Briefcase Departments

Briefcase

Local Nonprofit Launches
White House Initiative

SPRINGFIELD — On Nov. 30, the White House announced the Diversify Access to Capital Pledge, in which a group of angel investors, venture capitalists, and startup accelerators, including more than 30 organizations, pledge to increase access to seed and early-stage capital to entrepreneurs from diverse groups. Participating organizations represent more than 11,000 investors deploying more than $800 million in investment dollars across the country. “Our goal is to catalyze early-seed investors to fund startups founded by entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups who historically have had less access to capital,” said Liz Roberts, CEO of Valley Venture Mentors (VVM), one of the pledge signers. “This is one of VVM’s core values and, frankly, common sense when it comes to finding the best investments, innovations, and startups.” VVM, funded in part by the MassMutual Foundation, is honoring this commitment through training and mentoring diverse entrepreneurs. To date, VVM has graduated 174 startups via its Mentorship and Accelerator programs. In last year’s Accelerator cohort, approximately 50% of the startups were women-led, and 36% led by people of color. Other local firms, such as the Springfield Venture Fund, also signed the pledge and are invested in making a difference. “We are thrilled to be a signer to the Diversify Access to Capital Pledge and garner national recognition for helping to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Western Massachusetts,” said Jay Leonard, co-manager at the Springfield Venture Fund. In October, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Commerce Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship invited Roberts, as part of a select group of angel investors and those working to create more angel and seed capital, to a conversation at the White House. This group worked to identify best practices in stimulating broader access to risk capital for entrepreneurs, including for entrepreneurs from backgrounds historically and currently underrepresented in science and tech entrepreneurship. The pledge was an organic byproduct of that meeting.

Volunteers Needed for
Tax-preparation Program

SPRINGFIELD — Volunteers are needed to participate in this year’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. VITA offers free tax preparation for low- to moderate-income residents in Hampden County. The program relies on dedicated volunteers to provide free tax preparation from late January through mid-April. No experience is necessary, and all volunteers are trained by the Internal Revenue Service. Volunteers prepare taxes, greet clients, translate, and coordinate VITA sites. “Last year our volunteers completed more than 5,000 tax returns, free of charge,” said Jennifer Kinsman, United Way director of Community Impact. “These volunteers are an enormous asset to our community.” The VITA program runs from Jan. 29 through April 15. Volunteer training will take place in December. For more information or to volunteer, call (413) 263-6500 or (413) 612-0206.

State Releases Report
on Opioid Epidemic

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration has released “The Massachusetts Opioid Epidemic: a Data Visualization of Findings from the Chapter 55 Report.” The visualization can be viewed at www.mass.gov/chapter55. This website is designed to complement the recent release of the Chapter 55 Report, an unprecedented public/private partnership that reviewed opioid-related data sets from a variety of sources to better understand the opioid epidemic. The report was a product of the Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2015 signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in August 2015. “This project represents our latest effort to use and present data to better understand the opioid epidemic and inform our residents about one of the great public-health challenges of our time,” Baker said. “It is also an example of drawing talent from across state government and working with our external partners to create a tool that makes this important report accessible to more people.” The online site, produced by a MassIT and the Mass. Department Public Health (DPH) partnership, is an online, multi-media resource which illustrates and explains the complex nature of the disease of addiction, the role that legal prescription medications and illegal substances play in the epidemic, its impact across the demographic spectrum in Massachusetts, and what steps are being taken to address this fundamental public-health crisis in communities across the state. “The Chapter 55 report was truly groundbreaking in the depth of its analysis and its use of advanced data to understand the underlying causes of opioid-related deaths,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. “We hope that this new way of communicating the data helps underscore the challenges ahead and our resolve for addressing this crisis.” Led by DPH, the Chapter 55 analysis involved 10 data sets from 5 different government agencies. In total, 29 groups from government, higher education, and the private sector provided information and expertise. This level of partnership is what makes the Chapter 55 report a milestone achievement in Massachusetts. Before this legislation was passed, such a comprehensive look at the opioid epidemic in the Commonwealth would not have been possible. “This innovative tool takes us beyond charts and statistics in a way that allows even greater insight into the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “We hope it will be a useful resource to help inform policymakers, stakeholders, and community members understand where we are, and how we move forward.”

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