Giving Big Ideas a Boost



The best ideas are often born of need, and Ronny’s Priefer’s big idea is exhibit A.

As the story on page 24 relates, Priefer’s niece was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at only 18 months old. Today, the now-6-year-old is one of tens of thousands of people pricking their fingers almost 10 times a day to monitor blood glucose — a task so onerous to many that compliance issues are common, often leading to diabetic complications.

So Priefer, a chemist, has developed a way to measure blood glucose using a person’s breath. For that idea and the startup, New England Breath Technologies, he and his team are building around it, Valley Venture Mentors awarded them $25,000 — the top prize — at the third annual Accelerator Awards. They and 11 other startups shared $150,000 in seed money to further their missions.

A quick look at the first two big winners tells a similar story of need meeting inspiration — and recording serious success.

In 2015, VVM tagged Jessica Dupuis with the top prize at the inaugural Accelerator Awards for Olive Natural Beauty, a company she launched after becoming disenchanted with the unregulated, unhealthy chemicals in the cosmetics she was selling for a Boston apothecary. She banked on women wanting a quality, natural alternative, and she was right; by the end of 2015, she had generated $250,000 in revenue and is being honored as a member of BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty Class of 2017 on June 22 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.

Last year, VVM chose Marcelia Muehlke for its top prize. She started her company, Celia Grace, when she discovered a lack of fair-trade wedding dresses. So she traveled to Asia and set up a supply chain to create high-quality garments her clients could feel good about. Today, she provides good-paying jobs for women in Cambodia while selling dresses around the world.

Another 2017 award recipient is Akshata Shanmugam, whose startup, Lumme Inc., is developing technology to help people quit smoking using mobile and wearable devices.

The common thread is unmistakable — identify a problem, or marketplace need, develop a solution, and launch a company. And because it’s highly unlikely humans will run out of problems to solve, there will always be a place for entrepreneurs to step into the gap with big ideas.

What VVM is doing, not only through the awards but with the Accelerator itself, is arming big thinkers locally with the tools, expertise, training, and strategies — and funding, of course — to turn their ideas into success stories, and, by extension, to seed the growing entrepreneurial landscape in Western Mass.

It’s a model worth celebrating, and repeating nationally, because even the best ideas need a boost.

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