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State Unemployment Rate Drops to 2.8% in December

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 2.8% in December, marking the sixth consecutive month the rate has declined, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday. The last time the state’s unemployment rate was at 2.8% was in December 2000. In December, preliminary estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate Massachusetts added 6,600 jobs over the month. The November job gain had an upward revision, with the state adding 7,000 jobs compared to the previously published 5,800-job-gain estimate. Over the year, Massachusetts has added 75,000 jobs. At 2.8%, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is down 2.1% over the year from 4.9% in December 2015. There were 73,300 fewer unemployed residents and 112,900 more employed residents over the year compared to December 2015. “For the past six months, the unemployment has continued to drop, and the labor-force participation rate has held steady over the year, which is very good news for the state,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald Walker II said. “We are also pleased to see the state continues to add jobs in key sectors, such as education and health services; professional, scientific, and business services; information; and construction.” In December, over-the-month job gains occurred in the education and health services; construction; professional, scientific, and business services; information; leisure and hospitality; financial activities; manufacturing; and other services sectors. The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — is 64.7%. Over the year, the labor-force participation rate has increased 0.2% compared to December 2015. Over the year, the largest private-sector percentage job gains were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; education and health services; and leisure and hospitality. Massachusetts’ unemployment rate has remained lower than the national rate since April 2008. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the December national rate at 4.7%. Since the statewide rate peaked at 8.8% in September 2009, there are now 335,600 more Massachusetts residents employed and 202,700 fewer residents unemployed, as the labor force increased by 133,000.

VVM Announces 36 Startups in 2017 Accelerator

SPRINGFIELD — Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) announced the 2017 Startup Accelerator cohort this week. The 36 startups, chosen from more than 200 applicants received from around the world, represent high-quality, early-stage startups across more than eight industries, including technology, beauty, healthcare, transportation, and publishing. “We are excited by the diversity of industries represented in this cohort,” VVM CEO Liz Roberts said. “We are honored that they are choosing to invest their time in our accelerator. They will get intensive training, mentorship, and resources to take their startups to the next level.” Sixty-five percent of this year’s startups are led by women, and 36% are led by people of color. International teams from Canada, India, and Ghana will participate. “Educating startup founders is all about helping them minimize their startup risks. Over the next four months, these entrepreneurs and their teams are going to spend time analyzing their products, services, business models, and the markets they intend to disrupt,” said Paul Silva, VVM chief innovation officer and co-founder. “They will learn from successful entrepreneurs — people who have been exactly where these founders are.” VVM Startup Accelerator participants also develop relationships with funders and are eligible to win up to $50,000 in equity-free cash at the end of the program. The winners will be announced on Thursday, May 25 at an awards ceremony with an expected 600 people in attendance at the MassMutual Center. VVM’s visionary partners include MassMutual, MassDevelopment, the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, MassTech Collaborative, and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. Another aspect of this year’s program is VVM’s partnership with Pathlight, a local organization which serves people with intellectual disabilities. The two organizations put out a national call for entrepreneurs with technology ideas that could increase independence for those with intellectual disabilities. After a rigorous selection process, two such startups were selected to participate in the accelerator: Galactic Smarties and Habit Stackr. Several of the companies accepted to the 2017 VVM Startup Accelerator are graduates of VVM’s mentorship program, including AlignMeeting, Bhlue Publishing, FootCare by Nurses, Hot Oven Cookies, Listen2aBook, Lumme, RecordME, Streamliners, TripleTote, and Yummy Yammy. The 2017 VVM Startup Accelerator cohort includes:
• AlignMeeting, business-productivity software facilitating best meeting practices to improve team efficiency before, during, and long after meetings;
• AuCoDe, the Google Alerts of controversies and crisis situations, providing early detection as a signal for hedge funds;
• Barakat Bundle, a curated package of life-saving solutions for mothers and newborns in South Asia;
• Bhlue Publishing, a cloud-based career-development platform for teens and young adults who are struggling to figure out a career direction;
• Bharat Babies, which produces developmentally appropriate children’s books that are inspired by the stories of India and South Asia;
• Connecticut Horse, a bimonthly print and online magazine for horse enthusiasts in Connecticut;
• Emotive Agility Training Center, a consulting company offering training tools and curricula for people with autism to crack the non-verbal code of social interactions;
• Enrichment Express, which provides instructors with the curriculum, materials, and logistical support needed to teach engaging enrichment classes to children 5 to 12 years old;
• Ernest Pharmaceuticals, programmed bacteria to eliminate metastatic cancer;
• Fields Center, which provides help for individuals with autism and families;
• FirmOffer, a software solution for legal recruiting enabling law students to make binding offers to law firms;
• FootCare by Nurses, foot-wellness experts;
• Galactic Smarties, which makes technology that supports independence for people of all ages and abilities;
• GeneRisk, which identifies genetic variants of autism allowing for better understanding of risk and ID targets for more personalized intervention;
• Genoverde Biosciences Inc., an agricultural biotech startup focused on improving crop yield for commercial farming through bioengineering;
• Habit Stackr, which helps people keep daily routines through brain science and a mobile app;
• Hot Oven Cookies, a handcrafted cookie bakery specializing in the delivery and curbside sales of warm, gourmet cookies;
• Kwema, which developed a smart bracelet that can call for help to friends and family, authorities, and Kwema’s safety communities;
• Listen2aBook, which makes audiobook production accessible to everyone;
• Lumme Inc., a startup funded by the National Cancer Institute that develops smart technology to help people quit smoking;
• M1 Tapes, which makes premium, contractor-grade tape measures;
• MEANS Database, a nonprofit technology company devoted to business-friendly food recovery;
• MyBarber, which provides on-site haircuts at offices, apartment complexes, and co-working spaces;
• NERv Technology, which is developing an implantable biochip platform to detect post-operative complications;
• New England Breath Technologies, which developing a pain-free diabetic monitoring device to improve outcomes of patients;
• Nonspec, which has created a low-ost, durable, and adjustable prosthetic system;
• Paysa, which is developing a fingerprint-authorized cashless payment system for stores in rural India with the goal of increasing bank-account owners;
• ProjectMQ, a social-media app for independent game studios and fans worldwide;
• RateFrame, which helps users highlight and share the best parts of any video;
• RecordME, a studio-recording company that provides hardware, engineers, and distribution so content creators and venues can make more money;
• Streamliners, which sells aerodynamic devices to the trucking industry, saving $4,000 per truck per year in fuel costs, paying for itself in three months;
• Trabapido, an online marketplace that helps individuals and businesses find and hire service providers, such as plumbers, painters, and tutors;
• TripBuddy, a ride-sharing startup;
• Tripletote, which manufactures consumer products that help people carry items as they travel, commute, shop, and work;
• VaxAtlas, which provide real-time access to one’s vaccine history, helping to avoid unnecessary repeat vaccines, identify missed vaccines, and alert for outbreaks; and
• Yummy Yammy, which helps busy people eat better, one deliciously addictive sweet potato at a time.

