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Cover Story

A Huge Opportunity — Clearly

From left, principals Marc Gammell, Yinyong Li, and Kenneth Carter

From left, principals Marc Gammell, Yinyong Li, and Kenneth Carter

There’s no word yet on whether the creators of FogKicker will embrace Johnny Nash’s 1972 reggae hit ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ as their theme song, but it would certainly work. The product, developed in the polymer science lab at UMass Amherst, has proven itself successful in keeping a range of surfaces, from scuba masks to bathroom mirrors, clear of fog. Partners Yinyong Li, Marc Gammell, and Kenneth Carter are scaling up their venture, Treaty Biotech LLC, and while their vision of the future isn’t totally clear, it is certainly coming into focus.

They call it ‘big glass.’

That’s the term the principals at Treaty LLC, developers of the product known as FogKicker, summon as they talk about larger surfaces such as car windshields, bathroom mirrors, and shower doors.

And they foresee a day when their product will be in widespread use on all of the above, and more, to clear away annoying — and sometimes dangerous, especially when it comes to those windshields — fog.

We made a strategic decision to go after this niche market, where we knew there was a problem, where there are anti-fogging products out there that work fairly miserably, and where we knew we could gain a foothold.”

But for now, they’re more focused on what would have to be labeled ‘small glass,’ or at least ‘smaller glass,’ as in the goggles used by scuba divers, snorkelers, swimmers, skiers, mountain climbers, and others. And in this realm — large in its own right by any estimation — those who developed FogKicker in the polymer science lab at UMass Amherst can see some clear opportunities, pun obviously intended.

“There are certainly a number of applications for this product — everyone has a bathroom mirror,” said Yinyong Li, who, along with Kenneth Carter, a professor in the Polymer Science and Engineering Department at UMass Amherst, discovered that nanocellouse, a biological material plants use to help them absorb and circulate water, could also be used to solve one of society’s big problems — keeping glass surfaces free of fog.

Cellulose, of course, is used in the production of a number of paper products, said Yinyong, adding that, in many respects, FogKicker acts like an invisible paper towel to absorb moisture and keep glass surfaces clear of fog.

Yinyong, the company’s chief technology officer, who attained his Ph.D. from UMass in 2016; Carter; and third partner Marc Gammell, who recently earned his undergraduate degree at UMass, are making giant strides forward in the process of taking FogKicker from discovery in the lab to successful business venture.

They have succeeded in raising capital, and also in raising the product’s — and the company’s — profile, through appearances like the one late last month on the CNBC reality program Adventure Capitalists, for example.

The video clip shows Gammell and Carter (an experienced diver himself), both clad in FogKicker pullovers, appearing on a dock somewhere with the ocean in the background, making a pitch for their product — and also for what the two called ‘smart capital,’ as well as individuals to join their team.

The creators of FogKicker are in the process of scaling up their venture, focusing first on sports goggles and other smaller glass surfaces.

The creators of FogKicker are in the process of scaling up their venture, focusing first on sports goggles and other smaller glass surfaces.

“We want someone who has industry-specific connections,” Gammell, the company’s CEO, says in the video, referring specifically to the diving market. “Someone who has some serious marketing clout, someone who knows their way around building a brand; we want a real team player that brings that to the table.”

In a nutshell, that short video, which also goes into some detail about the product and how it works, neatly sums up where this company is right now and what it’s doing to get where it wants to go.

It has a product that works — one that those in the diving industry have been quick to embrace, as we’ll see — and a road map of sorts for getting to the next level with small glass and ambitions for doing the same with big glass.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with the FogKicker team about their vision for their product and their company, and how things have come into focus, in every sense of that word.

Glass Act

As they talked with BusinessWest about FogKicker and their plans for it, Yinyong, Gammell, and Carter were getting ready to travel.

Their destination was Orlando and, more specifically, the week-long Diving Equipment & Marketing Assoc. (DEMA) trade show. Armed with a new and vastly improved show booth, the partners were — wait for it — looking to make a splash with their growing portfolio of products.

Or another splash, to be more precise.

Indeed, it was at the 2016 DEMA show in Las Vegas that the partners first caught the attention of the diving community, and in a big way.

The FogKicker principals, from left, Kenneth Carter, Marc Gammell, and Yinyong Li, display their products at one of the many trade shows they’ve exhibited at recently.

The FogKicker principals, from left, Kenneth Carter, Marc Gammell, and Yinyong Li, display their products at one of the many trade shows they’ve exhibited at recently.

“We were met with huge enthusiasm, and seemingly overnight, our product was available all over the world, because this is a worldwide conference, and people were buying cases and cases of it,” said Carter, the company’s chief scientific officer.

This response came, he went on, because FogKicker established itself as a clear (literally) improvement over other methods of keeping scuba masks clear of fog — from saliva to soaps that were already on the market, both of which eventually wash off and lose their effectiveness. “This is one of the first water-resistant anti-fogging coatings that have been produced.”

But to tell this story, we need to go back further, to earlier this decade, when Yinyong and Carter, using funding from the National Science Foundation, started to look at ways that nanocellulose, derived from paper pulp, could be used in electronics.

“Cellulose is one of the most abundant products in the world; it’s the basis of wood, paper, trees, algae, and plants in general,” said Carter. “Paper makers grind it up into a pasty pulp, and they spread it over wires, and that’s how we make paper — it’s essentially just dried cellulose.

“What was discovered a while ago is that, if you keep breaking that pulp down, mechanically breaking it down and chemically treating it, you can get to what’s known as nanocellulose — nanoscopic particles of cellulose,” he went on. “We were playing around with it, and trying to think of other things we could do with nanocellulose.”

The two discovered they could take many common sources of the material, such as waste paper, cotton, or recycled paper, and convert them into nanocellulose. The bigger discovery, as it turned out, came when they placed this material on various surfaces and, in doing so, created completely transparent coating that did not fog up when exposed to humid air or steam.

“Because it’s paper, it’s very absorbent to water — we all know that paper loves water,” Carter explained. “When things fog up, what’s happening is that water vapor in the air is hitting a cooler surface, and it condenses, forming tiny beads of water, which we see as fog.”

When water hits the nanocellulose films, it gets absorbed, said Yinyong, and doesn’t form those beads, thus eliminating fog.

Fast-forwarding through the all-important discovery phase to ensure that the product is unique and the patent-disclosure process, Yinyong made the concept an entry in the 2015 Innovation Challenge at UMass Amherst, and he came away with the $20,000 grand prize.

He also came away with an eventual partner in this fledgling business venture. Indeed, Gammell was another contestant at the Innovation Challenge. He didn’t fare nearly as well with his entry, but he would also have to be considered a winner, because he was so impressed with what Yinyong brought to the table that he asked if he could be a part of it.

“I was pitching my own crazy business idea, and Yingong was pitching FogKicker,” he recalled. “Yingong wound up going to the finals, and I went just to watch him do his extended pitch, and afterwards, I was so pumped up about FogKicker and his work with nanocellulose that I introduced myself and told him I wanted to help him any way I could.”

Things have accelerated at an impressive pace since then, with FogKicker and Treaty Biotech LLC moving on to more innovation and entrepreneurship competitions, including the Venture Well program in Hadley and Valley Venture Mentors’ Accelerator program, and winning some prize money at nearly all of them.

They also took part in the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps, or I-Corps, as it’s called, a program that prepares scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the university laboratory and move forward with NSF-funded projects ready for commercialization.

“It’s like a boot camp — they scrutinize everything you do,” said Carter, adding that Treaty LLC won $50,000 to do customer discovery.

And those efforts took the partners to Tek-Divers, a Middle Eastern outfit that offers a wide range of recreational diving and extreme deep diving.

“They dive under some of the most extreme conditions out there — so we went to talk to them, realizing, who better could tell us whether we had something interesting than people who put their lives on the line?” said Carter. “And immediately, they loved us; they said, ‘boy, this stuff is great.’ And they bought a lot of it.”

View to the Future

The partners at Treaty LLC have been putting the capital they’ve attained from competitions and other sources to use in the many specific areas covered by that broad term ‘scaling up.’ That process includes everything from prototype development and production (now taking place at a location in Springfield) to marketing, like the DEMA show; from gaining more capital, through a variety of methods, including that Adventure Capital episode, to adding more team members, something the partners expect will happen over the next several months.

Product development was an exercise in listening to the experts and responding to what they said, Yinyong noted, adding that initial thoughts about possibly creating one-use disposable wipes were discarded amid feedback from divers and environmentalists fearful of the ocean being littered with the packages for those wipes.

What emerged instead was a felt-tip-marker-like device that places drops of FogKicker on a surface to be rubbed in. To date, the company has sold roughly 30,000 small bottles of various solutions.

As noted earlier, Treaty Biotech is, for the most part, focused on that ‘smaller glass’ market, and especially the sports-goggle market and the scuba/snorkeling market.

“We thought really hard about what would be best way to roll this out,” said Carter. “Of course, you would sell more volume and more bulk material if you put it in squirt bottles for home use, but how do you even approach that market?

“So we made a strategic decision to go after this niche market,” he went on, “where we knew there was a problem, where there are anti-fogging products out there that work fairly miserably, and where we knew we could gain a foothold.”

Even within that seemingly small niche, the numbers are impressive and the sales potential considerable, said Yinyong, noting that the business plan estimates that there are 14 million scuba divers and snorkelers in the U.S. alone, and maybe 25 million worldwide.

Educating them about their product is important, he said, because many are firmly convinced that anti-fogging products don’t work, or don’t work any better than their own saliva.

The appearance on Adventure Capitalists, a show billed as the outdoor person’s Shark Tank, is expected to help boost efforts in this regard. Contestants make presentations to a panel of investors — all of them involved in sports, business, and investing — who then put those products through their paces, often in harsh conditions.

But there are, of course, much bigger numbers in the ‘big glass’ market, said Gammell, who did some quick math and estimated that there are more than 250 million car and truck windshields in this country alone.

Meanwhile, there are probably 100 million bathroom mirrors within the residential market alone, he said, adding quickly that the commercial market — hotels, motels, gyms, and other segments — is equally potential-laden.

And there are other markets as well, including the huge healthcare field, Gammell noted, adding that all of these markets and others are potentially within the company’s reach.

To reach them, the company and its principals are moving in a number of directions, from an aggressive push for seed funding from investors to talks with contract manufacturers about scaling up production; from a website makeover to a new trade-show booth for the DEMA event and many others to follow.

“Big glass … we could be there in a year,” said Gammell. “And in a year, hopefully we’ll have big accounts with Dick’s Sporting Goods, CVS, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, and others. And we’ll have some hires — we’ll have a bigger team.”

Bottom Line

If you listen to the lyrics from “I Can See Clearly Now,” they include lines you would never, ever hear from aspiring entrepreneurs, such as “I can see all obstacles in my way,” or “I think I can make it now, the pain is gone,” or “all of the bad feelings have disappeared,” or even (and especially) “look all around, there’s nothing but blue skies … look straight ahead, nothing but blue skies.”

Yinyong, Gammell, and Carter certainly know better. They know there are obstacles they probably can’t see, and there are obviously some clouds within that blue sky.

But overall, the future is certainly bright for FogKicker, and there are enormous opportunities for this venture — clearly.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Western Mass. is known for many things — its beauty, its many distinguished colleges and universities, its recreational facilities, high quality of life, and much more.

It is also known, historically, as a region defined by entrepreneurship and innovation — people who started business ventures, and people who created better products and ways to do things. Examples abound, from the Blanchard Lathe and the M1 rifle, both invented by those working at the Springfield Armory, to the monkey wrench, ice skate, automobile, and motorcycle — all either invented or first manufactured here.

This legacy of entrepreneurship and innovation continues today, and it is visible in every corner of the region, from Williamstown to Hampden; Greenfield to Great Barrington. And this is what is being celebrated at the Business & Innovation Expo of Western Mass., produced by BusinessWest and HCN and presented by Comcast Business. The event takes place on Thursday, Nov. 2 at the MassMutual Center.

The event’s exhibiting businesses and educational seminars will reflect and spotlight the many aspects of entrepreneurship and innovation and leave attendees both inspired and better able to confront the many challenges facing those in business today — and those they will face tomorrow as well.

The day will get off to an an inspiring, energizing start with a fund-raising breakfast for Revitalize Springfield’s JoinedForces program, with master of ceremonies state Rep. Aaron Vega. Later, at the luncheon, keynote speaker Ron Insana, senior analyst and commentator with CNBC, will present a talk titled “Trumponomics,” which will address how Washington will affect the economy in the years ahead.

Throughout the day, there will be informative seminars and special programs tailored to address the issues and challenges facing all those in business today. Highlights include an “Ask the Expert Roundtable” that will feature area experts answering questions on subjects ranging from employment law to social media; from the Affordable Care Act to becoming a better public speaker; from family businesses to interviewing job candidates. There will be a number of informative seminars on subjects ranging from cybersecurity to marketing myths to innovation in continuous improvement, as well as programs to introduce attendees to the transformative technology of virtual realty, robotics, and machine-tooling demonstrations.

Attendees can also take part in the Springfield Regional Chamber’s Speed Networking event; a match-making program featuring corporate sponsor MGM Springfield, which will be opening its $950 million casino in less than a year; the day-capping Expo Social, featuring a best-in-show food-sampling competition; and much more.

Event Galleries Healthcare Heroes

Scenes from the October 2017 Gala


Photos by Dani Fine Photography

healthcareheroeslogo021517-pingThere were more than 70 nominations for the inaugural Healthcare Heroes class, and each one of them was truly worthy of that word ‘hero.’ Each one is to be considered a winner in some respect.

On Oct. 19 BusinessWest and The Healthcare News recognized the inaugural Healthcare Heroes class. Collectively, they are pioneers, and were celebrated at the Starting Gate at GreatHorse in Hampden. Each one is to be considered a winner in some respect.

American International College and Trinity Health are the presenting sponsors of Healthcare Heroes. Partner Sponsors are Achieve TMS, HUB International New England, and Health New England. Additional sponsors are Bay Path University, Baystate Health, Cooley Dickinson Health Care, Elms College, and Renew.Calm. Tickets to the event are $85 each, with tables available for purchase. For more information or to order tickets, call (413) 781-8600.

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Their stories reveal large quantities of energy, imagination, innovation, compassion, entrepreneurship, forward thinking, and dedication to the community.

There were eight winners in this first class, with two in the category of ‘Innovation in Health/Wellness,’ because two candidates were tied with the top score. The Heroes for 2017 are:

Lifetime Achievement: Sister Mary Caritas, SP;

Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider: Dr. Michael Willers, owner of the Children’s Heart Center of Western Massachusetts;

Emerging Leader: Erin Daley, RN, BSN, director of the Emergency Department at Mercy Medical Center;

Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration: Holly Chaffee, RN, BSN, MSN, president and CEO of Porchlight VNA/Home Care;

Community Health: Dr. Molly Senn-McNally, Continuity Clinic director for the Baystate Pediatric Residency Program;

Innovation in Health/Wellness: Dr. Andrew Doben, director of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Baystate Medical Center;

Innovation in Health/Wellness: Genevieve Chandler, associate professor of Nursing at UMass Amherst; and

Collaboration in Healthcare: The Healthy Hill Initiative.

 

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Michelle Wirth, owner of the new Mercedes-Benz of Springfield, will deliver the 2017 Innovative Thinking and Entrepreneurship Lecture at Bay Path University. The event will be held on Thursday, Oct. 12 in the Blake Student Commons on the Longmeadow campus. A networking continental breakfast will begin at 7:30 a.m., with the lecture to follow at 8:15 a.m.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information or to register, visit www.baypath.edu/michellewirth.

After graduating from Lehigh University with a degree in mechanical engineering, Wirth began her professional career with Mercedes Benz USA, and held positions in engineering, public relations, and marketing. In her roles, she was able to travel to the company headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. To achieve brand excellence, she observed, the company encourages a culture of innovation through employee collaboration — a philosophy that she embraces in her own day-to-day leadership.

“When your approach is ‘everyone deserves the best life has to offer’ … and you trust in the idea that there is plenty for everyone, I believe the universe conspires with you,” Wirth said. “Opportunities seem to pop up everywhere, and the feeling of abundance and generosity just propagates.”

Wirth joins a long list of past speakers for the Innovative Thinking and Entrepreneurship Lecture, including Susan Marvin, president of Marvin Windows and Doors; Sue Morelli, CEO and president of Au Bon Pain; and Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, among others. The lecture is sponsored by Strategic Alliances and the Advisory Council at Bay Path University.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Junior Achievement (JA) of Western Massachusetts received a $7,200 grant from the UPS Foundation to implement JA “Be Entrepreneurial” classes.

The curriculum introduces high-school students to the essential elements of a practical business plan and challenges them to start an entrepreneurial venture while still in high school. Students learn about advertising, competitive advantages, financing, marketing, and product development, all of which are key to being an informed entrepreneur.

The program includes seven 45-minute sessions taught by a community or corporate volunteer. Volunteers bring in their own experiences and life lessons to the classroom to enhance the JA program.

Schools and organizations participating in “Be Entrepreneurial” include Putnam Vocational Technical Academy, the JA BEE Summer Program, the Center for Human Development, St. Mary’s High School, and East Longmeadow High School.

“JA of Western Massachusetts is thrilled to receive this generous support from the UPS Foundation,” said Jennifer Connolly, president of JA of Western Massachusetts. “It will allow close to 200 students the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship.”

Healthcare Heroes

Healthcare Heroes 2017

healthcareheroeslogo021517-pingThere were more than 70 nominations for the inaugural Healthcare Heroes class, and each one of them was truly worthy of that word ‘hero.’ Each one is to be considered a winner in some respect.

On Oct. 19, BusinessWest recognized those who stood out the most in the hearts and minds of an esteemed panel of judges. Collectively, they are pioneers, and they will continue in that vein at the Starting Gate at GreatHorse in Hampden as they become the first individuals and organizations in the region to accept the Healthcare Heroes award.

Their stories reveal large quantities of energy, imagination, innovation, compassion, entrepreneurship, forward thinking, and dedication to the community.

There are eight winners in this first class, with two in the category of ‘Innovation in Health/Wellness,’ because two candidates were tied with the top score. The Heroes for 2017 are:

Lifetime Achievement: Sister Mary Caritas, SP;

Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider: Dr. Michael Willers, owner of the Children’s Heart Center of Western Massachusetts;

Emerging Leader: Erin Daley, RN, BSN, director of the Emergency Department at Mercy Medical Center;

Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration: Holly Chaffee, RN, BSN, MSN, president and CEO of Porchlight VNA/Home Care;

Community Health: Molly Senn-McNally, Continuity Clinic director for the Baystate Pediatric Residency Program;

Innovation in Health/Wellness: Dr. Andrew Doben, director of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Baystate Medical Center;

Innovation in Health/Wellness: Genevieve Chandler, associate professor of Nursing at UMass Amherst; and

Collaboration in Healthcare: The Healthy Hill Initiative.

American International College and Trinity Health are the presenting sponsors of Healthcare Heroes. Partner Sponsors are Achieve TMS, HUB International New England, and Health New England. Additional sponsors are Bay Path University, Baystate Health, Cooley Dickinson Health Care, Elms College, and Renew.Calm. Tickets to the event are $85 each, with tables available for purchase. For more information or to order tickets, call (413) 781-8600.

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Opinion

Editorial

By Alta J. Stark

When BusinessWest launched its Healthcare Heroes initiative, we knew this program would by eye-opening in many respects.

We understood it would identify a number of forward-thinking individuals and institutions, as well as some cutting-edge work. We understood it would generate some stories that needed to be told. And we understood it would identify some real heroes. It did all that, and then some, as the section that begins on page 15 reveals.

We created Healthcare Heroes because, despite the fact that BusinessWest has two other popular recognition programs — Difference Makers and 40 Under Forty — many of the outstanding individuals and stories from the broad realm of healthcare are overlooked, in part because these individuals are simply doing their jobs. The results — and the stories — far exceeded our lofty expectations.

Start with Sister Mary Caritas, winner in the ‘lifetime achievement’ category . The word ‘legend’ doesn’t get used much in Western Mass. We don’t have many legends here, it seems. But it works in this case. Her career in healthcare started when Truman was in the White House, and she’s still writing new chapters.

But it’s not simply the longevity that shapes this story; it is her ability to fight for a good cause, innovate, advocate for the most vulnerable of constituencies, and most importantly, inspire others to do all of the above. She is, as one friend and colleague noted, a remarkable woman.

As for the other heroes, they are all innovators as well, individuals and institutions working on the cutting edge within their fields and, more to the point, determining just what the cutting edge is or should be.

Examples include Dr. Andrew Doben, hero in the ‘innovation’ category, who is saving lives and changing lives with a surgical procedure known as rib fixation, and Genevieve Chandler, our other hero in the ‘innovation’ category, who has become a pioneer in work to help young people become more resilient.

But innovation comes in many forms, and this fact is made clear by some of our other heroes, such as Erin Daley, our winner in the ‘emerging leader’ category, who has orchestrated efforts to make the Mercy Medical Center Emergency Department more efficient and a better ‘front door’ for the hospital and this region. And also Molly Senn-McNally, winner in the ‘community health’ category, who is using powerful poverty-simulation seminars to help medical residents and medical students better understand the many challenges facing the region’s many low-income residents, and, through these efforts, making them better doctors.

‘Innovator’ is a term that could also be applied to Dr. Michael Willers, a pediatric cardiologist and winner in the ‘provider’ category, who works (and plays) hard to make his young patients — not to mention their parents — understand what’s happening with their heart and be at ease as he provides care. And also to Holly Chaffee, president and CEO of Porchlight VNA/Home Care, winner in the ‘administration’ category, who has created a culture of entrepreneurship, innovation, and risk taking — one that has enabled that company to earn the highest ratings in its class.

And ‘innovator’ could also be used to describe all those involved in the Healthy Hill Initiative (HHI) in Springfield, the winner in the ‘collaboration’ category. This multi-faceted effort to improve the health and well-being of residents in the city’s Old Hill neighborhood gives new meaning to that term.

As we said at the top, this inaugural Healthcare Heroes class, and the collection of stories behind their various efforts, is truly eye-opening.

But more than that, it is inspiring, reminding us of what a true hero is — someone who advocates for others and gives of themselves in unselfish ways to improve life for all of us.

