CEO, LaunchSpace Inc.: Age 39
When Brianna Drohen’s career path brought her back to Western Mass. in 2013, she met Jack Dunphy, owner of the Orange Innovation Center, and her passion for the region was rekindled.
After learning about Dunphy’s vision, Drohen got to work helping him develop resources, training, and support for entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. In the next two years, she brought the building to 90% occupancy and hosted classes and workshops to educate the tenant businesses in specific areas. She also secured grants for a new parking lot and a water-filtration system.
“It’s incredibly gratifying,” said Drohen, who grew up in Wendell and earned degrees at Greenfield Community College and UMass Amherst. “This is a very community-centered place; I grew up with that backbone. When I moved back here, I fell into this work, and I love it.”
But Drohen’s role would soon expand in intriguing ways. In 2016, Dunphy was looking to bring a vacant portion of the building back to life. When Drohen toured a facility in Columbus, Ohio that had similar characteristics as the Orange Innovation Center, she had a ‘eureka!’ moment when she saw businesses, a maker space, and artisans thriving together, revitalizing the neighborhood.
So, in 2017, she and Alec MacLeod co-founded LaunchSpace, a nonprofit organization providing opportunities to upskill, collaborate, and develop new businesses in the local Orange economy. Drohen took over as CEO in 2021.
LaunchSpace also acquired the 24,000-square-foot Pleasant Street School in Athol, intending to drive the local economy by repurposing the kitchen into a working, shared-use commercial kitchen and the classrooms into business-incubation suites and retail outlets, as well as a childcare facility.
LaunchSpace plans to host and support on-site agriculture, value-added food businesses, training and incubation, and community wellness at the former school, providing opportunities to support food sustainability in the region, as well as continuing to develop talent and create jobs for the local economy.
In 2021, Drohen also led a partnership with Greenfield Community College to launch an entrepreneur program to support creative businesses. In 2022, LaunchSpace, GCC, and Greenspace CoWork received funding to pilot a six-month acceleration program focused on the underserved residents of Greater Franklin County.
“I’m driven,” she said. “Some people call me aggressive, but I’m definitely driven by this idea that we can not only reuse old buildings, but we can create micro-economies that support these Western Mass. communities. I would love to have the LaunchSpace model replicated in other communities as well.”