering greater potential for overall sustainability.
As conceived by the quasi-public agency MassDevelopment, in conjunction with VVM and several other partners, including the National Machine Tooling Assoc., this initiative will attempt to do for small to mid-sized precision manufacturers what the accelerator does for startups: find them dance partners.
Those are the words that VVM co-founder and Executive Director Paul Silva used to sum things up, and while they need to be explained, they are nonetheless quite effective.
In the case of startups, dance partners are angel investors and venture capitalists willing to roll the dice and help entrepreneurs take an idea to the next level. In the case of existing manufacturers, such dance partners are original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for which they can solve problems and fill orders.
With both constituencies, finding people to dance with is difficult. Startups are, as that name indicates, just getting started. They often don’t know where or to whom to turn for help with gaining the critical capital needed to take their concept forward. Meanwhile, small- to mid-sized precision manufacturers have their noses to the proverbial grindstone, both literally and figuratively.
Indeed, they are so involved with the day-to-day challenges of putting out parts for their long-time customers that they are often unable to look up and out toward potential new customers.
VVM’s accelerator program, while still in its relative infancy (its second cohort just completed its three-month tour of duty) has nonetheless been successful in linking startups with both insight and capital. Can it enjoy the same success with manufacturers?
There is general optimism concerning this project, but only time will tell.
Manufacturers that fit the profile described above are so busy that many may not even be able to find the time and energy needed to participate in a project that will help secure them new customers — and a more solid future.
But if VVM can recruit companies for this project, it stands to reason that it can succeed with its broad mission. OEMs need partners, and contrary to popular belief, they may well not know that a company in Springfield, Westfield, or Greenfield has the equipment, know-how, and talent to make a part currently fashioned hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Again, this initiative is bold, potential-laden, and quite imaginative. And it’s one more thing — critically important.
As we’ve said many times, for this region to effectively compete for jobs, it must be strong across many sectors of the economy. Precision manufacturing has long been a pillar of strength, but it is not what it once was.
VVM’s initiative holds vast potential for making this sector an even more vital force in the overall health and well-being of the region’s economy. v