In that respect, all of our winners — and all those who were nominated for this award — are true heroes.

Opinion

Editorial

Back at the start of this century, BusinessWest awarded its coveted Top Entrepreneur Award, established just a few years earlier, to Andrew Scibelli, then president of Springfield Technical Community College.

The choice, while heralded by some, drew some rather cynical e-mails and phone calls from observers who really couldn’t understand how an educator — and a state employee, no less — could win an award for entrepreneurship.

Such thinking, while in some ways understandable, is nonetheless narrow and shortsighted. In fact, this region’s colleges and universities have provided some of the best examples of entrepreneurial thinking over the past few decades — and they keep coming.

So much so that when the decision makers at BusinessWest gather to discuss potential honorees for the Top Entrepreneur Award, several from the ranks of higher education typically come under consideration.

Bay Path University’s new doctorate program in Occupational Therapy (see story, page 27), the school’s first, is only the latest of dozens of entrepreneurial endeavors launched by the school since Carol Leary became president in 1994 — including, ironically enough, an MBA program in Entrepreneurial Thinking & Innovative Practices — and Bay Path is just one of many schools to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset.

Indeed, other examples abound, from UMass Amherst’s opening of a campus in downtown Springfield to American International College’s introduction of new programs and aggressive pursuit of students not only across this country but in other countries; from Westfield State University’s large investment in a school-operated dining service (inspired by UMass Amherst’s hugely successful program) to Western New England University’s new Pharmacy program; from Elms College’s aggressive investments in new programs (which have brought it back from fiscal distress) to new campus-center projects at STCC and Holyoke Community College.

The list goes on, and on, and on.

But let’s back up a minute and put all this in perspective.

First, what does it mean to be entrepreneurial? It means moving a business or organization forward by recognizing opportunities and seizing them effectively. Some would call it calculated risk-taking, and that description works as well.

Successful entrepreneurs know that, no matter what field they’re in, be it manufacturing, healthcare, or financial services, they can’t stand still, expecting to do things as they’ve always done them, and hope to succeed.

It’s the same in higher education. These institutions can’t stand still, especially at a time of immense change — including smaller high-school graduating classes — and competition.

Back in 2000, Scibelli was honored for many initiatives, but especially his work to create partnerships with a host of major corporations that created learning (and job) opportunities for students, and also for his work to convert the former Digital Equipment Corp. complex located across from the STCC campus into a technology park that has brought hundreds of jobs to this area.

Today, schools are being entrepreneurial in a host of ways, all designed to create opportunities for those schools (meaning much-needed revenue) but also deliver all-important value to those that are meeting the high cost of a college education today.

The cynics would say it’s easy to be entrepreneurial when you’re spending the taxpayers’ money — which is what the presidents of the public colleges and universities are doing, in essence — or when you have huge endowments to draw from as you consider building new science buildings and dormitories.

But our public schools are not well-supported by this state, and, by and large, the private schools are not sitting on Harvard-like endowments. The investments they’ve made have definitely been calculated risks, but risks nonetheless.

Standing still was not, and is not, an option.

And there are lessons here — both literally and figuratively — to be learned and embraced by all area business owners.

Back to School Sections

To a Higher Degree

Carol Leary

Carol Leary says Bay Path University’s first doctorate continues the school’s long history of being innovative.

It’s been well-documented that Bay Path University President Carol Leary would prefer to interview every candidate for every position being filled at the 120-year-old institution.

There’s a reason for that — actually, several of them. For starters, she understands that people are the key to any organization’s success, and she wants to be part of the process of putting this team together.

Beyond that, though, Leary has told BusinessWest on more than a few occasions that she’s looking for certain things when she’s sitting across the desk or table from a job candidate. Beyond the obvious skill sets required of those in specific positions, she’s also looking for those who are energetic, innovative, and entrepreneurial.

Those qualities, usually detectable through certain questions she opted not to share, are largely responsible for the meteoric rise in size and prominence of Bay Path since Leary arrived at the Longmeadow campus in 1994. Indeed, individuals with these traits have driven growth that has manifested itself in everything from continued success and expansion of the Women’s Professional Leadership Conference to a host of new programs of study, such as a degree offering in cybersecurity; from creation of the American Women’s College, which offers a broad range of programs online and in the classroom, to the significant name change at the school, swapping the word ‘college’ for ‘university.’

And now, there is another milestone directly attributable to innovation and entrepreneurship — the university’s first doctoral degree offering, in occupational therapy.

Set to launch this fall — an open house for the program was staged late last week — this fully online offering, like many that have been developed over the course of the school’s history, was created in direct response to need within the community, said Leary.

“Since 1897, Bay Path has been a very innovative institution because it has always educated for the workforce,” she explained. “And that history is part of our DNA.”

Tracing some of that history, specifically the chapter that pertains to this latest milestone, Leary noted that, when she arrived at the school in 1994, it had just opened the box on a two-year program in occupational therapy to meet growing demand for such professionals. Just a few years later, as needs within that realm of healthcare changed, the program moved to the baccalaureate (four-year) level. And less than a decade later, the school added a master’s-level program, again to adjust to changing societal needs. And in a decade, that program has grown from 18 students to 136.

But as the population continues to age and the need for not only OT therapists but the individuals who will train the next generation of specialists grows, Bay Bath administrators knew the school needed to respond accordingly. That response is a doctoral program.

And while the new program is important for area communities and the individuals who have chosen OT as a career, it is also a step forward for the university, or another step forward, to be more precise.

Bay Path

The occupational therapy doctorate is another in a long list of milestones at Bay Path, which became a university earlier this decade.

“When you think about how far we’ve come, from Bay Path Institute (the name on the school in its early years) to becoming a university and now offering a doctorate in 2017, I’m very proud of our faculty,” she said. “This is an important milestone for us.”

And while she wasn’t ready to offer any details on what might come next, Leary made it clear that Bay Path’s first doctoral program certainly won’t be its only one for very long.

When you think about how far we’ve come, from Bay Path Institute (the name on the school in its early years) to becoming a university and now offering a doctorate in 2017, I’m very proud of our faculty. This is an important milestone for us.”

“We believe this is just the beginning,” she said. “And we already have things in the queue for our next doctorate; they’re in our vision.”

School of Thought

With that remark, Leary helped explain that a doctoral program doesn’t come about overnight. They are generally two or three or years in the making, with approval needed from the Board of Higher Education, she noted, and they result from a hard mix of strategic planning, listening to and consulting with the business community, and calculated risk taking.

In other words, they stem from a culture of entrepreneurship, which is one of the things Leary has put in place over her 23 years at the helm.

And one of the tenets of entrepreneurship, she said, is the ability to anticipate need and then meet it, and this is definitely the case with the new doctoral program in occupational therapy.

The need, in this case, is not only for more occupational therapists — a given as the population ages and people live longer — but also better-trained specialists within that field.

“In physical therapy, if you are now to be hired as a new college graduate, you need a doctorate,” Leary explained. “And the field of OT may go there by 2025 — it may become a profession that will go to a doctoral level as a requirement.”

In the meantime, there is greater need for individuals to train the occupational therapists who will provide care in the years and decades to come, she went on, adding that such educators will need a doctorate.

“We did this because it’s a natural progression for us,” said Leary. “But we primarily did it because the need for professors in the field to teach the future occupational therapists is great; this is probably one of the most critical shortages in our country. Having the doctorally prepared, post-professional OT is going to be a very good place for Bay Path to focus.”

But while being entrepreneurial in this endeavor to create its first doctorate, Bay Path is also being innovative, especially with the fully online nature of the program, said Leary, adding that this format was chosen and designed to make the offering accessible to those looking to advance their career, and may be particularly appealing to those in mid-career and raising a family.

And this thought brings her to one of those individuals she insisted on interviewing during the process of hiring someone to lead the program — Julie Watson, Ph.D., MHS, OTR/L, who eventually won the job.

Watson, who maintains ongoing clinical experience at Brooks Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Learning Center in St. Augustine, Fla., said the online format will be a critical component in the success of the program moving forward.

“Having experienced pursuing an advanced degree as a working parent, I understand just how important the online program design is for those living very busy lives, looking to improve their skills, and advance in the field of occupational therapy,” she said.

As for what might come next, Leary was understandably shy when it came to conjecture about what the next doctorate degrees (and master’s degrees, for that matter) might be. But there was certainty in her voice when she said there would be others.

“There are at least two others that I know our provost is looking at,” she explained. “Our provost is very forward-thinking, very creative, and with her faculty, they look two to five years out, and that’s how far out we’re looking, not just with doctorates, but other master’s degrees that we think are going to be absolutely critical.”

An Aggressive Course

There’s a sitting room off the main entrance at Deep Wood Hall, the main administration building at Bay Path. And on the coffee table in that sitting room is a collection of brochures highlighting a host of the school’s programs.

The marketing taglines are aimed at individuals thinking about their careers and what it might take to advance them. “Prepare to Take the Next Step” reads the brochure promoting the master of science degree in higher education administration. “There Is Work to Be Done’ is the headline on the promotional material for a host of graduate programs for business professionals.

While probably intended as such, those marketing lines also speak to the mindset of administrators and educators at the university. They know there’s work to be done, and, because they’re innovative and entrepreneurial, they’re prepared to take the next step — as is the institution they work for.

This explains why there have been so many milestones for this school over the past few decades, and why there is little, if any, doubt that there are many more to come.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

CHICOPEE — Elms College has continued to grow its MBA program and add new concentrations, with its flexible/hybrid education model allowing students a way to connect and interact with classmates and professors.

To explain all this and more, Elms will host an information session on Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 5:30 p.m. in the MBA Office on the third floor of Berchmans Hall. The session will bring together a panel of Elms College MBA graduates from a mix of concentrations and career paths including healthcare, accounting, and management.

“By adding the panel, a person considering graduate education can hear about the experience first-hand and learn how it has affected the graduate’s career and growth,” said Nancy Davis, Elms College MBA, Business Development. “Being able to recognize and evaluate what a MBA can do for you is an extremely important part of the decision-making process.”

The Elms College MBA Program has concentrations in financial planning, accounting, healthcare leadership, entrepreneurship, healthcare innovation, and management. To register for the information session, visit www.elms.edu/mbainfo or contact Davis at [email protected] or (413) 265-2239.

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Bay Path University announced it is launching its first doctoral program this fall, initiating its Occupational Therapy doctorate program.

Since its founding in 1897, Bay Path has evolved into an on-site and online university offering a four-year residential campus for women, the innovative on-ground and online American Women’s College for women seeking an undergraduate degree, and master’s degrees in a variety of disciplines for women and men. The new doctoral program will be available to women and men.

“This is a historic moment for Bay Path University, an institution with over a century of experience in meeting students where they are,” President Carol Leary said. “The launch of the Occupational Therapy doctorate offers yet another avenue where Bay Path is helping to meet workforce demand within the growing field of occupational therapy, while providing our students a career-focused curriculum and pathway in the field. The addition of this doctorate program, fully online and led by Dr. Julie Watson, one of the nation’s experts in the field of education for those in occupational therapy, helps us meet the needs of today’s students in one of the fastest-growing fields within healthcare.”

According to Watson, coordinator of the new doctorate program, the all-online format is designed to make the program available and accessible to individuals looking to advance in their career in occupational therapy and may be particularly appealing to those in mid-career and raising a family. “Having experienced pursuing an advanced degree as a working parent, I understand just how important the online program design is for those living very busy lives, looking to improve their skills and advance in the field of occupational therapy,” she noted.

The program will offer career tracks that are relevant and applicable in the industry, including a pathway to occupational-therapy instruction at the college level, where there is a shortage of instructors needed to train the next generation of occupational therapists; occupational-therapy administration; and a career pathway to work in the mental-health field, where there is an increasing need for occupational therapists.

The program, which is being introduced on the 100th year since the establishment of the occupational-therapy profession, offers 12 courses, including “Utilization of Research in Evidence-based Practice,” “Application of Occupational Science,” “Community Practice, Program Development, and Entrepreneurship,” “Bioethics,” “Leadership and Advocacy,” capstone projects, and courses specific to a student’s chosen track. Those interested in enrolling should click here.

Bay Path has educated occupational therapists for more than 20 years, and has 850 alumni in the OT field. In 2015 Bay Path established a campus location in East Longmeadow with its Philip H. Ryan Health Science Center, which is home to the Occupational Therapy graduate program. The 58,000-square-foot facility provides state-of-the-art laboratories, classrooms, and study areas, creating an innovative campus experience for its students.

Daily News

CHICOPEE — Elms College Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership announced new bachelor’s degree completion programs that will prepare students for success in the worlds of entrepreneurship, accounting, and management and marketing.

Business has long been an exciting career option. Startups were beginning to resurge in the U.S. in 2015, but the need for more entrepreneurs is vital to economic growth and job creation, according to a Kaufman Foundation survey. A 2014 Forbes survey found that 90% of startups fail, and 42% said the reason they fail is a lack of market need for their products. Elms is looking to make business-degree completion as accessible as possible by building programs that work for adult learners.

Elms College currently offers a healthcare management degree-completion program in partnership with Holyoke Community College (HCC), with classes held online and at HCC. With the addition of the three new programs, Elms provides four business-focused bachelor’s degree completion options designed to be flexible for adult learners, with classes held online and face-to-face on the Elms campus and local community-college campuses. They are:

• Bachelor of arts degree completion in entrepreneurship and management, which provides students with hands-on, real-world experience in creating new ventures and presenting new ideas to the market;

• Bachelor of arts degree completion in accounting, which teaches students how to identify and analyze diverse opportunities while using 21st-century skills and technology in accounting;

• Bachelor of arts degree completion in management and marketing, which gives students a strong foundation in business management and marketing principles; and

• Bachelor of arts degree completion in healthcare management, which prepares students for leadership roles in healthcare administration, a fast-growing field.

Eligible students for Elms degree-completion programs will have earned an associate’s degree from an accredited college, with a minimum GPA of 2.25. These programs, like Elms’ other business programs, are accredited by IACBE, the International Assembly of Collegiate Business Education.

Classes in these programs will begin in the fall 2017 semester. For complete program-delivery options, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.elms.edu/cel.

Features

The ‘Heroes’ Have Been Identified

healthcareheroeslogo021517-pingA panel of esteemed judges is now finished with its work.

And soon, the region will learn the identities of this region’s first class of Healthcare Heroes.

“It’s a very intriguing class, and one that certainly speaks to the excellent, forward-thinking, community-minded work being undertaken by men and women across this region’s broad healthcare sector,” is all Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest and the Healthcare News, would say about the first group of winners at this point.

Much more will be said, of course, in the Sept. 4 issue of BusinessWest and the September issue of HCN, when the magazines will tell the seven winners’ stories and explain why they, and all the other nominees, are worthy of that phrase ‘Healthcare Hero.’

The winners will be honored at the inaugural Healthcare Heroes Awards Gala on Oct. 19 at the GreatHorse in Hampden. Tickets are $85 each, with tables of 10 available. For more information or to order tickets, call (413) 781-8600.

Overall, there were more than 70 nominations across seven categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider

• Innovation in Health/Wellness

• Community Health

• Emerging Leader

• Collaboration in Health/Wellness

• Health/Wellness Administration/Administrator

• Lifetime Achievement

These nominations were evaluated and scored by three judges:

Dr. Henry Dorkin

Dr. Henry Dorkin

• Dr. Henry Dorkin, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Dorkin is director of the Pulmonary Clinical Research Program, co-director of the Cystic Fibrosis Center, and co-director of the Cystic Fibrosis Therapeutic Development Center, all at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is also the immediate past clinical chief of the Division of Respiratory Diseases (2008-16) and the Cystic Fibrosis Center (2010-15), both at Children’s. A former professor of Pediatrics at the Tufts University School of Medicine, he is currently associate professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, a position he has held since 2002. An MMS member since 1982, Dorkin has served the society in a number of capacities. He was president-elect in 2016-17 and vice president in 2015-16. He has served as chair of the Task Force on EHR Interoperability and Usability as well as a member of the Task Force on Opioid Therapy and Physician Communication.

Christopher Scott

Christopher Scott

• Christopher Scott, dean of the School of Health & Patient Simulation at Springfield Technical Community College. Previously, he served as assistant dean for the School of Health & Patient Simulation at STCC and director of Clinical Education and the SIMS Medical Center. Scott played a key role in expanding the facility when he was hired as director in 2010. At the time, the medical center included 18 patient simulators and five rooms and provided 3,000 simulation experiences each year. Today, there are 52 simulators and 12 rooms, or simulation areas, and more than 20,000 simulation experiences. Scott, who holds a master’s degree in Health Education and Curriculum Development from Springfield College, is currently completing his doctorate in higher education administration from Northeastern University in Boston.

Katie Stebbins

Katie Stebbins

• Katie Stebbins, formerly the assistant secretary for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In that role, she co-chaired the governor’s Digital Health Council and led investment efforts into the health-tech ecosystem. After serving in this position for two years, she recently began serving as vice president of Economic Development for the UMass system in Boston. A 20-year veteran of public service and economic development, she has also started three of her own companies.

Education Sections

Determined Course

Harry Dumay

Harry Dumay says Elms College generated considerable momentum under Sr. Mary Reap, and he hopes to build on that progress.

Soon after Harry Dumay reached that point professionally where he determined he was ready and willing to pursue a college presidency, he did what many people in that situation do.

He put together a wish list, or a preferred list, if you will, of the type of institution he eventually wanted to lead. And he did so because, in such situations, as so many eventual college presidents have told BusinessWest over the years, ‘fit’ is all-important — to both the candidate and the school in question.

When asked about what he preferred, Dumay ran off a quick list:

• A Catholic institution would be ideal — he had already worked in high-level positions for two of them, Boston College and St. Anselm College in New Hampshire;

• A sound financial footing was also high on the list — and there are many institutions not on such solid ground;

• A commitment to strong academics was a must; and

• Above all else, he desired to lead a school with a strong track record for diversity — not merely ethnic diversity (although that was certainly important), but the broad range of student and educational diversity (he would get into that more later).

Because Elms College in Chicopee could check all those boxes and others as well, Dumay not only desired to fill the vacancy to be created by the announced retirement of Sr. Mary Reap last year, but he essentially made the nearly 90-year-old school the primary focus of his presidential aspirations.

The more I started looking into Elms College, the more I started to become fascinated by it, and I just fell in love with the place.”

“The more I started looking into Elms College, the more I started to become fascinated by it, and I just fell in love with the place,” he told BusinessWest.

Dumay, who was serving as vice president for Finance and chief financial officer at St. Anselm when Elms commenced its search, said he was quite familiar with the school through another role he has carried out for several years — as a member of the New England Assoc. of Schools and Colleges’ Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.

He knew, for example, that not long ago, the school wasn’t on that sound financial ground he desired, and that it was only through a significant turnaround effort orchestrated by Reap that the school was no longer on a list of institutions being watched closely by NEASC for financial soundness.

“Sister Mary has essentially completed a turnaround of the financial situation at the institution over the past eight years,” he noted. “She took it from numbers that were not satisfactory to having successive years of positive margins and putting the college very well in the black.”

But as she put Elms on more solid financial footing, Reap also maintained and amplified what Dumay called “an entrepreneurial spirit” that manifested itself in new academic programs and construction of the Center for Natural and Health Sciences, which, when it opened in 2014, was the first new academic building on campus in more than 30 years.

And she led efforts that enabled the school to make great strides in what has become a nationwide focus on student success and, overall, greater return on the significant cost of higher education.

As he talked about his goals and plans moving forward, Dumay, who arrived on campus July 1, said his immediate assignment is to meet as many people within the broad ‘Elms community’ as possible. This means faculty, staff, trustees, and area business and civic leaders, he said, adding that his primary role in such meetings is to listen to what such individuals are saying about Elms — its past, its present, and especially its future.

This listening and learning process will continue at a retreat next month involving the school’s leadership team, he went on, adding that his broad goal is to attain a common vision concerning where the school wants to be in the years to come and how to get there and execute that plan.

But in most all respects, Dumay said his primary focus is on keeping the school on the upward trajectory charted by Reap. For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest talked at length with Dumay about that assignment and his approach to it.

A Stern Test

As he prepared to sit down with BusinessWest on a quiet Friday afternoon earlier this month, Dumay was wrapping up one of those meet-and-greets he mentioned earlier — this one a quick lunch with trustee Kevin Vann, president of the Vann Group.

As noted, there have been several of these sessions since he arrived, and there are many more to come as Dumay continues what could be described as a fact-finding, opinion-gathering exercise concerning not only Elms College but the region, and students, it serves.

As he mentioned, Dumay already knew quite a bit about Elms — and most of this region’s colleges and universities, for that matter — before arriving on the Chicopee campus. He is determined, though, to add to that base of knowledge.

He’s learned, for example, that nearly a third of the school’s students are first-generation, meaning that they’re the first in their family to attend college. Dumay said that statistic certainly resonates with him — he, too, is a first-generation college graduate — and that his career in some way serves as a model to the students he will soon lead.

A native of Quanaminthe, Haiti, Dumay came to the U.S. to attend college, specifically Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., a historically black, public, land-grant university founded by African-American veterans of the Civil War.

He graduated magna cum laude, and would continue his education with a master’s degree in public administration from Framingham State University, an MBA from Boston University, and a doctorate in higher education administration from Boston College.

He would put those degrees to use in a number of different positions at some of the nation’s most prestigious schools.

He worked as director of Finance for Boston University’s School of Engineering from 1998 to 2002 (he was hired and later mentored by Charles DeLisi, who played a seminal role in initiating the Human Genome Project), before becoming associate dean at Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work from 2002 to 2006, a rather significant career course change — in some respects, anyway.

“From engineering to social work … those are vastly different worlds,” he explained, “but my job was essentially the same: working on aligning resources —— technology, processes, and people — to support the work of the faculty.”

Dumay then took a job as chief financial officer and associate dean at Harvard University’s Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2006, and served in that capacity until 2012.

That timeline is significant because he was at Harvard at the height of the Great Recession, which took a 30% bite out of Harvard’s huge endowment and not only prompted the delay of an ambitious initiative to expand the campus into Allston — a plan that included the School of Engineering — but also brought about campus-wide efforts to create greater operating efficiencies. And Dumay played a significant role in those efforts.