Simon Youth Foundation Seeks Scholarship Applicants

LEE — Simon Malls and Simon Premium Outlets in New England announced that, once again, its malls and centers — including Lee Premium Outlets — will help deserving graduating seniors pay for college. Simon Youth Foundation, a national nonprofit that provides educational opportunities for at-risk high school students, is looking for qualified applicants. Each year, Simon Youth Community Scholarships are awarded in every community across the country that is home to a Simon Malls or Premium Outlets center. The application period ends on March 1. Students can apply online by visiting Any student who will be graduating in the class of 2017 and lives in the community surrounding a Simon property is eligible. Applicants can check their eligibility by entering their ZIP code at Recipients will receive up to $1,500 to enroll in an accredited college, university, or vocational or technical school. In addition, 11 regional Awards of Excellence will be given to top candidates. The regions eligible are Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Miami, New York, Orange County (Calif.), Orlando, and Seattle/Tacoma. Students from these areas will have the opportunity to receive a $10,000 award ($2,500 for up to four years). In 2016, the Simon Youth Foundation awarded $1.2 million to 300 students nationwide. Scholarship recipients will be selected by International Scholarship and Tuition Services Inc., a third-party administrator. Students are selected based on a variety of criteria, including financial need, academic performance, leadership skills, and participation in school and community activities. Students who are the first in their family to pursue a post-secondary education will also be given close consideration. Recipients will be notified in May.

Horace Smith Fund Calls for Scholarship, Fellowship Applications

SPRINGFIELD — The Horace Smith Fund, a private foundation that offers scholarships and fellowships, has extended the application deadline date for the Walter S. Barr Scholarships and Fellowships until March 1, 2017, due to the low number of applications so far. Last year, The fund awarded $258,000 to 25 area students. “To date, we have received only 46 scholarship applications and 16 fellowship applications. It is surprising that more students haven’t applied yet,” said Teresa Regina, trustee and chair of the scholarship committee. “Applications can be downloaded or completed online. They are also available at every area high school and college or by contacting our office.” The Walter S. Barr Scholarship is available for graduates of Hampden County public and private high schools. Applicants may either be graduating high-school seniors or in college. Scholarship awards of $10,000 are distributed in annual installments of $2,500 and renewable each year until graduation. Recipients are selected on a variety of criteria, including their test scores, class rank, extracurricular activities, and a personal written account of why the student feels deserving of financial assistance. The Walter S. Barr Fellowship awards are made annually to those wishing to enroll in full-time graduate studies. In general, applicants must be residents of Hampden County. Awards are made to students pursuing a specific post-graduate degree. The award of $12,000 is distributed in annual installments of $4,000 for a maximum of three years. Awards will be made on the basis of all available information, including school records, recommendations, and examination scores. Consideration will be given to both the merit and financial need of the applicant. “We hope students take advantage of this local resource,” Regina said.

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