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WESTBOROUGH — The Innovation Institute at the MassTech Collaborative has awarded grants to three organizations to boost the development of regional startup communities. The $500,000 in grants from the Strong Entrepreneur Ecosystems program will allow the Downtown Northampton Assoc. (DNA), North Central Massachusetts Development Corp., and Worcester’s Venture Forum to drive more openness and collaboration among entrepreneurs, government, academia, nonprofits, and anchor institutions in each region, uniting organizations that welcome diverse innovators and encouraging them to start and scale companies.

DNA, the sole Western Mass.-based grantee, received $200,000 to strengthen the community of female entrepreneurs in the Greater Northampton area through the creation of a new entity called the Sphere, to provide a network of support built by and for female entrepreneurs in Northampton.

The Sphere will be a cooperative effort led by DNA, the Community Classroom, and several local entrepreneurs. Features of the Sphere include virtual resources and in-person events that help female founders navigate their entrepreneurial journeys while addressing their unique challenges. DNA will also unite the community of female founders through a ‘strengths and skills database,’ in which business owners volunteer to help peers address various business weak spots.

The Strong Entrepreneur Ecosystem grant program was launched in April 2002 to provide regions with funds to design and implement entrepreneur-led economic-development strategies that put local founders at the heart of development initiatives. Organizations were selected to develop strategic planning grants, receiving an initial $25,000 pilot grant to convene advisory groups of local entrepreneurs and community stakeholders to understand the unique needs of entrepreneurs in their regions.

Common themes emerging from the planning phase were the lack of awareness about the types of local business resources available to entrepreneurs and the desire for entrepreneurs to be able to connect and learn from each other, feedback which led to development of strategic plans, which were then reviewed again and selected for larger grants through the program. Each grantee will use the expanded awards to address these and other challenges unique to their communities.

“We need to do everything we can to support entrepreneurs in Massachusetts and provide them with the resources they need to grow and succeed,” Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao said. “These grantees have done great work to build excitement and engagement from community organizations that are ready to support the growth of entrepreneurs in their regions and help them get their ideas to market, including by providing matching funds that will leverage the state’s support.”

Patrick Larkin, program executive at the MassTech Collaborative and director of the Innovation Institute at MassTech, added that “the Innovation Institute is grateful for the role that entrepreneurs play to ‘re-image’ the future of local economies. Communities thrive when you have a mix of successful businesses. These grantees each understand the resources in their backyards that will help entrepreneurs get off the ground and ensure startup founders know where to go when they’re ready to launch their idea.”