“That was some of the most rewarding work I’ve been part of,” he said. “And there were some great opportunities for learning how organizations can structure themselves to be more efficient.”

He then took another significant career course change, moving on to St. Anselm, where, instead of working for a specific school or division, he become CFO of the institution and later became senior vice president and, in many respects, the right hand of the president. In that role, he played a key role in developing a new strategic plan for the school.

After nearly two decades of work in higher education in these leadership roles, Dumay said he considered himself ready, professionally and otherwise, to pursue a presidency.

And others were encouraging him to take that next step.

“For a while, being a number two on a campus seemed to be very satisfying and very appealing,” he explained. “But, progressively, my former president started to encourage me to seek a presidency, even though I had been thinking about it as well.”

Elms College

Harry Dumay says Elms College, like most colleges and universities today, is putting a strong focus on student success.

At the advice of his former president, he attended a year-long program sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges designed to help individuals discern whether they have a ‘vocation for a college presidency.’

“Those are their words,” said Dumay. “They want people to think about this not as a job, not as a step in one’s career, but as a vocation, as a calling, because there’s a certain work to be done as a college president.

“It eventually became clear to me that the influence that I wanted to have and the way I wanted to contribute to higher education, a presidency was the best position, the best vantage point to make that happen,” he went on.

While many who reach that point where they can truly say this is a calling cast a somewhat wide net as they explore and then pursue opportunities, Dumay took a more specific focus. And when Reap announced her intention to retire last year, Elms became the focus of his ambition.

“This was the one search I was seriously involved in,” he said.

School of Thought

What intrigued him was the institution Elms has become over the past 89 years, and especially the past few decades — one that could easily check all those boxes mentioned earlier, and especially the one concerning diversity and the many forms it takes here.

The student body is just one example, he said, adding that it has historically been ethnically diverse and added a significant new dimension when men were admitted for the first time in 1997.

But it is diverse in many other respects as well, including the depth of its programs and the nature of “how teaching happens,” as Dumay put it.

“Elms College has a diversity of formats in which it provides a strong Catholic liberal-arts education,” he explained. “It happens on campus, it happens through online education, it happens with the residential population, it happens with people who commute, and it happens off campus through a number of sites. That’s a broad definition of diversity that appealed to me.”

Beyond the diversity, the school also has that solid financial footing that Reap had created, momentum in the form of new programs in areas from health sciences to entrepreneurship, and something else that Dumay identified — “courage.”

He used that term in reference to the school’s decision to admit men 20 years ago, but said it has been a consistent character trait.

“Institutions that have made big shifts like that … to me, that shows resiliency, forward thinking, and courage,” he explained, “because it takes courage to change an institution’s trajectory like that and make decisions that will not be popular with all constituents. To me, that was impressive.”

Equally impressive has been progress at the school in that all-important area of student success.

I’m not sure how that effort is going to continue with the current administration, but higher-education institutions have, in general, taken that message to heart. Instead of getting that mandate from the federal government, this sector has been telling itself, ‘we’d better to be able to prove ourselves … we need to show how our students are receiving value for the dollars they’re investing in their education.”

This isn’t a recent phenomenon, he noted, but there has been considerably more emphasis on ROI as the cost of education has continued to climb.

The Obama administration made that focus a priority, he went on, adding it worked to put in place measures for how well a specific school’s degree programs were translating into success (salary-wise) in the workplace.

“I’m not sure how that effort is going to continue with the current administration,” he went on, “but higher-education institutions have, in general, taken that message to heart. Instead of getting that mandate from the federal government, this sector has been telling itself, ‘we’d better to be able to prove ourselves … we need to show how our students are receiving value for the dollars they’re investing in their education.”

Measures created or emphasized in this regard include everything from graduation and retention rates to the starting salaries of graduates in various programs, he continued, adding that Elms has achieved progress in this regard as well.

“Sister Mary had started an initiative to really focus on student success as part of our strategic plan,” he explained. “And as part of that, there is a plan to create a center for student success, and she started a campaign to raise funds for it.”

That facility will likely be ready by the end of summer, he said, adding that the school’s commitment to not only enrolling students but giving them all the tools they will need to graduate and achieve success in the workplace was another factor in his decision to come to Elms.

Moving forward, Dumay said that, after several more meetings like the one he had that day, and after the leadership retreat in August, and after gaining a better sense of where the college is and where it wants to go, he will commence what he said is the real work of a college president.

“That is to ensure the coherence and the articulation of a common vision, so we can all be pulling in the same direction,” he explained, adding that this is the essential ingredient in achieving continued progress at any institution. “Anything that anyone has been able to do has begun with getting everyone in the same frame of mind and saying, ‘this is what we’re going to do.’”

Grade Expectations

As he talked about that process of getting everyone at an institution of higher learning on the proverbial same page, Dumay acknowledged that this can often be a stern challenge in this sector.

“The theory is, higher education is like steering a car on ice,” he said with a smile on his face, adding that such work can be made easier through clear articulation of a vision and the means through which it will be met.

And this is the essence of a college president’s job description, he said, adding that, back at that year-long program for aspiring college presidents, he definitely came away with the sense that he did, indeed, view this as a calling, or vocation, and not a job or stepping stone.

And Elms, as he noted, was the natural landing spot.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Departments People on the Move
Shannon Rudder

Shannon Rudder

The Providence Ministries for the Needy Inc. (PMN) board of trustees named Shannon Rudder executive director of PMN’s multi-human-services agency. First appointed interim director in May, Rudder previously served as executive director for MotherWoman Inc. in Hadley for four years. Prior to that, she was associate director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y. “Shannon’s leadership, contagious enthusiasm, solid business acumen, strong operational skills, team-building focus, and dedication to building strong community relationships will advance our mission into the bright future ahead,” said Jean Zaleski, board chair. Rudder is currently on Springfield Technical Community College’s Foundation board; Mama’s Voice, a community-based participatory research project with Holyoke Community College; the grant review committee for United Way of Pioneer Valley; and United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council, and is an instructor at Bay Path University and Cambridge College. In addition, she has served as a guest lecturer at Springfield College, Smith College, and UMass School of Regional Planning. BusinessWest included Rudder in its 40 Under Forty class of 2016. “We are thrilled to have Shannon as our new executive director,” said James Wall, chair of PMN’s personnel committee. “She brings a great breadth and depth of experience that will help take Providence Ministries to the next level.” PMN is a member of the Sisters of Providence Ministry Corp. and is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization serving the Holyoke community with programs to feed, clothe, and shelter the poor and marginalized. These include Kate’s Kitchen, foodWorks at Kate’s Kitchen, Broderick House, Loreto House, McCleary Manor, Margaret’s Pantry, and St. Jude’s Clothing Center.

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Anthony Hayes

Anthony Hayes

Following a nationwide search, Anthony Hayes has been selected as the new general manager for public broadcaster WGBY in Springfield. Hayes comes to WGBY with nearly two decades of executive experience in public TV and radio in Connecticut and Washington, D.C. He succeeds Rus Peotter, who retired last fall after leading the station for 15 years. “Anthony is a visionary leader, and his extensive background in strategic development and engaging with audiences will advance WGBY’s mission and vital role in the community and across the region,” said Liz Cheng, Television Stations manager for the WGBH Educational Foundation, which includes WGBY. Hayes will lead the station in its strategic planning, editorial operations, and community engagement, serving its public-media mission of advancing the educational and cultural life of Western New England. “As a highly accomplished media executive, Anthony’s management skills, experience, and style will be a great fit for WGBY. His industry knowledge and community focus will be of tremendous value in leading our public-media initiatives,” said Crist Myers, chair of the WGBY board of tribunes. Most recently, Hayes served as senior vice president for Engagement at Connecticut Public Broadcasting in Hartford, which includes CPTV and WNPR, where he guided fund-raising and sponsorship initiatives to develop new strategic opportunities and growth. Prior to that, he was at WAMU-FM, American University Radio, where he oversaw the sponsorship sales division and designed and implemented integrated fund-raising, communications, and outreach strategies, locally and nationally, that increased stakeholder engagement. Earlier in his career, he was with WETA, public TV and radio in Arlington, Va., where he managed corporate marketing and developed non-traditional revenue initiatives. “I couldn’t be more pleased to have this opportunity to magnify the impact of this exceptional organization,” said Hayes. “I will work collaboratively and strategically to build upon WGBY’s rich history and advance its core mission, focusing on building a stronger community through engagement, learning, and understanding. I believe WGBY is poised to expand its reach throughout Western New England, and I am eager to lead the charge.” Hayes holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the New York Institute of Technology, and a master’s degree in media entrepreneurship from American University. He will join WGBY on July 10.

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Mike Hamel, owner of Summit View Banquet House and Hamel’s Creative Catering, has been named 2017 Business Person of the Year by the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce. Hamel’s Creative Catering was established in 1990, but the Hamel family business roots go back to 1963, when his family owned and operated Hamel’s Market in South Hadley and Edgar’s Market in the Churchill section of Holyoke. “Mike is an exemplary model of a home-grown success story. This is a great story of small business success,” said Kathleen Anderson, president of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce. “It includes a family legacy, following a passion, having a dream, and overcoming obstacles to achieve something significant and lasting. We are very proud of Mike and his family, and congratulate them on this achievement.” The award has been presented annually to an outstanding business person who is community-oriented, is innovative, possesses a high degree of integrity, and for business accomplishments in Greater Holyoke’s business community. Marge Manton, treasurer and CFO of Loomis Communities and chairman of the chamber board of directors, also announced the selection of Harry Montalvo of bankESB to receive the Henry A. Fifield Award for Voluntary Service to the Chamber. The award is named for the late Henry A. Fifield, former Amped executive and civic leader who served in leadership positions with the chamber. Montalvo’s service includes the chamber ambassador committee, the board of trustees of the Chamber Centennial Foundation, and chamber liaison between the two chamber boards. Montalvo has also been a mentor to many of the Chamber Foundation’s SPARK Launch Class graduates. Both award winners will be honored at the Business Person of the Year and Fifield Volunteer Award Dinner on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Delaney House. Information can be found online at holyokechamber.com or by calling the chamber office at (413) 534-3376. Everyone is invited to attend.

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Sarah Jordan

Sarah Jordan

James Kelly, president and CEO of Polish National Credit Union (PNCU), announced that Sarah Jordan has joined the credit union as a marketing specialist. Jordan’s responsibilities include internal and external communications, marketing and public-relations campaigns, community relations, and website management. She comes to PNCU from Westfield Bank/Chicopee Savings Bank, where she served as marketing coordinator. She is a graduate of the University of Hartford with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, and has held marketing and communication assignments with the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, where she is a member of the marketing committee; the Barney School of Business Leadership Council; and the National Society of Leadership and Success – Sigma Alpha Pi. She has also been an active volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, the Spaulding After School Program, and Loaves and Fishes. “We look forward to Sarah’s success in promoting Polish National Credit Union and its products and services to both current and future members,” said Kelly. “We are pleased to welcome her to our team.”

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Grace LaValley

Grace LaValley

Grace LaValley, who earned her doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree in the inaugural DNP class at Elms College, had a paper accepted to the American Assoc. of Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR) for a podium presentation at AACVPR’s 32nd annual meeting in October, where it is a candidate for the conference’s Beginner Investigator Award. The paper Lavalley will present at the AACVPR conference was her capstone project in the DNP program at Elms College. Each DNP student is required to complete a scholarly capstone project that contributes to the field of nursing. The project topics are related to the areas of nursing where they currently work or areas in which they have a particular interest. Lavalley’s project earned her the 2017 DNP Capstone Award from Elms College, which honors a DNP student who has developed a distinguished capstone project that demonstrates scholarly rigor, innovation, and outcomes that improve health or health-related outcomes for a specific population, and has the potential to advance nursing science, practice, or policy. The paper is titled “A Telephone Intervention to Improve Patient Return Rates in Cardiac Rehabilitation: A Pilot Study” and focuses on cardiac rehabilitation, or CR. “Cardiovascular disease accounts for 17.3 million deaths per year, a number projected to reach 23.6 million by 2030,” Lavalley said. CR improves patient outcomes and reduces risk in the earlier post-discharge period, but it remains highly underused, she added. Despite its benefits, many patients are at risk for not following the CR program, for a variety of reasons. She and her colleagues decided to investigate whether a telephone call focused on patient motivation, education, risks, and goal setting would improve return rates among patients identified as at risk for non-adherence to the CR program. “Telephone interventions are known to be an important tool to provide support and help overcome barriers after discharge,” she noted. They studied 100 patients in Baystate Medical Center’s outpatient CR program and found that those who received the telephone call were more likely to attend their second session of CR as scheduled, compared with patients who did not receive this intervention (80% versus 51%). The overall return rate was higher in the intervention group as well. “This straightforward strategy represents an attractive adjunct to current management of outpatient CR patients,” she said. Lavalley’s coauthors are Heidi Szalai, Dr. Quinn Pack, and Andrew Storer, associate professor of Nursing at Elms. Their paper will be published in the September/October 2017 issue of the AACVPR’s Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention. Storer was the capstone chair for Lavalley’s project; he supervised the project from the development stage through implementation and analysis. The project, he said, “has made a positive impact in the quality of care for the patients, institutions, and communities served.” Added Lavalley, “this project may be of great value to other cardiac rehab programs around the nation, particularly in this complex healthcare environment.”

•••••

Paulo Marques

Paulo Marques

LUSO Federal Credit Union announced that Paulo Marques, senior loan originator, ranked fourth among top loan originators by volume for credit unions in Western Mass., with loan volume of $23.4 million. He also ranked fourth for top loan originators by number of loans for credit unions in Western Mass., with 156 loans. These results were reported by the Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

•••••

Deborah Jordan of Shamrock Financial in Wilbraham was named 2017 Affiliate of the Year by the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley (RAPV). The announcment was made during the association’s annual awards banquet held June 8 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. As the highest honor given to an affiliate member, the award is bestowed upon the one person who has shown outstanding service and devotion to the organization during the past 17 months in the areas of affiliate-related association activity, community service, and business activity. A member of RAPV for five years, Jordan has served on the affiliate/Realtor, Education Fair & Expo, and community service committees. Her committee involvement includes the annual Benefit Golf Tournament, Playhouse Build for the Boys and Girls Clubs, and blanket and book drives to benefit Shriner’s Hospitals for Children – Springfield. Jordan’s additional community activities include serving as president-elect for the Ludlow Rotary Club, volunteering with Revitalize CDC, and serving on the Buy Springfield Now Committee to promote home ownership.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Following a nationwide search, Anthony Hayes has been selected as the new general manager for public broadcaster WGBY in Springfield. Hayes comes to WGBY with nearly two decades of executive experience in public TV and radio in Connecticut and Washington, D.C. He succeeds Rus Peotter, who retired last fall after leading the station for 15 years.

“Anthony is a visionary leader, and his extensive background in strategic development and engaging with audiences will advance WGBY’s mission and vital role in the community and across the region,” said Liz Cheng, Television Stations manager for the WGBH Educational Foundation, which includes WGBY.

Hayes will lead the station in its strategic planning, editorial operations, and community engagement, serving its public-media mission of advancing the educational and cultural life of Western New England.

“As a highly accomplished media executive, Anthony’s management skills, experience, and style will be a great fit for WGBY. His industry knowledge and community focus will be of tremendous value in leading our public-media initiatives,” said Crist Myers, chair of the WGBY board of tribunes.

Most recently, Hayes served as senior vice president for Engagement at Connecticut Public Broadcasting in Hartford, which includes CPTV and WNPR, where he guided fund-raising and sponsorship initiatives to develop new strategic opportunities and growth. Prior to that, he was at WAMU-FM, American University Radio, where he oversaw the sponsorship sales division and designed and implemented integrated fund-raising, communications, and outreach strategies, locally and nationally, that increased stakeholder engagement. Earlier in his career, he was with WETA, public TV and radio in Arlington, Va., where he managed corporate marketing and developed non-traditional revenue initiatives.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to have this opportunity to magnify the impact of this exceptional organization,” said Hayes. “I will work collaboratively and strategically to build upon WGBY’s rich history and advance its core mission, focusing on building a stronger community through engagement, learning, and understanding. I believe WGBY is poised to expand its reach throughout Western New England, and I am eager to lead the charge.”

Hayes holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the New York Institute of Technology, and a master’s degree in media entrepreneurship from American University. He will join WGBY on July 10.

Features

Sensational Six

40under40contdExcellenceLogo2016
When gathering her thoughts on this year’s six nominees for the Continued Excellence Award, Susan Jaye-Kaplan summoned none other than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I believe Dr. King once said, ‘we’ll judge people based on what they do, rather than what they look like,’” said Jaye-Kaplan, co-founder and president of Link to Libraries and one of three judges for BusinessWest’s third annual award program honoring extremely high achievers in the region. “The talent, commitment, and caring of all the nominees makes one proud to be in this community, where, for many of our citizens, giving is a moral responsibility.”

BusinessWest launched the Continued Excellence Award in 2015 to recognize past 40 Under Forty honorees who have built on the business success and civic commitment that initially earned them that honor. The first two winners of the award were Delcie Bean, president of Paragus Strategic IT, and Dr. Jonathan Bayuk, president of Allergy and Immunology Associates of Western Mass. and chief of Allergy and Immunology at Baystate Medical Center. Both had been named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2008.

The winner of the third annual award will be announced at this year’s 40 Under Forty gala, slated for June 22 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke.

The six finalists, as determined by scores submitted by three judges — Jaye-Kaplan; Dana Barrows, Estate & Business Planning specialist with Northwestern Mutual; and Bill Grinnell, president of Webber & Grinnell insurance — are, in alphabetical order:

Michael Fenton

Michael Fenton

Michael Fenton

When Fenton was named to the 40 Under Forty in 2012, he was serving his second term on Springfield’s City Council and preparing to graduate from law school. He was also a trustee at his alma mater, Cathedral High School, where he dedicated countless hours to help rebuild the school following the 2011 tornado.

Today, Fenton is City Council president and an associate at Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, P.C., practicing in the areas of business planning, commercial real estate, estate planning, and elder law. He received an ‘Excellence in the Law’ honor from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and was named a Super Lawyers Rising Star in 2014. Meanwhile, in the community, he is a founding member of Suit Up Springfield, director and clerk at Save Cathedral High School Inc., a corporator with Mason Wright Foundation, a volunteer teacher at Junior Achievement, a member of the East Springfield and Hungry Hill neighborhood councils, and an advisory board member at Roca Inc., which helps high-risk young people transform their lives.

Jeff Fialky

Jeff Fialky

Jeff Fialky

A member of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2008, Fialky was recognized an an associate attorney at Bacon Wilson in Springfield and for his volunteer work with numerous area organizations. He has since added a number of lines to that résumé. For starters, in 2012, he was named a partner at Bacon Wilson, and is active in leadership capacities with the firm. But he has also become a leader within the Greater Springfield business community.

Former president of the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, Fialky currently serves as chair of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and is also on the board of trustees of the Springfield Museums, where he chairs the membership and development committee and is the incoming vice treasurer. He has also served on boards and committees such as the Jewish Federation of Pioneer Valley, Leadership Pioneer Valley, DiverseCity OnBoard, the YMCA, and the Pioneer Valley chapter of the American Red Cross.

Scott Foster

Scott Foster

Scott Foster

In 2011, Foster, an attorney with Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, was honored as a 40 Under Forty member not only for his work with that firm, where he specializes in general corporate, business, and finance matters, but for his chairmanship of the Forest Park Zoological Society, his work with the Family Business Center at UMass Amherst and the university’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, and his then-recent efforts to co-found Valley Venture Mentors (VVM), a nonprofit organization that connects talented Pioneer Valley entrepreneurs with mentors in the business community.

While his leadership roles at work and on civic boards have expanded in the past six years, Foster’s most significant achievement since then may be the growth of VVM from an all-volunteer organization to a nationally recognized entrepreneurship engine with an annual budget of $1.2 million, six full-time employees, and a track record of helping seed the Pioneer Valley with a culture of successful startups. He spends hundreds of hours each year improving the environment for entrepreneurs, who in turn are helping to lift an entire region.

Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin

Griffin spent 12 years in the insurance industry before launching her own business, Griffin Staffing Network, in 2010. Her work there, helping teens and adults acquire job-related skills and find temporary and permanent employment, earned her 40 Under Forty recognition in 2014, as did her generosity with her time and resources, from founding Springfield Mustard Seed, in response to clients who wanted to become entrepreneurs, to her involvement with a host of community-focused organizations.

Over the past year, Griffin has mentored young mothers through the Square One mentorship program and the New England Farm Workers Council’s teen-mom program, as well as leveraging the skills of her staff to provide recruiting opportunities and career guidance to current and graduating students at area colleges and universities. She was also recognized with the Community Builder Award from the Urban League for helping meet employment needs in Springfield. Meanwhile, she has ramped up her mentorship efforts for young entrepreneurs, chaired a Women’s Leadership Council event that raised $15,000, and lent her support to events benefiting Revitalize CDC.

Amanda Huston Garcia

Amanda Huston Garcia

Amanda Huston Garcia

When she was named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2010, Huston Garcia was vice president of operations for Junior Achievement (JA) of Western Mass. Meanwhile, she was active in myriad community organizations, including various chambers of commerce, the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, and various boards at Elms College and Springfield High School of Science and Technology.

In 2011, she left her position with JA — but still plays numerous roles in the organization — and became a full-time professor at Elms, where her passion for teaching young people about entrepreneurship and financial literacy remains strong. In addition to helping create the Elms MBA program (and serving as its interim director for a time), she developed a partnership between Elms and JA, recruiting more than 60 college students each year to teach JA programs. She also forged a classroom partnership between Elms and Putnam Vocational Technical Academy and is working on a program to help Putnam students earn college credits. She also introduced Elms accounting students to a national business-ethics debate competition, where they finished first in the region twice.

Meghan Rothschild

Meghan Rothschild

Meghan Rothschild

Rothschild, then development and marketing manager for the Food Bank of Western Mass., was named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2011 mainly for her tireless work in melanoma awareness. A survivor herself, she began organizing local events to raise funds for the fight against this common killer, and launched a website, SurvivingSkin.org, and TV show, Skin Talk, that brought wider attention to her work.

Since then, Rothschild has stayed busy, transitioning from a board seat with the Melanoma Foundation of New England to a job as marking and PR manager, where she’s the face of the organization’s “Your Skin Is In” campaign. She has testified in Boston and Washington, D.C. in support of laws restricting tanning beds. Meanwhile, she hosts a community talk show on 94.3 FM, and co-founded chikmedia, a marketing firm that specializes in nonprofits and fund-raisers — all while supporting a raft of area nonprofit organizations. Most recently, she joined the board of the Zoo at Forest Park, donating her time to its marketing and PR initiatives, and participated in events benefiting the Holyoke Children’s Museum, Junior Achievement, and a host of other groups.

About the Judges

Dana Barrows

Dana Barrows

Dana Barrows began his association with Northwestern Mutual while a full-time law student at Western New England School of Law. He has used his law background to help clients address a wide range of personal, business, and estate-planning needs, often working closely with their other professional advisors. He has developed a financial-services practice in the areas of estate and business planning. He specializes in working with high-net-worth individuals and owners of closely held businesses in the areas of business continuity and estate planning. Barrows also serves on a variety of professional and community boards and is very active within the Northwestern Mutual’s Financial Representative Assoc.

Bill Grinnell

Bill Grinnell

As president of Webber and Grinnell Insurance, Bill Grinnell oversees a company with 30 employees serving 5,000 clients. Currently vice president of the board of River Valley Investments, he has also served as board co-chair of the United Way Campaign from 2013 to 2015, Northampton Planning Board member from 2014 to 2016, trustee at the Academy at Charlemont from 2009 to 2012, board chair at Hampshire Regional YMCA from 2009 to 2010, vice president and board member at Riverside Industries, board member of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast, and board member of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce. His agency also supports countless nonprofits in the region.

Susan Jaye-Kaplan

Susan Jaye-Kaplan

Susan Jaye-Kaplan is not just the co-founder of Link to Libraries — an organization whose mission is to collect and distribute books to public elementary schools and nonprofit organizations in Western Mass. and Connecticut — but also founded Go FIT Inc. and the Pioneer Valley Women’s Running Club. Her many accolades from regional and national organizations — far too many to list here — include being named a BusinessWest Difference Maker in 2009, the program’s inaugural year. She is a member of the Women’s Sports Foundation and a requested speaker at conferences and universities throughout the area. She works part-time as a consultant for the Donahue Institute at UMass Boston.

“It is inspiring to have had the privilege to read about the varied accomplishments of the nominees presented,” Jaye-Kaplan said regarding the judges’ challenge of considering dozens of Continued Excellence Award applications and trying to determine which to nominate this year — and, in the coming weeks, which to name the winner for 2017. “I can see these young people are  responsible to the communities in which they live and work, the environment, and to the bigger community as well. It is an honor to see this in our community.”

Entrepreneurship Sections

Sweet Smell of Success

Valley Venture Mentors’ Accelerator Awards

The winners of Valley Venture Mentors’ Accelerator Awards, who split $150,000 in grant money to further their nascient businesses.

Valley Venture Mentors’ third annual Accelerator program may have been capped by the grants given to a dozen of its participants at a recent awards ceremony, but participants say the rewards of the program go far beyond dollars, encompassing everything from intensive business training and expert advice to exposure in the marketplace and critical networking. These entrepreneurs’ ideas are often potentially world-changing; VVM’s goal is to help turn that potential into reality.

 

By Kathleen Mellen

Ronny Priefer’s niece Ava was just 18 months old when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and almost died from diabetic ketoacidosis. If an alert aunt, who was babysitting, hadn’t noticed the telltale sweet smell of her niece’s breath (caused by a build-up of ketones), the toddler might have been in serious trouble.

“She realized something was wrong and took her to the hospital,” Priefer said, referring to the quick-thinking aunt. “If she hadn’t, the doctors think she probably would have died within hours.”

Ava’s story is not uncommon. Every year, more than 150,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes; roughly one in four aren’t diagnosed until they develop diabetic ketoacidosis, which occurs when the body cannot use glucose as a fuel source because there is no insulin, or not enough insulin. When that happens, the body breaks down fat for fuel instead, which leads to a build up of ketones, which, in turn, causes the sweet-smelling breath.

Like others with type 1 diabetes, Ava, now 6, must monitor her blood glucose by pricking her finger six to nine times a day, every day, for the rest of her life. Those finger pricks and the associated pain, Priefer says, can cause compliance problems, and “low compliance rates correlate to higher diabetic complications.”

All of which got Priefer, a chemist, to thinking: since the initial indicator of the little girl’s disease was sweet-smelling breath, why not find a way to use the breath as a way to monitor diabetes?

Priefer, 42, a professor of Medicinal Chemistry in the College of Pharmacy at Western New England University, is the co-founder and chief scientific officer of a business startup in Springfield called New England Breath Technologies, which has, indeed, developed a way to measure blood glucose using a person’s breath.

“It’s 100% pain-free,” he said. “This is my way to help the diabetic community.”

Priefer and his business partners, Judi Grupp, the company’s CEO, and Michael Rust, a co-founder and chief technology officer, got a leg up in their efforts on May 25 when they were awarded $25,000 at Valley Venture Mentors’ (VVM) annual Accelerator Awards banquet. The group will use the money to run a clinical trial this summer.

Holding their check for $25,000

Holding their check for $25,000 are New England Breath Technology’s Ronny Priefer and Judi Grupp, with, from left, Jay Leonard, VVM board treasurer; Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts; Dennis Duquette, head of Community Responsibility, MassMutual, and Scott Foster, VVM board chairman.

The company is just one of a dozen that walked away with a share of $150,000 in prize money at the awards banquet held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. The other finalists were Genoverde Biosciences Inc. in Amherst ($25,000), MEANS Database in Washington, D.C. ($22,500), Ernest Pharmaceuticals in Hadley ($12,500), M1 Tapes in Haydenville ($12,500), Lumme Inc. in Amherst ($10,000), Streamliners in Hampden ($10,000), Kwema in Miami, Fla. ($10,000), Nonspec in Carlisle (7,500), RecordME in Torrington, Conn. ($5,000), Barakat Bundle in Cambridge ($5,000), and ProjectMQ in Pooler, Ga. ($5,000).

They’ll all put the money to good use, but the true wealth they received was, perhaps, less tangible.

The companies participated in VVM’s annual, four-month-long Accelerator boot camp, now in its third year, which is designed to prepare high-potential startups for serious growth. As participants, they received intensive training and critical support from experts, investors, and collaborative peers; marketing exposure and public-relations promotion; and the chance to build a network of peers, potential advisors, and investors.

“We create career learning,” VVM CEO Liz Roberts said. “Usually people come to us with some proprietary experience or knowledge, who found a way, or think they have a better way, to solve a problem for a lot of people. They come here looking for the missing pieces.”

Priefer said he’d heard about the VVM Accelerator program and thought it would be beneficial for both the refinement of the business and networking — and he was right. “We not only gained the financial reward, but we were able to refine our business pitch, and make some solid connections for potential future investments.”

Addressing Addiction

Akshaya Shanmugam, 29, was born and raised in India, where access to healthcare, she said, is “a privilege that not many people enjoy.” She hopes to change that.

“My goal in life is to address the challenges of healthcare that the developed and developing worlds face,” said Shanmugam, who received a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from UMass Amherst, and is an expert in the design of portable health monitoring, data analytics, and testing and validation.

She’s starting her quest with what she says is one of the most neglected diseases, addiction — specifically, smoking addiction.

Shanmugam is the program manager of Lumme Inc., a new business in Amherst that is developing technology to help people effectively quit smoking, by using what she calls “the ubiquitous power of smartphones.”

Lumme’s patented platform combines machine learning and wearable devices to automatically track activities and the context surrounding each activity. Based on that data, the platform can deliver personalized strategies on how to improve overall health. The group is also exploring the capability of using the platform to aid in the treatment of eating and obesity disorders, as well as alcohol addition.

Akshaya Shanmugam (right) and Abhinav Parate from Lumme Inc.,

Akshaya Shanmugam (right) and Abhinav Parate from Lumme Inc., which won $10,000 at the awards ceremony.

“Any role I can play in bringing this technology to the masses and to make a difference in the world is meaningful to me,” she said. “All the rich data that we can provide surrounding human behavior can help shift the focus from treatment to prevention of diseases.”

Shanmugam and her teammates — company CEO Christopher Salthouse; President Deepak Ganesan; Abhinav Parate, head of research and development; Sherry McKee, a behavior-change expert — received an award of $10,000 at the banquet, money that will help the fledgling company launch its pilot program. But the most beneficial part of the experience, she added, was the networking she and her team members were able to do.

“We had the opportunity to meet so many personally and professionally accomplished individuals,” she said. “These were top people in their fields who we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.”

To be eligible to participate in the Accelerator program, a company must have earned less than $250,000 in revenue in the last 12 calendar months, but must also “think big,” Roberts said. “We aren’t here to support people who want to open a dry-cleaning business; there’s a lot of small-business support out there. We’re looking for people who, for example, want to create a franchise of dry-cleaning stores. You have to have ambition to scale. We are creating high-capacity, high-growth companies.”

This year’s winners were selected from a cohort of 36 teams who participated in the boot camp, which runs each year from January to May. They, in turn, were selected from more than 200 applicants. While 60% to 70% of all participating startups come from within a two-hour drive of Springfield, others come from around the world, including as far away as Ghana and the United Kingdom.

“We want Western Massachusetts to be the next startup region,” Roberts said. “The way business works now, it’s global, and it’s international. If you want to be a place of innovation, and you want to draw and retain people to this area, that’s a really key thing.”

At the close of the boot camp, the 36 startups self-selected 12 finalists following a high-stakes pitch contest. On May 25, 15 judges (angel investors and venture capitalists from Western Mass., Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and as far away as Atlanta), were each allotted $10,000 to ‘invest’ in the companies; they heard the finalists’ pitches, interviewed them, looked at their product demos, and independently determined the amount each company would be awarded.

“This is not a consensus piece,” Roberts said. “It’s actually how investing works in real life.”

VVM receives funding for this and other programs from MassMutual, MassDevelopment, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, among other sponsors.

Big Picture

The folks at Valley Venture Mentors say they believe in setting big goals. Through its mentorship programs and its Accelerator Awards, VVM aims to create nothing short of an entrepreneurial renaissance in Western Mass. by building what Roberts calls an ecosystem, in which startup businesses can grow and flourish, both locally and globally.

“When Valley Venture Mentors was founded in 2011, there weren’t the entrepreneurship programs in colleges that there are now, and there certainly wasn’t the support of an ecosystem,” Roberts said. “It’s hard to get started on your own, in isolation. They don’t know what they don’t know before they come in — how to find your customers, who your customers are. Do you have the presentation model? Do you actually have a flawed business model? Through the process of this program, we help them with all that.”

The proof the companies’ success, Roberts says, is in the pudding. In 2016, VVM startups created $7.9 million in earnings and attracted $11.3 million in outside funding — everything from angel and venture-capital investments to prestigious federal research grants. VVM startups supported 227 full-time and 613 part-time and contract jobs, in addition to spending $2.45 million on service providers outside payroll.

It’s worth noting, Roberts says, that VVM’s startups are also diverse. While 63% of the companies in this year’s cohort were women-led, and more than 50% were led by people of color, the numbers for similar programs are much lower, nationally (23% led by women and 20% led by people of color), according the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which supports women and minority entrepreneurs.

“There’s something about the way we’re doing this — it’s on nights and weekends, we provide childcare, we do a founder-blind application process — that’s really different,” Roberts told BusinessWest. “I think it’s something that’s specific to Western Massachusetts, that is human-friendly. They can succeed here.”

With the aid of VVM’s Accelerator program, they’re gaining the resources to do just that — with rewards that go far beyond a dollar sign.

Briefcase Departments

Employer Confidence Declines in Massachusetts in April

BOSTON — Massachusetts employers hit the pause button on a seven-month rally in business confidence during April, but their outlook remained solidly optimistic in the face of mixed political and economic signals. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index lost 2.2 points to 60.2 last month, 4.0 points higher than its level of a year earlier. Every constituent element of the confidence index lost ground after reaching a 13-year high during March. The results came as the Massachusetts economy contracted at a 0.5% annual rate during the first quarter and state unemployment rate rose to 3.6%. “We should not be surprised to see confidence readings correct slightly after advancing six points since September,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “It bears watching to determine whether the broad April decline becomes a trend as we move into the summer.” Analysts believe the numbers may also reflect growing concern among employers about the ability of the Trump administration to deliver the many pro-growth policies it promised during the campaign. The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009. The index has remained above 50 since October 2013. Employers grew less confident about both the overall economy and their own operations during April. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, lost 0.4 points to 63.3, leaving it 6 points higher than in April 2016. The U.S. Index of national business conditions shed 2.7 points after gaining ground for the previous sixth months. April marked the 85th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, declined 1.9 points to 59.9, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, dropped 2.5 points to 60.5. The future outlook remained 3.2 points higher than a year ago. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, fell 2.6 points to 60.2. The Employment Index fell 2.8 points to 56.2, and the Sales Index declined 2.1 points to 60.5. The AIM survey found that nearly 39% of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months, while 19% reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable, with 37% planning to hire and only 10% downsizing. The April survey also reversed an unusual result in March, when Western Mass. companies were more confident than those in the eastern portion of the Commonwealth. Eastern Mass. employers posted a 61.7 confidence reading in April versus 58 for employers in the western part of the state. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord said employer confidence is facing headwinds from accelerating healthcare and health-insurance costs. Massachusetts has exceeded its objective for healthcare spending in each of the past two years, and employers continue to pay some of the highest costs in the nation. “The good news is that Massachusetts is beginning to identify some answers. And there appears to be enough common ground and political will on the issue to pursue some solutions,” Lord said. “New research conducted by the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission suggests that Massachusetts employers, insurers, and policymakers could reduce total healthcare expenditures anywhere from $279 million per year to $794 million per year, or 0.5% to 1.3%, by making several key improvements to the healthcare system.”

Ko-Aqua Kit Wins Elevator-pitch Competition

HOLYOKE — Nkori Edem, a student from Mount Holyoke College, took first place at last week’s elevator-pitch competition at the Awards Ceremony & Banquet for the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. She pitched the Ko-Aqua Kit, a completely waterproof and airtight swim cap designed specifically for women of color. Edem convinced a panel of judges from area banks that her pitch was the best. Rune Percy and Alexander Smith, a student team from UMass Amherst, took second place based on their business-concept pitch for ARBioDesign, which aims to save tens of thousands of patients every year by personalizing dialysis treatment using rapid and inexpensive microfluidic blood-diagnostic tests. Finally, Daniel Olive, a student at Elms College, took third place with the DBL (Don’t Be Late) Pillow, which utilizes Bluetooth technology to revolutionize waking up. Representatives from six area banks once again sponsored the elevator-pitch competition and served as judges at the annual event held at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. The banks include Berkshire Bank, Country Bank, KeyBank, PeoplesBank, United Bank, and Westfield Bank. The live event featured a student representative from each of 13 participating local colleges: American International College, Bay Path University, Elms College, Greenfield Community College, Hampshire College, Holyoke Community College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Springfield College, Springfield Technical Community College, UMass Amherst, Western New England University, and Westfield State University. First-, second-, and third-place winners received $1,000, $750, and $500 respectively. Each student participating received $100. Six student businesses were identified by the bank judges as Best Exhibitors. These were selected from a pool of 62 unique companies during a trade-show-type portion of the evening which featured the 2017 Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Spirit Award winners. The winning exhibitors were Elms College: JMH Partners, LLC (Kevin Hepburn, Connor Holland, John Jacquinet, and Raphael Monterio); Western New England University: Sparks to Sparkles (Rebecca Abramson); Westfield State University: JPS Design Solutions (James Schmidt); Western New England University: Napollo Music (Sebastien Percy); Springfield College: Thorello Leather Goods (Dilyara Celik), and UMass Amherst: App Outreach, LLC (Jordan Ames, Davis McVay, Rich Sadick, and Lauren Tse-Wall). The Grinspoon, Garvey & Young Alumni Entrepreneurship Award is presented each year to an individual who has advanced substantially as an entrepreneur since receiving the Grinspoon Spirit Award. Phil Scarfi, founder of Pioneer Mobile Applications and alumnus of UMass Amherst, was awarded the 2017 Alumni Award and $1,000. Pioneer Mobile Applications is a software consulting agency, specializing in mobile app design and development.

Unemployment Down Across State in March

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates decreased in 23 labor-market areas and increased in one area in the Commonwealth during the month of March, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. Compared to March 2016, the rates were down in all 24 labor-market areas. All 15 areas for which job estimates are published recorded seasonal job gains in March. The largest gains occurred in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Worcester, Barnstable, Framingham, Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Lawrence-Methuen-Salem, and Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford areas. From March 2016 to March 2017, 13 of the 15 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the New Bedford, Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Barnstable, Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, and Pittsfield areas. In order to compare the statewide rate to local unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide unadjusted unemployment rate for March was 3.9%. Last week, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 3.6% in the month of March. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 200-job gain in March, and an over-the-year gain of 49,000 jobs. The unadjusted unemployment rates and job estimates for the labor-market areas reflect seasonal fluctuations and therefore may show different levels and trends than the statewide seasonally adjusted estimates. The estimates for labor force, unemployment rates, and jobs for Massachusetts are based on different statistical methodology specified by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dragon Boat Festival Seeks Organizations to Sponsor Boats

SPRINGFIELD — The fifth annual Springfield Dragon Boat Festival will take place on Saturday, June 24 from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. at North Riverfront Park, 121 West St. in Springfield. Racing begins at 9 a.m. Registration is now open for teams wishing to participate at www.pvriverfront.org/db-fest-reg. In addition to dragon-boat races, the festival will feature family-friendly events such as music, performances, food, vendors, and children’s activities. The boat races will have both community and club racing categories. For businesses and organizations looking for a team-building opportunity, the $2,000 race fee includes a coached training session the week prior to the race, the use of boats and paddles, and personal flotation devices. On race day, teams will participate in three 200-meter races. No prior experience is necessary to participate. Proceeds from the event will provide support for riverfront programs for youth and adults at Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club as it grows and strengthens its presence in Springfield and the Pioneer Valley. “Our mission is to connect the community to the Connecticut River,” said Ben Quick, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club. “Past community team participants have included MassMutual, Health New England, the Center for Human Development, and more. It is a great way for community groups to have fun and create awareness. They love that they can enjoy a great team-building event and support programs that help our local youth and adults get fit.”

State Receives Federal Funds to Fight Opioid Crisis

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration recently announced that Massachusetts has received a federal grant totaling nearly $12 million to bolster its public-health response to the opioid epidemic, particularly for outpatient opioid treatment, recovery services, and expanded community overdose-prevention programs. “Our administration strongly supported the 21st Century Cures Act as an effort to advance Massachusetts’ leadership in biomedical innovation and expedite new ways to treat disease and addiction,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “We are grateful for the opportunity to use these funds for prevention and treatment activities to address the opioid crisis that has devastated families in every corner of Massachusetts.” The grant, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is the first round of annual funding authorized under the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law late last year. The funds will support an array of statewide prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery activities managed by the state Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. “This administration is intensely focused on ending this epidemic, which has claimed far too many lives across our Commonwealth,” said Marylou Sudders, state Secretary of Health and Human Services. “This new grant enables us to continue the fight and expand successful prevention, treatment, and recovery programs throughout the state.” The majority of the $11.7 million in funding will be used to increase outpatient opioid treatment and recovery services and expand community overdose-prevention programs. The funding will also support new programs to promote treatment and recovery for at-risk populations, including pregnant and post-partum women and correctional inmates scheduled for release. “This funding comes at a critical time and supports our comprehensive response to this deadly epidemic,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “Investing in prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery saves lives, and this funding helps us in each of those areas.”

Single-family Home Sales Record Uptick in March

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales were up 5.9% in the Pioneer Valley in March compared to the same time last year, while the median price was up 1.7% to $188,000, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. In Franklin County, sales were up 21.2%, while the median price fell 12.0% from a year earlier. In Hampden County, sales were up 10.2%, while the median price was up 2.8%. And in Hampshire County, sales fell 8.0% from March 2016, while the median price rose 4.3%.

Features

Real-world Education

Valley Venture Mentors co-founder Paul Silva

Valley Venture Mentors co-founder Paul Silva

Valley Venture Mentors has long cultivated entrepreneurship in the Pioneer Valley through programs like its signature Accelerator, which provides education and support for aspiring business owners to hone their ideas. VVM’s Collegiate Accelerator, set to begin in June, is a different beast, focusing on a younger group with startup ideas and tossing them into a more demanding, time-intensive experience than the traditional Accelerator. But they do have something in common with their older peers: they don’t know anything. Yet.

Paul Silva recalls how Valley Venture Mentors was born out of entrepreneurship classes he and his fellow co-founders, Scott Foster and Jay Leonard, were teaching at UMass. But the vast majority of participants in VVM’s programs have been past their college years.

“But the student demand was there all along,” Silva said. “College students needed this.”

Which is why the Springfield-based nonprofit — which aims to build, support, and maintain an entrepreneurial renaissance in Western Mass. — launched a Collegiate Accelerator program this summer for college students and recent graduates. Twenty startups have been chosen to participate in the eight-week program, which was funded by multiple sources, including an anonymous donor who made a significant contribution.

“The donors agreed with us: ‘hey, we have great kids in our schools, or great kids are born here and go somewhere else to school. What they need is a great reason to stay,’” Silva told BusinessWest. “We want to show them that, if they want to create a startup, this is the place you can do it, and there’s no better time in their lives.”

There are some important differences between VVM’s traditional Accelerator and the collegiate version. While the adults in the former program dedicate one long weekend a month, the college students are essentially working a 40-hour schedule for eight weeks, with 20 hours per week spent in the classroom and another 20 in the field, meeting potential customers and honing their idea into a workable business plan. The accelerator will run weekdays from mid-June through August, and participants will receive a $2,000 stipend.

“We can run the program over the summer and not conflict with their studies,” Silva said. “Local kids can participate over the summer, and kids who come here for school can stay here over the summer. So we’re keeping all these great kids here; we give them our intensive program, and we get those great minds to stay local.”

We’re giving them an internship at their own startup, and they’re getting paid. We’re taking eight weeks of their summer, leaving time at the beginning and end, and we make it intense.”

Silva noted that participants will learn how to pitch their startup and how to raise capital, and will benefit from successful entrepreneurs and business leaders who will serve as speakers and mentors.

It is in some ways the best job of their lives so far, he added. “We’re giving them an internship at their own startup, and they’re getting paid. We’re taking eight weeks of their summer, leaving time at the beginning and end, and we make it intense. It’s a full-time job.”

VVM worked with a variety of partners, from the Grinspoon Charitable Foundation to area colleges, to publicize the Collegiate Accelerator and attract applications. Being chosen for one of the 20 slots was a two-part process. In the first, the applicants judged each other’s ideas blindly — no name, age, gender, or race information was attached. From that peer review, a number of startups were chosen to attend a screening party where they made their elevator pitch before at least 10 different VVM members, who grilled them about their ideas.

It’s an intense process, Silva said, but superior to coming before, say, a three-member panel and needing unanimous approval. With that model, if someone has an idea involving video games and one of three judges simply hates video games, it’s over. With 10 or more judges, there’s more leeway for those biases to be filtered out. And applicants who were not chosen were given plenty of practical feedback that might make them more likely to be chosen next summer.

Knowing Nothing

For those taking the plunge this June, the first lesson is a mantra that has been used often at Valley Venture Mentors.

“The foundation of our program is, you don’t know anything, and neither does your business partner,” Silva said. “All you have is a good idea.”

That idea requires testing through actual field work, he said. “Maybe I want to make video games for blind people. And it turns out that blind people are mostly older and don’t give a darn about video games, but they do miss socializing. So now I’ve learned more about them, and about social isolation.”

Perhaps that leads to a different idea for a video-game company, or a completely different type of company focusing on the needs of blind people. Those crossroads pop up all the time for young entrepreneurs, he explained. In fact, Silva said most entrepreneurs at the idea stage are 90% wrong, and the idea is to discover where they’re 10% right, and build on that.

VVM’s overarching goal is to catalyze the entrepreneurial renaissance in the Pioneer Valley.

VVM’s overarching goal is to catalyze the entrepreneurial renaissance in the Pioneer Valley.

A few of the 20 participants in the Collegiate Accelerator have actually received money in exchange for products, but most have not gotten that far, nor should that be expected at this stage of the game, Silva said.

“I tell them a startup is not a job where you make money; it’s where you figure out how to make money. A business is a job where you make money. The goal is to grow your startup into a business. If people are already giving you money, that’s a great signal, but it’s not the goal.”

The students participating in the 2017 Collegiate Accelerator include:

• Boman Container Homes, Springfield Technical Community College (STCC): offers a variety of customizable container homes, offices, and cabins for sale, ranging from economic to luxurious;

• Bystand, Hampshire College: connects certified bystanders, who rarely use their skills, with people nearby who are in need of immediate medical assistance;

• CognitEyes, UMass Amherst: makes affordable, comfortable, eye-tracking glasses, helping identify diseases, assess fatigue, and understand consumer behavior;

• DetraPel, Babson College: a super-hydrophobic liquid repellent that repels any liquid from almost any surface;

• El Cherufe Chile Paste, Greenfield Community College: offers a unique hot flavor profile to lovers of all things spicy in a versatile paste form;

• In Case Audio, UMass Amherst: installs speaker systems into vintage suitcases to create a stylish yet portable speaker and amp;

• Love Jones Renaissance Café & Lounge, STCC: a cozy, sophisticated lounge and café that provides customers with an ambiance that fosters individual and group creativity and networking;

• Lymph + Honey, Hampshire College: provides access to healthful, wholesome, and sustainable natural hair- and body-care products;

• Mitho MoMo, Mount Holyoke College: brings authentic Nepalese foods back to their people in the U.S. at affordable prices with the convenience of a microwave;

• Peace of Mind Home Inventory, STCC: personal asset inventory for insurance and estate planning;

• Redflowers, Smith College: promotes, empowers, and engages black identities and black women;

• Salad Express, Elms College: an inexpensive healthy fast-food experience;

• Shesabelle Chandeliears, Smith College: adds versatility and variety to modern jewelry owners’ earring selection;

• Socialopolis, UMass Amherst: a virtual and augmented reality software and hardware development firm;

• STEAMporio, STCC: STEAM education marketplace with a focus on the maker and DIY communities;

• Studio 26, Holyoke Community College: an inspiring network that strengthens the community and encourages growth and self-expression through the arts;

• The Schwa Company, Smith College: provides on-demand, real-life translators through an app 24/7, eliminating language barriers;

• The Travel Unicorn, Mount Holyoke College: an LGBTQ+ travel guide dedicated to sharing stories of love and travel, connecting LGBTQ+ travelers to safe and fun travel destinations;

• Vidvision, Babson College: offers a suite of interactive lead-generation tools to help SMBs drive ROI on their video content; and

• Zirui Collective, Mount Holyoke College: a beauty tech company that builds a compact, modular, customizable makeup kit that is space-efficient and travel-friendly.

Catalyzing the Valley

When asked what the end goal of the Collegiate Accelerator should be, Silva said it’s similar to VVM’s overarching goal of catalyzing the entrepreneurial renaissance in the Valley.

“One of the most underutilized assets in the Valley is our college students,” he said. “We know from personal experience, and from the experience of others around the country, that if you shower young entrepreneurs with love and support, they’ll be more likely to find success, to remember you, and to stay here. Not everyone is going to stay, of course, and not everyone should stay; if what you’re doing is perfect for Silicon Valley, then you should go to Silicon Valley. But this is a great region for all kinds of startups.”

Besides, he added, startups that leave the area often become ambassadors of sorts, or allies, of the Pioneer Valley. One team from London that took part in a VVM Accelerator has since helped three other teams expand their business in the United Kingdom.

“We are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs launch and thrive. Students are one of the most high-potential populations our region has, and with a bit more help, they could really have an impact here,” Silva said. “We can’t wait to learn about their ventures and help them take the next steps to launch.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Nonprofit Management Sections

Strong Foundation

By Kathleen Mellen

eureka-2The reach of Girls Inc. of Holyoke — which operates programs for elementary-school-aged girls as well as teenagers — is striking, serving more than 1,750 girls each year through programs, peer education, and community outreach on a budget of $1.3 million. But other numbers are more impressive, such as statistics showing that Girls Inc. participants are more likely than their peers to get good grades, attend college, and find learning fun and valuable. What it all adds up to is a priceless foundation for success.

You could call it a lunch break on wheels.

Every Monday through Friday during the school year, Dianette Marrero uses her lunch hour to drive her daughters, Jasminn, 7, and Tatianna, 10, from their hometown of Chicopee to 52 Nick Cosmos Way in Holyoke, where the girls attend a licensed after-school program for ages 5 to 12, sponsored by Girls Inc. of Holyoke. And when her workday is done, Marrero returns to pick her daughters up.

Marrero says she doesn’t mind the drive in the least. She’s been sold on the nonprofit organization that educates and empowers girls from underserved communities ever since her daughters started attending its girls-only after-school program nearly two years ago. Through the program’s breadth of activities — including an in-depth literacy program, educational field trips, outdoor activities, and experiential, hands-on learning opportunities — she says her daughters are learning to be confident and motivated young women.

“Girls Inc. allows the girls to be confident with their peers,” Marrero told BusinessWest. “We’re a girls-only family, so this has been great for my daughters.”

Stella Cabrera, 16, has had a similarly positive experience: she has participated in nearly every program offered by Girls Inc. of Holyoke since joining up in the fifth grade. She first heard about the organization from a friend, and pleaded with her mother to let her attend.

The Girls Inc. Eureka! program is a STEM-based approach to education

The Girls Inc. Eureka! program is a STEM-based approach to education that places girls in labs and classrooms at UMass Amherst for intensive training.

“I was getting bullied by boys at school, and I wanted to try something new,” Cabrera said in an interview at the Girls Inc. administrative office and teen center at 6 Open Way in Holyoke. “It was really exciting because I’d never been in a place where it was just girls.”

Since then, she’s become more confident, and she credits Girls Inc. with the transformation.

“When I started out, I was a really shy person; I didn’t talk to many people,” she said. “Now I make friends with everybody. I don’t judge people. I’ve learned to accept people for who they are.”

Testimonials like these are music to Suzanne Parker’s ears.

“It’s our mission to inspire girls,” said Parker, the organization’s executive director. “The work that we’re doing, helping them to be successful, is really important.”

Girls Inc. of Holyoke, formerly the Holyoke Girls Club, operates programs for elementary-school-aged girls, as well as Holyoke’s only teen center just for girls. Serving more than 1,750 girls each year through programs, peer education, and community outreach, the organization aims to equip girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers, and grow up to be healthy, educated, and independent. It is one of more than 90 Girls Inc. affiliates of a network across the U.S. and Canada that serves more than 138,000 girls, ages 5 to 18.

“The programs we provide are developed to meet the very specific needs of girls,” Parker said. “Having the research and the support of the national organization really helps us with that.”

Why Girls Only?

Girls live in a society with different expectations about success for boys and girls, Parker said, and Girls Inc. aims to close that gap. By teaching personal-development and communications skills, conflict resolution and problem solving, and how to make healthy choices relating to their bodies and relationships, it aims to “inspire girls to be strong, smart, and bold by offering life-changing experiences and real solutions to the unique issues girls face,” according to its website.

“We work to build up their confidence, making sure they have self-esteem, but first and foremost, we make sure they’re exposed to opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Parker said. “All of those things are best done, we feel, in a girl-only environment, where they feel safe. They know they have a sisterhood here.”

From left, Girls Inc. of Holyoke participants Brandy Wilson and Stella Cabrera with Executive Director Suzanne Parker.

From left, Girls Inc. of Holyoke participants Brandy Wilson and Stella Cabrera with Executive Director Suzanne Parker.

The organization’s hallmarks are its mentoring programs, the girls-only environment, and its research-based, hands-on approach to learning. It also advocates for legislation and policies to increase opportunities for all girls.

The staff includes 11 full-time and four part-time professionals year-round, as well as an additional eight to 10 staff members who work in the full-day summer programs. In addition, more than 100 community members volunteer with the organization in a number of ways.

Nearly 70% of those who attend programs at Girls Inc. of Holyoke live in households earning $30,000 a year or less; one in 10 lives below the $10,000 line. The majority of members are Latina, Parker noted. While most live in Holyoke, some come from Chicopee, like Jasminn and Tatianna, and others live in Longmeadow, Wilbraham, South Hadley, Westfield, and West Springfield.

The organization’s newest strategic plan includes initiatives to broaden the organization’s reach, with in-school programs now being developed in Holyoke’s Peck Middle School, as well as Alfred G. Zanetti Montessori Magnet School and M. Marcus Kiley Middle School, both in Springfield.

In April, the organization was one of 17 Girls Inc. affiliates to receive a three-year grant award of $100,000 from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation to expand strategically to serve more girls growing up in low-income communities.

“Girls Inc. of Holyoke has a strong track record of making a measurable difference in the lives of girls,” said Judy Vredenburgh, president and CEO of Girls Inc. “As a well-run, sound organization, they are poised for expansion and growth, preparing more girls for responsible and confident adulthood, economic independence, and personal fulfillment.”

The programming reflects those initiatives, and its successes are measurable. For example, according to a national survey, one in six girls will not finish high school; by contrast, three-quarters of high-school girls who attend Girls Inc. programs report earning As and Bs on report cards, and 85% say they plan to attend college.

Finding Their Voice

Still, Parker said, girls who do well in math and science can pay a price socially at school, where they are often teased, even bullied, by other students. “We hear it from girls all the time. Bullying continues to be a major issue with girls across the country. And when you’re in school and you’re facing that, it’s hard to be successful.”

Girls Inc. addresses these gender-specific problems — and, more importantly, crafts solutions — in its girls-only environment.

“In order to be successful, girls have to have confidence, and they have to understand they have a voice and that they have the tools needed to be successful in that co-educational world we all live in,” she told BusinessWest. “There’s a need to provide a space for girls where they can come together, where they can take risks, try things they wouldn’t otherwise try.”

To that end, the organization fashions programs that promote academic success for girls in fields previously thought to be the domain of males. Chief among them is the Eureka! program, a STEM-based approach to education for eighth- through 12th-graders, which places girls in labs and classrooms at UMass Amherst for intensive training in science, technology, engineering, and math.

More than 100 girls are currently involved in Eureka!, attending the program for four weeks in the summer and on one Saturday a month during the school year, where they work with UMass professors who volunteer their time to offer hands-on experiences in fields like nanoscience, robotics, DNA research, and forensic science. In addition, the students are active daily in physical fitness and sports training, healthy living, and financial literacy.

Data shows that girls participating in Eureka! stay engaged in math and science throughout high school; many go on to higher education, often becoming the first in their family to attend a college or university, Parker noted. According to a recent survey, the percentage of girls participating in the program who identify themselves as “smart” increased by 13%, girls who think math is fun and interesting increased by 10%; and girls who feel comfortable in science class increased by more than 20%.

“Exposing girls to STEM skills and proficiencies is absolutely critical,” she went on. “While they might not all go into traditional STEM careers, the types of skills they’re learning, and the exposure they’re having, is absolutely critical. I believe that to the core.”

In the same survey, more girls also reported a positive body image, and nearly 90% of Eureka! girls see school as an opportunity “to learn as much as I can.” It also showed that the percentage of girls planning to go to a four-year college increased more than 10%.

Cabrera, now a high-school junior, and one of the original Eureka! scholars, wants to be a math teacher, and plans to attend college after she graduates from high school.

“I’ll be the first grandchild [in my family] to graduate and plan to go to college,” she said, adding that the program has significantly bolstered her confidence. “I really thrive, and I’ve gotten so much support for being strong. It’s a really inspiring program, and it really does help girls to understand their power and their impact on the world, and the amount of strength they have in themselves that they probably haven’t tapped yet.”

Avenues of Support

Girls Inc. of Holyoke’s annual budget is about $1.3 million, with between 55% and 60% of funding coming from the state. As a licensed after-school provider, it receives some funding from the state Department of Early Care. The teen center also receives support from the state Department of Public Health to run programs in pregnancy prevention and youth violence prevention. Specifically, the organization’s Healthy Relationships module helps girls learn to “identify, establish, and cultivate healthy relationships through assertiveness and negotiation skills,” and Project Bold works to “ensure that girls have the skills, knowledge, and support to be safe and reduce their risk of experiencing violence.”

But, Parker says, those funds don’t begin to cover the cost of providing a high-quality experience. For the past 10 years, the organization has held a Spirit of Girls breakfast, its signature fund-raising event; this year, on April 4 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke, a record crowd of about 450 people donated more than $140,000.

The organization also relies on foundation grants, as well as corporate and private donors. Indeed, Parker says there’s been a significant uptick in recent years in support from individuals. For example, participation in the three-year-old Champion for Girls initiative, through which individuals donate $1,000 or more, has risen from 15 annual donors to close to 100.

The organization also launched a program this year for ‘corporate champions,’ which is also seeing growing success, Parker said, with recent donations from CheckWriters Payroll, MassMutual, and PeoplesBank.

“Companies are definitely seeing the value of partnering with Girls Inc.,” she added. “We have to work hard; we’re always looking for people who are interested in investing in our work. We can’t do it alone.”

That work continues to enrich the lives of its members, from the STEM education of Eureka! to myriad teen-center programs offered on a drop-in basis, including art, creative writing, spoken-word expression, computer coding, and entrepreneurship, among others, as well as myriad field trips, classes, and workshops.

The success-based programming is not just reserved for the older girls. Last year, for example, a group of younger students, including Jasminn and Tatianna, developed a business model for a lemonade stand and put it into practice; the girls tested their lemonade recipe, did a market survey, and created a business plan to determine how much were they would charge for the lemonade. Then they launched their business in a real-life setting, setting up their stand at Celebrate Holyoke. Finally, the girls deposited the proceeds into a bank account and, together, decided how they would spend it.

That program, like others at Girls Inc. of Holyoke, builds a knowledge base that is useful in the real world, while building self-confidence, said Brandy Wilson, director of middle- and high-school programs.

“It’s all about exploring their options. So many times, girls who come in from what we consider an underserved community don’t know what their options are,” she explained. “We’re giving the girls experiences that make that lightbulb go off — that makes them realize, ‘I can do this.’”

Departments People on the Move
Aaron Miller

Aaron Miller

Strengthening its business strategy and development expertise, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual) named Aaron Miller Head of Strategy & Corporate Development. Miller reports to Betsy Ward, MassMutual’s chief financial officer and chief actuary. In his new role, Miller, who will work closely with MassMutual’s executive leadership team, is responsible for leading the development of the company’s corporate and business strategies, as well as competitive intelligence, helping maximize MassMutual’s long-term performance. Miller joins MassMutual from Capital One Financial Corp., where he spent more than six years as managing vice president of Strategy. In this role, he was responsible for supporting the company’s overall corporate development agenda and evaluating potential acquisition targets. Of note, he led Capital One’s $9 billion acquisition of ING Direct USA in February 2012, and the company’s $2.6 billion acquisition of HSBC’s U.S. credit-card business in May 2012. Prior to Capital One, from 2006 through 2010, Miller was a principal with Boston-based private equity firm Great Hill Partners, where he was responsible for originating and evaluating investment opportunities in the financial-services, Internet, and business-services sectors. He also served on the boards of Ziff Davis Media Inc. (acquired by j2 Global Inc.), and Central Security Group (acquired by Summit Partners), among others. Miller began his career in 1999 with McKinsey & Co.’s North American financial-services practice, eventually becoming a senior consultant. There, he helped Global 1000 and earlier-stage companies address such issues as strategy, new-business development, and operations. Miller received his bachelor’s degree in economics and public policy studies from Duke University, and earned his MBA from the Harvard Business School.

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Kevin Manghan

Kevin Manghan

PeoplesBank announced the appointment of Kevin Manghan to Infinex Financial Advisor, PeoplesFinancial and Insurance Services. Manghan possesses more than 29 years of financial-planning and investment experience. He will be responsible for providing financial planning and investment-portfolio planning to bank customers. PeoplesFinancial and Insurance Services offers access to a wide array of investment and insurance options through Infinex Investments Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. Products include mutual funds, annuities, retirement and pension plans, life insurance, long-term care insurance, and 529 college savings plans. Manghan holds a bachelor’s degree from Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y., and is a certified financial planner. He served for more than 20 years on the board of directors for the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp. and Business Assistance Corp.

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 Alfred Albano Jr.

Alfred Albano Jr.

Bacon Wilson announced that Attorney Alfred Albano Jr. has joined the firm. He is a general practitioner with more than 35 years of experience representing clients in Western Mass. Albano is a member of Bacon Wilson’s real-estate, estate-planning, business, and family-law practice groups. To ensure continuity of client service, Bacon Wilson will maintain his current office at 100 Russell St. in Hadley. This new branch will also enhance Bacon Wilson’s presence as a regional, full-service law firm with five locations throughout the Pioneer Valley: in Amherst, Northampton, Springfield, Westfield, and now in Hadley.

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Daniel Carr

Daniel Carr

Attorney Daniel Carr has joined Royal, P.C., the management-side-only labor and employment law firm, and will focus his practice in labor law and complex employment litigation. Carr’s practice includes matters involving labor relations, workplace safety and OSHA, unfair competition and trade secrets, discrimination, harassment and retaliation, wrongful discharge, workers’ compensation, employee privacy, wage-and-hour law, breach-of-contract and unfair-competition claims, and laws related to disability and other leave. His preventive work includes drafting a variety of employment-related manuals and contracts, such as executive agreements, compensation and commission agreements, restrictive covenants, and severance and settlement agreements. Prior to joining Royal, P.C., Carr worked at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, and has insight into state and federal employment discrimination law and agency regulations. He obtained his juris doctor from the George Washington University School of Law. He received his bachelor’s degree in English and American literature from New York University.

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Glenn Welch, president and CEO of Freedom Credit Union, announced a promotion within the credit union and the appointment of a new mortgage loan originator:

Edward Nuñez

Edward Nuñez

Edward Nuñez has been promoted to Assistant Vice President of Member Business Lending at Freedom. He has more than 19 years of experience in the financial-services industry, 15 of which have been at Freedom. Most recently, Nuñez led the credit union’s business-development department and led its youth banking, credit union partners program, and financial-literacy programs. He is active in the community, and serves on numerous boards and committees, including the Roger L. Putnam Technical Fund, Elms College board of trustees, the Basketball Hall of Fame finance subcommittee, the executive committee for the Credit for Life Financial Literacy Fairs, and the Greater Springfield Visitors Convention Bureau Howdy Award committee, to name a few. He is a West Springfield Rotarian and treasurer for the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade Committee. In 2012, Nuñez was named one of BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty honorees and was one of the first recipients of the Warren Group’s Credit Union Hero awards recognizing credit-union leaders throughout Massachusetts; and

Lisa Mish

Lisa Mish

Lisa Mish has joined Freedom as a mortgage loan originator and is responsible for real-estate origination throughout Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties. As she helps expand Freedom’s mortgage services to its members throughout the Pioneer Valley, she will offer her expertise in conventional, FHA, MassHousing, Mass. Housing Partnership’s One Mortgage, as well as USDA and VA loans. Mish has 14 years of experience in the finance industry, including expertise in residential mortgage origination, first-time homebuyer assistance, and secondary-market sales. Most recently, she was loan originator at Lee Bank. Currently, Mish is a board member of the Home Builders and Remodelers Assoc. of Western Mass., a member of the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley, and participates on several committees. She is working at Freedom’s main office branch in downtown Springfield.

•••••

Gary Blanchette

Gary Blanchette

Springfield College announced that Gary Blanchette has been named Vice President for Institutional Advancement. The move marks the return of Blanchette to his alma mater. He received a bachelor’s degree with honors from Springfield College in 1980 with concentrations in psychology and counseling. As vice president, Blanchette will be responsible for the overall leadership and management of the college’s development and alumni-relations efforts, including the development and implementation of a long-range fund-raising strategy. He will serve as a member of Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper’s leadership team. Blanchette was the senior vice president of Development for the Junior Achievement USA, where he was responsible for the successful organization and execution of an unprecedented multi-year national campaign to raise $25 million. Previously, he served the regional Junior Achievement of Central Florida in several executive roles over a 20-year term including president for five years. There, he led a strategic planning process and launched a capital campaign that resulted in the establishment of the first JA Academy for Leadership and Entrepreneurship in the country. “It is with sincere gratitude and joy that I accept the position of Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Springfield College,” said Blanchette. “As a proud alumnus, the ability to come home to Springfield College and to be part of the team that will continue to create an environment where future students will have the opportunity to experience the life-changing education that Springfield College provides is a dream come true. Springfield College has made a difference in so many lives, including mine. I look forward to the opportunity to connect with the Springfield College community as together we move our mission forward.”

•••••

Splash Marketing and Creative, a full-service marketing agency located in Westfield, announced the recent hiring of Amanda Myers, a 2016 graduate of Roger Williams University. Myers joins Splash Marketing and Creative as its newest web designer. In this role, Myers will combine creativity and technical savvy to build or redesign websites for clients, improving the aesthetics, functionality, and overall usability of a brand or company’s web presence. Myers earned a bachelor’s degree in web development with a minor in both marketing and graphic design. She has experience building websites for several different industries, including nonprofit, manufacturing, and higher education. Myers also has significant experience in customer service.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Nkori Edem, a student from Mount Holyoke College, took first place at last week’s elevator-pitch competition at the Awards Ceremony & Banquet for the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. She pitched the Ko-Aqua Kit, a completely waterproof and airtight swim cap designed specifically for women of color.

Edem convinced a panel of judges from area banks that her pitch was the best. Rune Percy and Alexander Smith, a student team from UMass Amherst, took second place based on their business-concept pitch for ARBioDesign, which aims to save tens of thousands of patients every year by personalizing dialysis treatment using rapid and inexpensive microfluidic blood-diagnostic tests. Finally, Daniel Olive, a student at Elms College, took third place with the DBL (Don’t Be Late) Pillow, which utilizes Bluetooth technology to revolutionize waking up.

Representatives from six area banks once again sponsored the elevator-pitch competition and served as judges at the annual event held at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. The banks include Berkshire Bank, Country Bank, KeyBank, PeoplesBank, United Bank, and Westfield Bank.

The live event featured a student representative from each of 13 participating local colleges: American International College, Bay Path University, Elms College, Greenfield Community College, Hampshire College, Holyoke Community College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Springfield College, Springfield Technical Community College, UMass Amherst, Western New England University, and Westfield State University. First-, second-, and third-place winners received $1,000, $750, and $500 respectively. Each student participating received $100.

Six student businesses were identified by the bank judges as Best Exhibitors. These were selected from a pool of 62 unique companies during a trade-show-type portion of the evening which featured the 2017 Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Spirit Award winners. The winning exhibitors were Elms College: JMH Partners, LLC (Kevin Hepburn, Connor Holland, John Jacquinet, and Raphael Monterio); Western New England University: Sparks to Sparkles (Rebecca Abramson); Westfield State University: JPS Design Solutions (James Schmidt); Western New England University: Napollo Music (Sebastien Percy); Springfield College: Thorello Leather Goods (Dilyara Celik), and UMass Amherst: App Outreach, LLC (Jordan Ames, Davis McVay, Rich Sadick, and Lauren Tse-Wall).

The Grinspoon, Garvey & Young Alumni Entrepreneurship Award is presented each year to an individual who has advanced substantially as an entrepreneur since receiving the Grinspoon Spirit Award. Phil Scarfi, founder of Pioneer Mobile Applications and alumnus of UMass Amherst, was awarded the 2017 Alumni Award and $1,000. Pioneer Mobile Applications is a software consulting agency, specializing in mobile app design and development.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield College announced that Gary Blanchette has been named vice president for Institutional Advancement, effective April 24.

The move marks the return of Blanchette to his alma mater. He received a B.S. degree with honors from Springfield College in 1980 with concentrations in psychology and counseling.

As vice president, Blanchette will be responsible for the overall leadership and management of the college’s development and alumni relations efforts, including the development and implementation of a long-range fundraising strategy. He will serve as a member of Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper’s leadership team.

“I am delighted to welcome one of our own, Gary Blanchette, back to our family,” said Cooper. “It’s wonderful to have an alumnus come back and give back his talents to serve the institution. Gary’s extensive fundraising experience with a highly regarded non-profit such as Junior Achievement distinguished him from other strong candidates in our national search. I look forward to his leadership as we develop a distinctive institutional advancement model at Springfield College.”

Blanchette was the senior vice president of Development for the national Junior Achievement, USA where he was responsible for the successful organization and execution of an unprecedented multi-year national campaign to raise $25 million. Previously, he served the regional Junior Achievement of Central Florida in several executive roles over a 20-year term including president for five years. There, he led a strategic planning process and launched a capital campaign that resulted in the establishment of the first JA Academy for Leadership and Entrepreneurship in the country.

“It is with sincere gratitude and joy that I accept the position of Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Springfield College,” said Blanchette. “As a proud alumnus, the ability to come home to Springfield College and to be part of the team that will continue to create an environment where future students will have the opportunity to experience the life changing education that Springfield College provides is a dream come true. Springfield College has made a difference in so many lives, including mine. I look forward to the opportunity to connect with the Springfield College community as together we move our mission forward.”

Features

Square Deal

Jay Minkarah

Jay Minkarah stands inside the innovation center now under construction on Bridge Street.

Webster defines momentum this way, among others: ‘capacity for progressive development’ and ‘forward movement.’ Those phrases certainly describe what’s being seen and heard in the Stearns Square area of Springfield, where a project blueprinted to be catalytic in nature, the Innovation Center now taking shape on Bridge Street, has been exactly that.

 

Katie Allan Zobel was talking about life on the 25th floor of Tower Square, and comparing and contrasting it with that in the new offices for the Community Foundation of Western Mass., which she serves as executive director, on the first floor on Bridge Street.

She was qualifying the dramatic change from being more than 250 feet above what’s going on and looking down upon it, literally speaking, to being a big part of what’s going on.

“The views from up in the tower … they’re incredible, but it’s like looking at a postcard of the city,” she explained, while being courteous and quite respectful to her long-time landlord, MassMutual. “Here on Bridge Street, we’re actually in the picture; we’re in the middle of the picture.”

And with that, knowingly or unknowingly, she summed up perfectly the broad strategy — putting more people and businesses in the picture — behind ongoing and quite ambitious plans to revitalize the area the Community Foundation is now in the middle of and can see so clearly out the huge windows facing north from its suite of offices.

It used to be called the Entertainment District, and some still call it that, although the goal is to make it much more. It’s also called Stearns Square, because that 130-year-old park and gathering spot sits in the middle of it and in many ways defines it. And it has another name these days — the TDI District. That’s short for Transformative Development Initiative district, a name contrived by MassDevelopment to describe what this particular program within its portfolio is and does. (We’ll get to that shortly.)

Katie Allan Zobel

Katie Allan Zobel’s office within the Community Foundation’s suite on Bridge Street offers a commanding view of Stearns Square.

It had another name, too. Well, sort of. This area was considered part of what was sometimes referred to as the ‘blast zone’ — the area impacted by the November 2012 natural-gas explosion. And that’s where, in many respects, this story begins, or at least where it gained a huge amount of momentum.

Indeed, in the wake of that blast, a study was commissioned to identify paths to recovery and progress. One of the key components of that document was a revitalization strategy for the Entertainment District, and thankfully, this plan had a different fate than many that came before it.

“It’s a cliché to say it, but many plans were created to sit on a shelf,” said Jay Minkarah, executive director of DevelopSpringfield, another huge player in this saga. “This is actually one of the best examples I’ve seen of a plan really advancing a strategy.”

In broad terms, the plan called for a catalytic project to spur other investments, and it got one when DevelopSpringfield, Valley Venture Mentors, MassMutual, MassDevelopment, and other players came together around plans to create an ambitious innovation center in a group of tired, long-neglected properties in the Bridge Street area known collectively as the Trinity Block.

The plan also called for a number of public and quasi-public entities to make investments in the area to stimulate activity, and several are doing just that:

•  The city will undertake significant improvements to both Stearns Square and nearby Duryea Way, named after brothers Charles and Frank, who built what is considered the first successful gas-engine vehicle on that very spot 125 years ago. And it has also created a restaurant loan program;

• MassDevelopment acquired the former Skyplex property that faces Stearns Square and is moving aggressively toward revitalizing it into a mixed-use facility; and

• The Springfield Business Improvement District is, among other things, building upon a portfolio of events and programming designed to bring people into the downtown and the TDI District.

According to the plan, these investments would eventually encourage the private sector to make similar investments and create still more momentum. And that’s happening as well. In addition to the Community Foundation, the staffing agency United Personnel, which had moved into space on Bridge Street, is said to be looking for more. Meanwhile, serial entrepreneur Delcie Bean will create a café, Ground Up, in the Innovation Center, and the Women’s Fund of Western Mass. has already moved into space there.

“We’re trying to create a truly vibrant mixed-use urban district that supports the development of an entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem for the purpose of advancing Springfield’s economy,” Minkarah said. “That’s what this is all about.”

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the scene unfolding within the TDI District, how an ambitious plan came together, and what can likely happen next in this historic section of Springfield.

Center of Attention

Evan Plotkin says his travels have taken him all across Europe, and they’ve given some insight into what the Stearns Square area can become, and some inspiration as well — not that he really needed more.

Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin, doesn’t expect that district to even approach what St. Mark’s Square and Plaza Mayor are to Venice and Madrid, respectively — millions visit those attractions each year — but he told BusinessWest that it can emulate those landmarks in the sense that they are the very heart of those cities and centers for dining, tourism, business, and pride.

Skyplex building on Stearns Square

MassDevelopment acquired the former Skyplex building on Stearns Square with the expectation that it will spur additional investments in that area.

“In those cities, you have these beautiful plazas surrounded by businesses and residences; you have the outdoor cafés where people gather, socialize, eat, and drink,” he said. “We can have that right here. Stearns Square can be that; it’s been that.”

Plotkin’s offices are now on the 14th floor at 1350 Main St., also known as One Financial Plaza, where he and some partners own the top 12 floors. But for decades, his business — and, in many ways, his mind — were always on Taylor Street and the Stearns Square area.

His former business address, 41 Taylor St. (now home to a dental office), is where the Duryeas built their motorcar, and Plotkin was the catalyst behind the statue depicting that vehicle that now sits in Duryea Way.

Thus, Plotkin has had a front row seat to more than five decades of change and development in the Stearns Square area, and he and his dog, George, still walk through it almost every day.

“My earliest memories of Stearns Square were from when the fountain was working and this was very well-maintained public space,” he recalled. “There was retail, business, and residential space, and in that respect, it was very much like those European cities.”

In the ’90s, the neighborhood evolved into an entertainment district dominated by a number of nightclubs. Those clubs created a great deal of vibrancy — Plotkin recalls a time when Northampton leaders feared losing visitors to the City of Homes — but, eventually, not the kind that the city was really looking for, he went on, adding that, over the past decade or so, the area has been in general decline, with the population falling and crime rising.

The gas blast was a contributing factor in all this, but it also, as noted earlier, eventually provided the blueprint for a turnaround campaign of the highest order.

And this brings us back to that catalytic project that Minkarah talked about, the innovation center.

In most all respects, the Trinity Block fits squarely into the profile, and the mission of DevelopSpringfield, which acquires somewhat low-profile properties described with that hard-hitting adjective ‘blighted,’ with the goal of giving them new life.

The row of buildings along Bridge Street certainly fits that description. Once home to everything from a church to a boxing gym, and almost everything in between, the Trinity Block had been mostly vacant and neglected for years, as evidenced by the many holes in the floor and cracks in the marble stairs that Minkarah pointed out as he offered a tour.

In a matter of a few months, though, there will be several dozen people working in the building and many more arriving for various functions or a cup of coffee in the café, said Minkarah, who used the phrase ‘purpose-built space’ to describe what’s happening at the Trinity Block.

And ‘purpose’ comes at many levels. On one, the purpose is to give Valley Venture Mentors larger space with more flexibility, including co-working space for entrepreneurs. On another, level, though, the purpose is to help the area evolve into a dining district through the café’. On still another level, the purpose is to generate foot traffic, vibrancy, and momentum in that section of the city.

“This will be a very active place, and that’s a big part of the goal,” he explained, adding, again, that the goal is to create that mixed-use urban district, with the mix including places to work, start or grow a business, gather, dine, visit, and, yes, live.

This urban lifestyle, or urbanization, if you will, is a growing movement nationwide, said Minkarah, adding that it’s being fueled by the younger generations and especially Millennials, who are attracted to cities and especially walkable ones.

For Springfield to become part of this trend rather than act as spectator while the phenomenon plays out in several other communities, it is critical that it provides what Minkarah calls, alternately, “the experience” and “the opportunity” of attractive urban life.

Stearns Square and Duryea Way

Public improvements to Stearns Square and Duryea Way (seen here) are designed to stimulate additional private-sector investments in that district.

He was referring specifically to young people looking for a place to launch a business, but he was also talking about individuals seeking a place to live, as well.

“It’s important that you provide an environment that has the kinds of qualities that the younger entrepreneurs are looking for,” he explained, adding that this list includes everything from co-working space to plenty of dining opportunities, to the proverbial ‘things to do.’

And this is virtually the same list that will also attract visitors to this urban district as well.

Motion Science

All this helps explain why, while the innovation center is the centerpiece of progress in the Stearns Square area, it is, as noted, just one of many such pieces.

Indeed, there is a type of symphony of motion, said Kevin Kennedy, Springfield’s chief development officer, and it is creating an upbeat tempo that is certainly necessary.

Union Station is nearly ready to begin the intriguing next act in its nearly 90-year history, following a roughly $90 million renovation. MGM Springfield will be opening its doors in about 16 months. The City Council will soon vote on improvements to Stearns Square and Duryea Way, the Springfield Museums will soon open the new Seuss Museum, and the Springfield Central Cultural District is creating new strategies to connect people to downtown through art. Meanwhile, the BID is building and refining a deep roster of programs and events to bring people into Springfield and compel those who work there to stay well past 5 p.m. (see related story, page 11).

The broad strategy that has emerged, he went on, is to essentially build a bridge, if you will, between the development in the South End (MGM) and the development in the North End (Union Station).

But more than a bridge, the new urban district would be, as Minkarah and others have noted, an innovation and dining district with its own identity.

“The deal was, and this is a very simple deal, to have the folks on the private side make some investments here and do the right things with those investments,” he told BusinessWest. “And those of us on the public side will make some investments as well.”

Those public investments include work within the park and Duryea Way, which should commence later this year. These include new grass, new pavement, sidewalk work, lighting, and more — “everything that can make the area appealing and comfortable.”

They also include an aggressive, $1.5 million loan fund to help prospective restaurateurs, who often struggle with gaining conventional financing, to get initiatives off the ground.

And there are other momentum-building initiatives as well, especially MassDevelopment’s purchase of the former Skyplex property at 8-12 Bridge St., with intentions to inspire further investments in that district.

As Laura Masulis, a TDI fellow assigned by MassDevelopment to the city of Springfield, explained, the equity investment undertaken by the agency is, like the innovation center itself, designed to be a catalyst.

“The point of this program is to identify properties that could act as game changers in these TDI districts across the state,” she said. “And this property could be just that — a game changer in that neighborhood. It’s not just one of eight storefronts in the middle of a block; it’s something that really defines that district.”

Home to a number of clubs over the years, the property has been mostly vacant for years, she went on, adding that, because it was highly unlikely a private developer would step in and undertake the massive renovations needed, MassDevelopment filled that void.

The plan moving forward is to essentially have the building reflect the broad goals for the district — meaning to fill it with dining, entrepreneurship, and art, said Masulis, adding there are negotiations with several potential tenants along these lines.

“We definitely want to have a food component in the building,” she explained. “We see this as an opportunity to have multiple tenants and many different components because of the size of the building.”

A number of potentially attractive options are being considered, she went on, listing everything from restaurants to smaller arts and performance venues to creative retail. “We’re open to different possibilities.”

The sign outside the property at present says “Join us in Stearns Square,” and there are many indications that more businesses and organizations will heed that advice.

Meanwhile, the Naismith building next to Theodores’ on Worthington Street is under new ownership, and plans are emerging for the former Fat Cat lounge across the street and the former dental offices further down Worthington Street.

And such private investments will be the key moving forward, said all those we spoke with, noting that the public-side initiatives are already succeeding in moving the needle in an area that was stagnant for some time.

Worthington Street

City officials report considerable interest in many of the vacant storefronts that still dominate Worthington Street (seen here) and Bridge Street.

The Big Picture

As she talked about the circumstances that brought the Community Foundation to that view of Stearns Square out its front windows, Zobel started by talking about the need for more flexibility and visibility through its space.

It had not enough of either in Tower Square, and as its long-term lease was nearing its conclusion, it commenced a search for a location that would remedy that situation, she went on, before taking the discussion in a different direction, one that really gets to the heart of the momentum currently being seen in that area of Springfield.

“We visited all the towers,” she said of a lengthy search led by the brokerage firm Colebrook Realty Group. “But they were not going to afford us visibility. But there was more to it than that; we didn’t really feel as if we were part of the community.

“Finally, I inquired about this block because it seemed like there was potential,” she said, referring to a row of retail storefronts along the south side of Bridge Street. “This had it all, and I couldn’t get over standing in front of this building and looking at the park; it just seemed like we were right here in the community.”

Elaborating, Zobel said she took in all that was going on around this location — a lengthy list that started with the innovation center but also included United Personnel’s move, the elaborate renovations of the Fuller Block and National Public Radio’s relocation there, the Union Station renovations, the city’s planned renovations of the park, MassDevelopment’s purchase of the Skyplex building, the restaurant loan fund, and more — and decided it wanted to be part of that movement.

“I thought ‘OK, this is really compelling,’” she told BusinessWest. “We have the innovation center putting a stake in the ground, we have MassDevelopment putting a stake in the ground … it just felt like we would be part of the revitalization in a very clear, obvious, meaningful way. And that’s why we made this decision — the promise and the potential is real.”

This is that catalytic effect Minkarah was talking about, and all those we spoke with are firm in their belief that the ball is really only beginning to roll in this section of the city.

Indeed, as more people begin to work in the area, as more people attend events at the innovation center, and as more people exiting trains at Union Station create a critical mass of vibrancy in the area, this should generate more businesses to support those individuals, which should, in turn, create more such businesses, which should spur more vibrancy … and so goes the theory.

But, based on what has happened in many other communities in the Northeast, Masulis said, it’s not exactly a theory any more.

She’s seen districts similar to Stearns Square become vibrant new centers of activity in Providence, Cleveland, and a host of other cities. The common denominators in those stories are a strong arts scene, dining, and entrepreneurship, and these are the pieces now coming together in Springfield.

“We’re building on those building blocks,” she said of all the initiatives listed above. “We’re also looking at what strengths we have in that district and in Greater Springfield, and saying, ‘how can we continue to build on what’s there and fill in where the private market is not doing quite as well as we’d like to see it doing?’”

Minkarah agreed, and said the momentum that is gathering is a significant force.

“When you move forward with a catalytic project, or what you believe is a catalytic project, the whole point is to catalyze something and not just sit there in isolation,” he noted. “The fact that we’re seeing other businesses and organizations moving into the district is so encouraging, and it speaks to the strength of the partnership that’s been created to advance this district.”

Age of Enlightenment

Returning to Europe for a moment, again figuratively, Plotkin told BusinessWest that his walks in many cities on that continent would generally take him as far as the last establishment with a light on.

That not-uncommon attitude certainly helps explain the general decline of the Stearns Square area years ago and the broad challenge to achieving overall vibrancy in Springfield.

That would be, simply, to turn more lights on. It’s happening within the Stearns Square area, and there is general consensus that the future of this critical urban district will be brighter in every way.

That’s because more people and institutions will, as Zobel and so many others said, want to be in the middle of the picture.

 George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

Jay Minkarah got it right.

Far too often, strategic plans, redevelopment plans, master plans, and even business plans usually wind up sitting on a shelf gathering dust — until some agency decides to do another one.

But that didn’t happen with the plan devised to revitalize Springfield’s entertainment district (or what came to be referred to colloquially as the ‘blast zone’) following the November 2012 natural-gas explosion on Worthington Street, noted Minkarah, executive director of DevelopSpringfield.

Instead, that plan was followed, and as a result, there is plenty of momentum in and around Stearns Square (see story, page 6).

The script, or plan, called for transforming that area of Springfield into a vibrant urban district defined by dining, entertainment, innovation, and entrepreneurship, a model, if one wants to call it that, being followed in many cities across the Northeast as young people, especially Millennials, spark renewed interest in urbanization.

This area would become a bridge between MGM Springfield in the city’s South End and Union Station in the North End, but a true destination in its own right. And while there is still a great deal of work to do, this is the picture that is taking shape.

While there are many morals to this still-evolving story, maybe the most compelling is that the time-worn phrase ‘public-private partnership’ is not merely a cliché — it’s how to get things done.

Let’s go back to the plan for a minute. It had a number of components, but at its core, it called for a project that would become a catalyst, one that would draw interest and inspire others to make different kinds of investments.

That project became the new innovation center taking shape on Bridge Street. It will house Valley Venture Mentors and its various programs, including its many accelerator initiatives, but also co-working space and offices — the Women’s Fund of Western Mass. currently resides in one of them.

There would also be public improvements in the area, again to spur interest and create momentum, and these would in turn be followed by private investments — by those already located in the district, and those thinking about joining them.

And that’s exactly what’s happening.

The public investments come in many forms, from planned improvements to Stearns Square and nearby Duryea Way and an aggressive restaurant loan fund, to DevelopSpringfield’s acquisition of the Trinity Block on Bridge Street for the purpose of creating the innovation center, to MassDevelopment’s purchase of the former Skyplex building right on Stearns Square with the intention of making that a potential game changer in this equation.

These investments were designed to capture the imagination of the private sector, and there are signs they are just doing just that. For example, as the Community Foundation of Western Mass. commenced a search for space that would provide more flexibility and visibility, Executive Director Katie Allan Zobel said, it was inspired by what was happening at the innovation center and elsewhere in that district and wanted to be a part of it.

The same can be said of the Women’s Fund and United Personnel, which both now also call Bridge Street home, and also of those expressing real interest in the many vacant storefronts that still dominate that area.

Those storefronts, some bearing the names of nightclubs and retail businesses that closed years ago, provide ample evidence that there is still a lot of work to do in this emerging new urban district.

But there is also excitement, anticipation, and momentum in ample quantities, showing what can happen when a plan is followed, and when that plan comes together.

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Founder and CEO, Olive Natural Beauty; Age 28

Jessica Dupuis

Jessica Dupuis

When Jessica Dupuis was selling cosmetics in a Boston apothecary in 2008, she began researching the ingredients they contained. The products aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and her concern about customer safety grew when she discovered more than 1,500 ingredients known to cause health problems are banned in Europe but haven’t been eliminated in the U.S.

Dupuis felt the marketing was misleading, there was no transparency, and manufacturing benefited companies rather than consumers. So she began making soap and other products in her kitchen and giving samples to friends and relatives.

“I wanted to do something good for women that wouldn’t damage their health or the environment,” she said. “These products are being washed down the drain and are affecting the planet.”

She moved back to Amherst in 2010 and decided the following year to market her products to retail stores. She was working as an assistant to Tom Horton of Sustainable Resources, and his wife introduced her to people at Joia Beauty in Northampton, and they sold out of her products in weeks.

She continued to sell her product line, and in 2012, with help from fiancé (now husband) Graham Immerman, Dupuis launched a campaign and raised more than $7,000 on Indiegogo to donate safe skin-care products to women in need.

That same year, Horton introduced her to Paul Silva at Valley Venture Mentors (VVM). In 2015, Olive Natural Beauty won the first VVM Accelerator program for startups in Springfield. She and her team of 10 per-diem workers prepared and packaged 300,000 units of products and generated $250,000 in revenue by the end of that year, and she gave the keynote speech at the 2015 Grinspoon, Garvey & Young Entrepreneurship Conference.

Last year, Dupuis hired 13 local women to help fulfill orders and was featured multiple times on ipsy, the largest beauty-product sampling program in the world. Since then, 200,000 ‘ipsters’ have been introduced to her safe skin care, and she has mentored many VVM entrepreneurs seeking help with their startups.

“I dreamed about having my company become successful, but never thought this would happen,” she told BusinessWest. “It has been a very humbling experience, and I am not only proud but very grateful to people who have helped me.”

—Kathleen Mitchell

Opinion

Editorial

When people talk about the revitalization of Springfield, the conversation inevitably starts with what we’ll call the big-ticket projects.

This would be the ones with the large price tags, and all those zeroes. Start with MGM Springfield at more than $900 million, the CRRC plant in East Springfield at nearly $100 million, and Union Station, roughly $90 million and counting.

And maybe that is the place to start, because these projects, all coming to fruition this year or next, are expected to have a catalytic effect on life in the City of Homes in terms of jobs, momentum, public relations, psyche, and much more.

But as we’ve said before, these are not necessarily the kinds of projects that actually transform a community. Cities like Springfield are all about neighborhoods, many of them far removed from the casino and Union Station. It is when neighborhoods are revitalized and families and businesses want to move into them that a city really begins to move forward.

Which is why we want to take this opportunity to praise the work of DevelopSpringfield, the nonprofit agency dealing in projects with far fewer zeroes but that are already having a real impact in the unofficial capital of Western Mass.

The agency was created nearly a decade ago, which makes this a good time to assess its relative impact on the city and what to expect moving forward. We could call this a work in progress in every sense of that phrase.

The agency specializes in taking neglected yet important properties (for various reasons, including location, historical significance, and others) and giving them new life, with the hope that these investments — usually five figures in nature instead of eight or nine — will inspire additional development and momentum in those neighborhoods.

Early projects include several in the Maple Street area that have changed the look and feel of that historic area and should incentivize others to make similar investments. There are other projects, such as those on Carew Street and in the Mason Square area, including plans to create a supermarket in that underserved neighborhood, that also expected to generate much-needed momentum.

Then there’s the Innovation Center project on Bridge Street, being undertaken in conjunction with several other partners, including the state, MassDevelopment, Valley Venture Mentors, and MassMutual. The project will breathe new life into two historic but recently underutilized properties on Bridge Street and likely serve to reinvigorate an area that played an important role in the city’s past and could play an even bigger role in its future.

That would be as a site that would foster entrepreneurship, create the new vibrancy that comes from more people working in that area, and likely inspire more businesses of all kinds to fill the many vacant storefronts in that area and become part of the story.

Already, the Community Foundation is moving its offices out of Tower Square and into a row of mostly vacant storefronts on Bridge Street because of everything else happening here and out of a desire to be a part of this neighborhood transformation.

These are not big-ticket projects like MGM Springfield or Union Station, but they are significant building blocks that will go a long way toward making the revitalization — or renaissance — of Springfield real and lasting.

It begins with neighborhoods and making them places where people want to live, work, and locate a business. That’s what DevelopSpringfield has been doing for nearly a decade now, and the work is vitally important in the ongoing efforts to remake a proud city. v

Entrepreneurship Sections

Business Is Blooming

Christine Adams

Christine Adams combined a long-time love of flowers, design expertise, and an entrepreneurial itch to create a success story in Florence.

 

Christine Adams tells of a trip she and her husband, Chip, took to the White Mountains in New Hampshire many years ago, and a sign that caught her attention along a scenic hike.

“We walked by this rickety old bridge, and I looked up and saw a sign that said ‘Badger’s Realty,’” she said, adding that the name struck her for some reason. “I said to Chip, ‘that’s going to be the name of my store someday.’ It wasn’t just the name — the look of the building was ratty, and I loved it. I just love rustic. And it just stuck with me.”

Fast-forward to Adams’ current business, Florence-based Badger’s Flowers & Co., where she creates floral arrangements for weddings and other events that are anything but ratty; in fact, she has won awards from WeddingWire and the Knot for her work with clients. But she took a circuitous route to entrepreneurship.

“I was a bookkeeper for an architecture firm in my single days,” she said. After she got married, her husband, a TV producer, wound up traveling quite a bit, and she stayed home with her two children. When they reached school age, she worked part-time — mother’s hours, as she put it — at a local florist for the better part of a decade.

“When the kids went off to college, it was time to reinvent myself,” Adams told BusinessWest, and she again looked to the world of flowers, but as her own boss this time. “I thought, why not try doing this? So, about three years ago, I had a website made, and a friend of a friend told a friend getting married, they called me, and it just slowly started trickling in.”

Helping clients decide on everything from bridal bouquets and boutonnieres to table centerpieces and outdoor arbors, in styles ranging from rustic to garden to classic elegance, Adams has taken her passion for design (she attended Rhode Island School of Design, and holds a degree in business management) and married it — pun intended — to a desire to provide brides and their families with what she calls ‘wow’ moments.

“I love the experience of meeting with people. I’ve had brides, grooms, moms, and dads spend hours here, chatting over coffee or wine,” she said, explaining that she takes on no more than one event per weekend, often traveling to New York or Boston during the week — as well as local flower farms — for some hard-to-find flower or specialty ribbon. “It’s a boutique style of business. I pride myself on bringing something with a specialty touch. I’m always looking at how I can make it a little different.”

Tech Savvier

Interestingly, it wasn’t the floral-design element of Adams’ business that challenged her at first. It was the decidedly 21st-century business models she had to get used to.

“It’s funny — at one point, I noticed I was getting nothing, so I hired a guy to take a look at my website. He said, ‘whoever did your website didn’t fill in your geographic information, so you’re located in New York.’ Since he tweaked it, I started getting hits again.

 

Flowers come easy for me. My learning curve has been social media and having to learn, at this point in my life, how Instagram works. I met with a marketing consultant, and as soon as I did what she suggested, my visibility doubled.”

 

“Learning technology and social media is so new to me, but it’s such an integral part of this business, because that’s where everyone goes for their information,” she went on. “Much of my demographic is out of state; I get calls from San Francisco, San Diego — people whose parents live here, or they went to college here, and they’re coming back to get married. I don’t feel like I’m competing with local businesses, with so much of my business coming from out of state.”

She did, however, recently join the Berkshire Wedding Collective, a group of wedding vendors that provides an online information portal for people seeking such services in Western Mass., and also got involved with the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, through which she has taken classes in Google AdWords, Excel, and other business tools.

“Flowers come easy for me. My learning curve has been social media and having to learn, at this point in my life, how Instagram works,” she said, before opening up her account and scrolling through dozens of examples of her work that potential clients can peruse. “I met with a marketing consultant, and as soon as I did what she suggested, my visibility doubled. I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

Christine Adams makes effective use of Instagram

Christine Adams makes effective use of Instagram to display dozens of photos to inspire clients planning their own weddings.

As someone who was once very shy, business networking is new for her as well. “But at the same time, I can see the benefit, and I’m slowly growing more comfortable.”

It’s the one-on-one sessions with clients where she feels truly at ease, though. It’s in those discussions where she can formulate a vision. Sometimes the budget doesn’t match the wish list, but when everything comes together and the client gets that ‘wow’ feeling, it’s gratifying. “It’s a collaboration, and I want people to be happy.”

She told of a bride from San Diego coming back to Western Mass. to be married near her parents, who live in South Hadley. She loved patriotic colors, but didn’t want a bright, gaudy red, white, and blue design. Adams found a ribbon featuring a motif of American flag colors, but more subdued, and when she showed her the ribbon via Skype — and how it could match with ivory fabric — the client loved it.

That give and take is the heart of the business, but an element she wouldn’t have as much time for if she operated a storefront flower shop rather than working out of her home, a restored 1800s farmhouse that’s been in her husband’s family for five generations. “When you have a flower shop, you can’t take all this time with people.”

Bursting to Life

Adams delights in hard-to-find flowers to pepper arrangements of more traditional choices. “I might hit Boston or New York for those specialty stems that say, ‘wow.’ You don’t need a lot of them. Even few items like that gives it a special look, and really sets it apart.”

The challenge doesn’t always end with the order, however.

“It’s in my contract that Mother Nature is a variable,” she said, recalling one wedding where cafe au lait dahlias were a featured item. When she went to pick them from the wholesaler a few days before the wedding, inclement weather had rotted those particular flowers. But while her heart was racing, she called local farmers and ended up with smaller dahlias that were just as striking, and visited a market in Boston for some other unique pieces. “When I delivered them, there was a ‘wow,’” she said.

Indeed, weather that’s too hot, too wet, or too dry can mess with the best-laid plans, she said, but scrambling to replace an item and still coming up with something impressive is an oddly gratifying experience.

Adams’ satisfaction isn’t priority one, of course; her clients’ happiness is. And the comments on her website testify to that.

“She is truly a floral artist with an eye for design like I have never witnessed in my life,” one bride from Westfield wrote. “She is so extremely talented, but most importantly so extremely passionate about her work, and her clients. When I first saw her stunning work, I was truly taken back. I witnessed her hard work first-hand — the time, effort, and passion she put into every arrangement, like a piece of art.”

Reactions like that provide a ‘wow’ factor of their own.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Agenda Departments

Understanding Gender Identity in the Workplace

March 22: HRMA of Western New England will present a half-day symposium event on understanding gender identity and supporting transgender and gender non-binary individuals in the workplace. This important topic is impacting local employers across the region. This program will help attendees understand the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, learn ways to foster respectful work environments for all employees, and gain an understanding of the legal protections for the transgender community. Speakers will include Dr. Eunice Aviles, gender specialist and clinical psychologist; Erica Tabias, public speaker, transgender advocate, and life coach; and Jonathan Miller, chief of the Public Protection & Advocacy Bureau for the state Attorney General’s Office. The event runs from noon to 4 p.m., with a buffet lunch included. Tickets are $75. For more information, contact Allison Ebner at (413) 789-6400 or [email protected], or visit www.hrmawne.org.

Mini Medical School

March 23 to May 11: Itching to get out of the house as the winter draws to an end? Consider signing up for a little dose of continuing education as part of Baystate Medical Center’s Mini Medical School, where you can broaden your knowledge of the field of medicine with professors from the teaching hospital. Mini Medical School, which begins its spring session on Thursday, March 23, offers area residents an inside look at the expanding field of medicine, minus the tests, homework, interviews, and admission formalities. The program continues through May 11. Baystate’s Mini Medical School program is an eight-week health-education series featuring a different aspect of medicine each week. Classes this spring will include sessions on various medical topics such as surgery, deep-brain stimulation, emergency medicine, dementia, pathology, and several others. For a full list of topics and instructors, visit www.baystatehealth.org/minimed. While it is not difficult to be accepted into the program, slots are limited, and early registration is recommended. Many of the students, who often range in age from 20 to 70, participate due to a general interest in medicine and later find that many of the things they learned over the semester are relevant to their own lives. The goal of the program, offered in the hospital’s Chestnut Conference Center, is to help members of the public make more informed decisions about their healthcare while receiving insight on what it might be like to be a medical student. Baystate Medical Center is the region’s only teaching hospital, and each course is taught by medical center faculty, who explain the science of medicine without resorting to complex terms. All classes are held Thursday nights starting at 6 p.m. and run until 8 or 9 p.m., depending on the night’s topic. No basic science knowledge is needed to participate. Each participant is required to attend a minimum of six out of eight classes in order to receive a certificate of completion. Tuition costs $95 per person and $80 for Senior Class and Spirit of Women members. To register, call (413) 794-7630 or visit www.baystatehealth.org/minimed.

Cultivate & Nest Open House

March 25: Cultivate & Nest, a collaborative workspace for businesspeople with children, will host Bloom, its annual open house, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in its Hadley office center. Terra Missildine, founder and owner of Cultivate & Nest, said the event will offer talks on the topic of entrepreneurship and parenting. A highlight of the day will be a flower-hat-making craft and a hat parade around the grounds. Face painting, puzzles, and other activities will also be offered. Tours of the workspace will be offered to parents hourly, while children will enjoy story time. In addition, a drawing will be held for a one-month Cultivate & Nest membership, valued at $99. All Pioneer Valley families are invited to take part in the event and bring their children. Registration is not required, and the event is free. Cultivate & Nest is the first membership-based collaborative workspace in the Valley to incorporate a childcare component. Located on the first floor in the Hadley Crossing business park, Cultivate & Nest offers roughly 3,400 square feet of work and community space. Members of Cultivate & Nest pay in cost tiers that range from $100 to $600 per month, depending on amenities and level of office access. Event and workshop space is also available for members and the community at large to host family friendly events. To learn more about Cultivate & Nest, visit cultivateandnest.com or call Missildine at (413) 345-2400.

Mass. Restaurant Day for No Kid Hungry

March 27: Eight Massachusetts Restaurant Assoc. restaurants across the state will participate in Massachusetts Restaurant Day for No Kid Hungry. Inspired by Chef Andy Husbands of Tremont 647, who has hosted a dinner for this cause for the past 20 years, the MRA announced the program’s expansion across Massachusetts. Last year, participating Boston restaurants raised more than $60,000 to end childhood hunger in Massachusetts. This year, Hotel Northampton is hosting the Western Mass. branch of the event, a multi-course meal with wine pairings. The hotel’s culinary team is working alongside and co-sponsoring with four well-known restaurants in town, including Sierra Grille, Spoleto’s, Packard’s, and Union Station. Attendance at this event will not only help to curb childhood hunger in Massachusetts, but will also help local programs that feed children of all ages at school and in the home. The goal is to ensure all children get the healthy food they need, every day. To purchase tickets or provide sponsorship for the event, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/massachusetts-restaurant-day-for-no-kid-hungry-the-hotel-northampton-tickets-31735014282.

Regional Career Fair

March 29: The College Career Centers of Western Massachusetts will hold a career fair from noon to 3 p.m. in the Alumni Healthful Living Center on the campus of Western New England University. Nearly 100 companies will be recruiting college students for paid and unpaid internships, as well as full-time and part-time employment opportunities. This annual event is a unique opportunity for employers and graduate-school representatives to connect with motivated students and alumni who are looking to launch and advance their careers. The College Career Centers of Western Massachusetts is a consortium of career-center professionals representing the eight colleges in Hampden County, including American International College, Bay Path University, Elms College, Holyoke Community College, Springfield College, Springfield Technical Community College, Western New England University, and Westfield State University. These eight institutions of higher education enroll more than 27,000 students from diverse backgrounds, and graduate approximately 5,000 students each year with a wide range of academic degrees.

‘Stay in the Game’

March 29: The community is invited to join staff from the Baystate Wing Hospital Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation team for an education session about staying active and injury-free. The program, “Stay in the Game,” will be held in the Snow Conference Room from 6 to 7 p.m. Participants will learn about the most effective types of stretching, nutrition, and hydration that will help to avoid injury when working out. Physical therapist Dena Plante and physical therapist assistant Karen Kiernan will be on hand to answer questions and offer educational materials. The program is open to student athletes and adults interested in staying active and exercising without injury. The Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation team at Baystate Wing Hospital provides a full range of rehabilitation services to help patients regain function and achieve recovery. For more information or to register, call (413) 370-5254.

Difference Makers

March 30: The ninth annual Difference Makers award program, staged by BusinessWest, will be held at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. The winners, profiled in the Jan. 23 issue and at businesswest.com, are the Community Colleges of Western Mass. (Berkshire Community College, Greenfield Community College, Holyoke Community College, and
Springfield Technical Community College); Friends of the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round; Denis Gagnon Sr., president and CEO of Excel Dryer Inc.; Junior Achievement of Western Mass.; and Joan Kagan, president and CEO of Square One. Tickets to the event, which is nearly sold out, cost $65 per person. To order, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100. Difference Makers is a program, launched in 2009, that recognizes groups and individuals that are, as the name suggests, making a difference in this region. Sponsors include First American Insurance; Health New England; JGS Lifecare; Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; Northwestern Mutual; O’Connell Care at Home; Royal, P.C.; and Sunshine Village.

Education Fair & Expo

April 4: Jared James, a national real-estate speaker and trainer, will be the featured speaker at the 24th annual Education Fair & Expo taking place at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. The event is sponsored by the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. The program features a day of educational presentations including two breakout sessions from James, three continuing-education classes, and two technology classes. A sellout trade show with more than 50 vendors is anticipated. Anyone who is interested in attending as a trade-show vendor should contact Kim Harrison, membership and meetings coordinator at the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley, at (413) 785-1328 or [email protected]

Art Show Reception

April 5: The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Western Massachusetts (NAMI Western Mass.) will hold an opening reception for its sixth annual art show featuring the work of artists living with mental illness from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Chicopee Public Library, 449 Front St. The reception and parking adjacent to the library are free. The exhibit runs through the end of April. The art show, originated by Karen West, an artist and art teacher at Westfield High School, will feature works for sale to the public, with proceeds going to the artists. Complimentary refreshments will be served and the public is welcome. Headquartered in Agawam, NAMI Western Mass. is an affiliate of the nation’s largest grass-roots mental-health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans who are affected by mental illness.

EANE Management Conference

April 6: The Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE) announced its 13th annual Management Conference will be held at the Springfield Marriott. With a focus on the power of passion in leadership, the full-day conference will address how managers and supervisors can motivate themselves and their teams to create a culture of high performance. The program will feature keynote speakers Rick Barrera and Bruce Christopher. Barrera, the head of faculty for the Center for Heart Led Leadership, works with Fortune 500 CEOs, world-class mountain climbers, astronauts, professional actors, and SEAL Team Six leaders teaching them how to build high-performance teams. Christopher, a psychologist and humorist, offers cutting-edge content with a mix of comedy, showing audiences how to embrace change and giving them practical skills to apply for success. The cost for the program is $350 per person with discounts for three or more. Register at www.eane.org/management17 or by calling (877) 662-6444. It will offer 6.25 credits from the HR Certification Institute and SHRM. Sponsoring the program are Johnson & Hill Staffing Services and the HR Certification Institute.

‘Mini Golf in the Library’

April 7-8: Friends of the Holyoke Public Library will host its second annual “Mini Golf in the Library” fund-raiser on the weekend of April 7-8. Hole sponsors and event sponsors are now being recruited. At last spring’s event, more than 250 players putted their way through five levels of the Holyoke Public Library building, laughing and enjoying unique obstacles added by enterprising hole sponsors. Funds raised help the Friends of the Library support library programs and resources, especially those for children and youth. Sponsors will be publicized and thanked in local media, social media, and the library’s website in connection with this event. Logos of sponsors will be printed on the scorecard given to each player. Names of sponsors will be displayed in the library, ranked by level of sponsorship. Sponsors will be invited as guests to the Friday-evening cocktail party, with the opportunity to preview (and play through) the course. In addition to event sponsors and hole sponsors, the event planning committee, chaired by Sandy Ward, is seeking donors of in-kind services and items for a silent auction to be held during the Friday cocktail party. Hole sponsorships start at $250. Those who wish to sponsor (and decorate) one of the 18 holes are encouraged to act quickly, as holes are being sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Event sponsorships are available at five levels ranging from $250 to $1,000. An exclusive title sponsorship is possible at $2,500. For more information, visit www.holyokelibrary.org/aboutfriendsgolf.asp or e-mail Sandy Ward at [email protected]

Walk of Champions

May 7: The 12th annual Walk of Champions to benefit the Baystate Regional Cancer Program at Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center in Ware will step off at the Quabbin Reservoir. Since 2006, the Walk of Champions, founded by field-hockey coach John O’Neill of Quaboag Regional Middle High School, has served as a tribute to the compassionate care his mother received at the Baystate Regional Cancer Program in Ware during her cancer journey. Over the years, the walk has grown into a collection of teams and individuals, each walking for their own reason. There are friends and family members celebrating victory over cancer. Others are encouraging their loved ones in their personal fight over cancer, while others walk in memory of those who have lost their battle with cancer. The Baystate Regional Cancer Program at Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center provides the majority of outpatient cancer services in the Baystate Health Eastern Region, which includes Ware, Palmer, and surrounding communities. Since its inception, the Walk of Champions has raised more than $740,000 to assist, support, and instill hope in those facing cancer. All funds raised remain local to support those cared for in the Baystate Health Eastern Region at the Baystate Regional Cancer Program located at Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center in Ware. The route offers a one-mile loop that allows walkers to choose the number of miles they walk among the comfortable walking terrain of the Goodnough Dike. Along the way, walkers will enjoy entertainment and refreshments. Pledge forms, fund-raising resources, giving opportunities, and more are now available at www.baystatehealth.org/woc for businesses, community organizations, and individuals who wish to participate.

Daily News

HADLEY — Cultivate & Nest, a collaborative workspace for businesspeople with children, will host Bloom, its annual open house, on Saturday, March 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in its Hadley office center.

Terra Missildine, founder and owner of Cultivate & Nest, said the event will offer talks on the topic of entrepreneurship and parenting.

A highlight of the day will be a flower-hat-making craft and a hat parade around the grounds. Face painting, puzzles, and other activities will also be offered. Tours of the workspace will be offered to parents hourly, while children will enjoy story time. In addition, a drawing will be held for a one-month Cultivate & Nest membership, valued at $99.

All Pioneer Valley families are invited to take part in the event and bring their children. Registration is not required, and the event is free.

Cultivate & Nest is the first membership-based collaborative workspace in the Valley to incorporate a childcare component. Located on the first floor in the Hadley Crossing business park, Cultivate & Nest offers roughly 3,400 square feet of work and community space.

Members of Cultivate & Nest pay in cost tiers that range from $100 to $600 per month, depending on amenities and level of office access. Event and workshop space is also available for members and the community at large to host family friendly events.

To learn more about Cultivate & Nest, visit cultivateandnest.com or call Missildine at (413) 345-2400.

40 Under 40 Features

Editor’s Note: Again this year, five individuals have been chosen to score the nominations submitted for the 40 Under Forty competition. In keeping with past practice, BusinessWest has chosen two former winners to be part of this panel (and a third owns a 40 Under Forty plaque from the Worcester Business Journal). As always, BusinessWest has sought out individuals with experience in business and entrepreneurship.

Ken Albano

Ken Albano

Ken Albano

Attorney Kenneth J. Albano is the managing partner of Bacon Wilson, P.C., and a member of the firm’s corporate, commercial, and municipal practice groups.

In addition to his legal practice, he is very active in the local community. He is chair of the board of the March of Dimes Western Mass Division, and serves on the Board of the New England Chapter of the March of Dimes. Albano is also a board member with Behavioral Health Network, where he has served for more than 20 years. He also works with the American Cancer Society, Make-A-Wish, and the ALS Association.

In June of 2015, Albano was honored with the Mass. Bar Association’s Community Service Award in recognition of his exceptional volunteer work.

 

Jean Deliso

Jean Deliso

Jean Deliso

Jean Deliso, CFP is president and owner of Deliso Financial and Insurance Services. She focuses on financial preparation for retirement as well as times of transition such as divorce or widowhood.

Deliso has been working in the financial field for 30 years, her first seven in public accounting and the balance working in the financial-services industry. She has been a member of New York Life Chairman’s Council since 2012 and a qualifying Member of the Million Dollar Round Table for the past 18 years.

She currently serves as chairman of the board of the Baystate Health Foundation, and is immediate past chairman of the Community Music School of Springfield. She is also past chairman of the board of the YMCA of Greater Springfield, past board member of Pioneer Valley Refrigerated Warehouse, as well as past trustee of the Community Foundation of Western Mass. and the Bay Path College advisory board. She is a supporting member of the National Assoc. of Life Underwriters and the Hampden County Estate Planning Council.

Samalid Hogan

Samalid Hogan

Samalid Hogan

A 40 Under Forty winner in 2013, Samalid Hogan is director of the western regional office of the Mass. Small Business Development Center (MSBDC) Network. She has more than 12 years of economic-development and project-management experience.

In 2015, she was the consulting project manager for the Holyoke Innovation District on behalf of the MassTech Collaborative and Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. Previously, she was the senior project manager and brownfields coordinator at the City of Springfield’s Office of Planning and Economic Development. Hogan also served as a senior economic-development and policy analyst at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and founded CoWork Springfield, a networking organization and co-working space.

In 2016, Hogan was awarded a Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Spirit Award and recognized by the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce as a Woman Trailblazer and Trendsetter.

Patrick Leary, CPA

Patrick Leary

Patrick Leary

A member of BusinessWest’s inaugural 40 Under Forty class in 2007, Patrick Leary is a partner at Moriarty and Primack, an accounting firm with offices in Springfield and Lincoln, Mass., and Bloomfield, Conn., and directs accounting, auditing, and business-advisory services. His concentration is on closely held and family-owned businesses, as well as providing business-advisory services for a wide variety of industries.

He serves as the first vice chairperson of the Greater Springfield YMCA, chair of the board of directors of Human Resources Unlimited, a member of the of the board of directors and executive committee of the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, treasurer of United Way of Pioneer Valley, and treasurer of the Colony Club.

Leary is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants. He is licensed to practice public accounting in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York.

Matt Sosik

Matt Sosik

Matt Sosik

Matt Sosik began his career in banking with the FDIC in Holyoke. In 1997, he became the CEO of Hometown Bank in Webster, Mass. After serving in that capacity for nearly 17 years and growing Hometown Bank almost 1,000%, he accepted the role as CEO and president at bankESB in 2013.

Since his arrival, he has overseen two mergers and has more than doubled the size of the parent holding company to more than $2 billion.

Sosik is a member or former member of numerous nonprofit boards, including United Way chapters, the Rotary, and hospital boards. He was a 40 Under 40 honoree in 2001 with the Worcester Business Journal.

Class of 2017 Difference Makers

Paying Dividends

JA Provides Critical Lessons in Business, Life

Jennifer Connolly

Jennifer Connolly stands beside the portrait of JA co-founder Horace Moses at the agency’s offices in Tower Square.

Jennifer Connolly likes to say Junior Achievement works hard to present young people — and, in this case, that means kindergartners to high-school seniors — with eye-opening and quite necessary doses of reality.

And one of the more intriguing — and anecdote-inspiring — examples is an exercise involving second-graders — specifically, an individual wearing a nametag that reads simply, ‘Tax Collector.’

The best story I ever heard from one of our volunteers was about how he announced to the class that it was time to take the taxes, and this one boy dove under his desk and said, ‘no, no, my daddy says taxes are bad … I don’t want to pay taxes!”

You guessed it. This is a direct lesson in how the amount of money one earns certainly isn’t the amount taken home on payday. In this case, the tax collector, often one of the students, literally takes away two of the five dollars a student has ‘earned’ for work they’ve undertaken.

The exercise has yielded some keepsake photos for the archives, and colorful stories that Connolly, president of Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts, has related countless times.

The ‘tax collector’ makes his rounds at a local school

The ‘tax collector’ makes his rounds at a local school. The exercise provides important lessons and has yielded some colorful anecdotes.

“The best story I ever heard from one of our volunteers was about how he announced to the class that it was time to take the taxes,” she recalled, “and this one boy dove under his desk and said, ‘no, no, my daddy says taxes are bad … I don’t want to pay taxes!’

“And the students … they don’t want to be the tax collector,” she went on. “We sometimes have to get one of our volunteers to do it. The kids cry — they don’t want to take money away from people; they say, ‘I can’t do this.’ It’s adorable.”

That’s not a word that applies to all the lessons, obviously, including one that Connolly imparted on a local high-school student herself.

“One girl couldn’t decide between being an early-childhood educator or a doctor,” she explained. “She looked at the income for an early-childhood worker and said, ‘that’s terrible,’ and I said, ‘unfortunately, yes.’

“So she said, ‘I’ll go into allied health, become a doctor, and make a lot of money,’” Connolly went on. “That’s when I told her about one of my daughter’s friends who became a dentist; she owes $250,000 in student loans, is back home living with her parents, and drives the same minivan she had when she was in college. I told this student there are no easy choices, and you have to weigh the impact, and she replied, ‘you’ve given me so much information, my head is going to explode.’”

Whether adorable or biting in their nature, the lessons provided by JA are, in a word, necessary, said Connolly and others we spoke with. That’s because they help prepare young individuals for the world beyond the classroom, where wrong decisions about finances can have disastrous consequences, and also where hands-on experience with the world of business can pay huge dividends and perhaps even inspire future entrepreneurs and business managers.

“It’s rewarding to watch the students and see the lightbulbs go on,” said Al Kasper, president and chief operating officer of Savage Arms in Westfield, who has been a long-time JA volunteer and board member.

At present, he mentors two entrepreneurship classes, or “company programs,” at East Longmeadow High School taught by Dawn Quercia, who has been doing this for nearly 20 years now, and is such a believer in the program that she fronts the startup money needed for her classes to place orders for the products they are to sell.

 

Dawn Quercia

Dawn Quercia, who fronts the money for her business students’ ventures, says the JA program provides hands-on lessons one can’t get from a textbook.

“It’s a little risky … I’m not a wealthy person, but I believe in the kids,” she said, adding that the most she’s ever lost is $200, and all she ever gets back is her investment — there’s no interest.

The dividend, she went on, is watching students learn by doing and gain maturity and life lessons while doing so.

“I could teach this out of a book, and that’s what I did when I first started here,” she went on. “And I didn’t feel the kids were learning as much as they could, and I said, ‘why don’t we just start a business?’”

Young people have been doing just that since 1919, when Horace Moses, president of Strathmore Paper Co., collaborated with other industry titans to bring the business world into the classroom by having students run their own venture.

And it continues today with a wide range of programs involving the full spectrum of young students — from those learning their colors to those trying to decide which college to attend.

JA is coming up on its centennial celebration, and since it was essentially born in Western Mass. (although now headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo.), Connolly is hoping that Springfield, and perhaps the Big E — where the so-called Junior Achievement Building, built in 1925 and funded by Moses, still stands — can be the gathering spot for birthday celebrations.

But while she’s starting to think about a party, she’s more focused on providing more of those hard, yet vital lessons described earlier. And that’s why this organization was named a Difference Maker for 2017, and is clearly worthy of that honor.

Thinking Outside the Box

They’re called ‘memory boxes.’

That’s the name a small group of students from Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy in Springfield assigned to a product they conceived, assembled themselves, and took to the marketplace just over a year ago.

As the name suggests, these are decorated wooden boxes, complete with several compartments designed to store jewelry or … whatever. They were hand-painted, with stenciling and paper flowers glued on the top, and priced to sell for $15, with were being the operative word. That’s because, well, they just didn’t sell, and are now more collectors’ items than anything else.

But it wasn’t for lack of trying.

“They did everything to sell them — they kept getting knocked down, and they kept getting back up,” said Connolly, referring to the students involved in this exercise, which she supervised as part of the JAYE (Junior Achievement Young Entrepreneurs) program. “They tried craft fairs, flea markets, they tried online, they sold from a table at Tower Square … the boxes just didn’t sell.

“The girls just wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” she went on, adding quickly, though, that they heard ‘no’ more than enough times to convince them it was time to develop a new product. “They learned to take rejection very well.”

From left, Sabrina Roberts, Dajah Gordon, and Johnalie Gomez

From left, Sabrina Roberts, Dajah Gordon, and Johnalie Gomez have learned some critical lessons selling ankle anklets — and not selling memory boxes.

And that, as it turned out, was only one of many lessons imparted upon them during that exercise, as was made clear by these comments from Dajah Gordon, a team member and JAYE veteran who has been part of far more successful ventures, including the team that went to the program’s national finals, staged in Washington, D.C., two years ago with a company that sold charm bracelets.

“Whenever we fail, like we did with the boxes, we have to step back, look at the company, and say, ‘where are we lacking?’” she said of the six-month odyssey with that ill-fated product, which all the participants can look back on now and laugh. “For us, with the boxes, something we didn’t focus on much was our target market; we were trying to sell to everybody, but we needed a specific target group or audience.

“Later, we got that part down,” she went on, adding that the identified audience — young people like themselves — has become far more receptive to the team’s new product, the so-called ‘wish anklet.’ (The wearer is to make a wish upon tying it around her ankle; if she keeps it on until it naturally falls off, the secret wish will come true.)

While there is no documented or even anecdotal evidence that the product performs as advertised, the anklets, introduced just a few months ago, have been selling well, and the three young women involved are certainly optimistic about fast-approaching Valentine’s Day, and are hard at work replenishing depleted inventory.

These collective exploits are typical of the JAYE initiative, an after-school version of the JA Company Program, which is the very bedrock on which the Junior Achievement concept was built in the months after World War I ended and when the nation was returning to what amounted to a peacetime economy.

Horace Moses; Theodore Vail, president of American Telephone & Telegraph; and Massachusetts Sen. Murray Crane got together behind the notion that, as the nation shifted from a largely agrarian economy to an industrial-based system, young people would need an education in how to run a business, said Connolly. A decidedly hands-on education.

Four and perhaps five generations of young people have formed enterprises and brought products to market through what is still known as the JA Company Program, as evidenced by the front lobby of the JA office on the mezzanine level in Tower Square, which has a number of artifacts, if you will, on display.

There are no memory boxes, but on one table, for example, is what would now be considered a very rudimentary, wooden paper-towel-roll holder, as well as a small rack for key chains, both products conceived by high-school classes in the ’70s, said Connolly.

On another table by the front window, near a large, imposing painting of Horace Moses (a prized possession for this JA chapter), is a wooden lamp, a product produced in the late ’70s through a JA Company Program called Bright Ideas, sponsored by what was then called Western Mass. Electric Co. (now Eversource). Connolly noted that lamps of various kinds were a staple of early JA ‘company’ classes, which started as after-school exercises and eventually moved into the classroom in the late ’50s.

Today, there are in-class and after-school programs that are providing students with tremendous opportunities to not only learn how a business is run, but operate one themselves, experiencing just about everything the so-called real world can throw at them.

Learning Opportunites

That would definitely be the case with another after-school JAYE program, said Connolly, this one called the Thunderpucks.

A collaborative effort involving students at Putnam, Chicopee High School, and Pope Francis High School, this bold initiative essentially makes a team of students part of the staff of the Springfield Thunderbirds, the new AHL franchise that started play last fall amid considerable fanfare and promise.

Al Kasper

Al Kasper says he enjoys seeing the “lightbulbs go on” as he mentors students involved in JA programs at East Longmeadow High.

This team has been assigned the March 3 tilt against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and will coordinate many aspects of it, from the band that plays the National Anthem to the T-shirt toss, to some ticket sales, said Connolly.

“They’re going to be reaching out to businesses and groups and trying to sell them ticket packages,” she explained. “They’re going to be handling almost all aspects of the game; it’s an incredible learning experience.”

Those last two words, and even the one before them, would apply to most all JA initiatives, she went on, adding, again, that they start with children at a very young age.

With that, she took BusinessWest through the portfolio of programs, if you will — one that involved some 11,500 students across the region during the 2015-16 school year — starting in kindergarten.

At that age, the focus is on very basic financial literacy, such as understanding currency and the concept of a savings account. By first grade, students are acquainted with jobs, businesses, the assembly line (they create one to make paper donuts), and the term ‘income,’ and how families must live within one. This is when they are told about the difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need.’

Moving along, in second grade, the tax collector makes his arrival — money is taken from those working to make donuts and given to those working for the government, so students can see where their tax dollars go, among other lessons. In third grade, students learn how a city operates and are introduced to concepts such as zoning, planning, and the basics of running a business.

And on it goes, said Connolly, adding that, by sixth grade, students are learning about cultural differences and why, for example, they can’t sell hamburgers in India. By middle school, there are more in-depth lessons in personal finances, budgeting, branding, and careers — and how to start one — as part of the broad Economics for Success program.

By high school, the learning-by-doing concept continues with everything from actual companies to stock-market challenges; from job shadowing to lean-manufacturing concepts. And while students learn, they also teach, with high-school students mentoring those in elementary school, and college students returning to coach those in high school.

The work of providing all these lessons falls to a virtual army of volunteers, said Connolly, adding that the Western Mass. chapter deployed more than 400 of them last year. They visited 522 classrooms and donated more than 73,000 hours to the area’s communities.

“JA is taking what students are learning in school, the math, the communications, the writing, all of that, and giving it a real-life reason,” she explained, summing up all that programming and its relative importance to the students and the region as a whole. “You need math because … you have to figure out your finances, or you might run a business. You need to understand social studies and geography because we’re an integrated world — where do the products come from?

“And the activities we have in JA are really hands-on, so we really promote critical thinking, analyzing, and problem solving,” she went on. “These are the 21st-century skills that students will really need.”

Returning to that episode involving the high-school girl trying to decide between early-childhood education and the medical field, and the choices involved with each path, Connolly said it reflects many of the lessons and experiences that JA provides.

“We don’t want to show them that everything’s easy — it’s not easy, no matter what you pick,” she explained. “We’re trying to make them think and make intelligent decisions.”

And this is certainly true when it comes to the JA Company Program, as we’ll see.

Course of Action

“Good cop … bad cop.”

That’s how Katie Roeder, a junior at East Longmeadow High School, chose to describe how she and Seth Bracci, co-presidents of a company now selling sweatshirts, work together at their JA venture.

And she’s the bad cop, a role she thinks she’s suited for, and that she enjoys.

Katie Roeder

Katie Roeder says she enjoys her ‘bad cop’ role as co-president of a company at East Longmeadow High School selling sweatshirts.

“I’m the one who lays out the schedule, and I go around to different groups and check on them, and if they’re not where they need to do be, I ask them to do those things as soon as possible,” she explained. “And Seth … he comes in after that and says, ‘c’mon, guys, let’s do it,’ evening out the seriousness with a bit of fun.”

It all seems to be working, she went on, adding that this business doesn’t have a name, really; it’s merely identified by the class title and time slot: Entrepreneurship H Block (12:20-1:01 p.m.). It is one of two JA classes at the school, with the other selling water bottles, as we’ll see shortly.

The H Block class spent a good amount of time deciding on a product, Roeder told BusinessWest, adding that, while young people can buy sweatshirts in countless places, online and in the store, they can’t find one with the distinctive Spartan logo, or mascot, that has identified ELHS since it opened in 1960 — unless they’re on a sports team.

The class then spent even more time — too much, by some accounts — coming up with a design (gray sweatshirt with a red logo, covering both of the school’s colors), she went on, adding that Quercia insisted on making this a democratic exercise, with input from all those involved, to achieve as much buy-in as possible. Then it spent still more time conducting what would be considered market research on who might purchase the product before placing a large order with the manufacturer.

This was a fruitful exercise, Roeder noted, because it informed company officers that those most likely to buy were underclassmen and students at nearby Birchland Park Middle School who would soon become ninth-graders. Thus, the order was for large numbers of smalls and mediums, and only a handful of XLs and XXLs, presumably to be sold to alums at the Thanksgiving Day football game (and there were a few such transactions).

Such hands-on lessons in how businesses run, or should run, are what JA’s entrepreneurship program is all about, said those we spoke with, adding that the year-long exercise is an intriguing departure from learning via a textbook, such as in AP Calculus, which is where Roeder was supposed to be at that moment, only she got a pass so she could talk with BusinessWest.

“It’s great because it’s different from the day-to-day classroom things we do,” she noted. “We handle real money; this is a real business with real stakes. It doesn’t feel like a class at all. We’re learning, but it doesn’t feel like we are. All that knowledge still goes into our mind, and we keep it there.”

Bracci agreed. “It’s interesting to see the inner workings and just how hard it is to create your own business,” he explained, “and how there are many different obstacles you can run into as someone trying to get a product out there.”

Meanwhile, at the water-bottle-selling company gathered next door, in room 111, the discussion focused on sales to date — and how to sell the 30 or so units still in inventory.

Co-president Bridget Arnesen, while occasionally drinking from one of the Spartan-logo-adorned bottles, exhorted her classmates to not rest on their laurels — bottle sales did well in the run-up to the holidays — and keep selling when and where they could, such as at the big basketball game slated for that night against league powerhouse Central.

This was where Kasper stepped in to evoke the ‘80-20 rule,’ which, he said, predicts how roughly 80% of a company’s products will be sold by 20% of its representatives.

A quick look at a tote board of sorts that detailed how many units each class member had sold, revealed that the 80-20 rule certainly held up in this case, with some class members clearly motivated by the $5.67 in commission they make for each bottle sold (one enterprising young woman logged 40 transactions), and others … not so much.

But the walking-around money is just one of the things students can take home from these classes, said Quercia, adding that the doses of reality can help in a number of ways, especially for those who have intentions of getting into business.

And Roeder already has such plans in the formative stage. She’s not sure where she’ll attend college — she says she’ll start kicking some tires next year — but does know that she intends on majoring in pediatric dentistry and probably owning her own practice.

“Business will help with my future career because I want to run a pediatric dentistry,” she explained. “I hope all the things I’ve learned stay in my head, because I’m going to need them.”

Life Lessons

Such comments help explain why those at BusinessWest chose Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts as a Difference maker for 2017 and, more importantly, why the organization continues to broaden its mission and find new ways to impart hard lessons.

Indeed, it is comments of various types and from a host of constituencies that drive home the point that JA’s programs are more important now than perhaps ever before.

We could start almost anywhere, but maybe the best place is with Robbin Lussier, a business teacher at Chicopee High School and another educator who has a long history with JA.

It has included a number of initiatives, including a career-preparation program that has grown to include 120 students, who receive tips on résumés and how to search for a job, and actually take part in mock interviews with area business owners and managers.

Bridget Arnesen and Nathan Santos

Bridget Arnesen and Nathan Santos, co-presidents of the company at East Longmeadow High School selling water bottles, say their class provides real-life lessons in running an enterprise.

The lessons eventually turned into life experiences, she said, adding that many students actually earned jobs with area companies, prompting employers to come back year after year as they searched for qualified help.

Other involvement with JA has included programs in budgeting, personal finance, and the stock-market challenge, she went on, adding that they provided what she called a “heightened sense of reality” that a classroom teacher could not provide.

“It’s a whole new dimension — students are walking away with memorable lessons learned,” Lussier said, adding that some of the more intriguing things she hears are from those who are not taking part in these programs, but wish they could, or wish they had.

“I teach a personal-finance class this year,” she said, “and if I had a nickel for every time a teacher, administrator, or parent at open-house night said, ‘I wish I could take this class’ or ‘I wish they had this when I was in school,’ I could retire.”

Connolly agreed, and cited a 50-question quiz on debit and credit cards given recently to middle-school students at Springfield’s Duggan Academy as an example.

“At the end, after the volunteer had gone through all the questions, one girl turned to another and said, ‘this has been the best day … I learned so much today,’” she recalled. “And another said, ‘can I take this home so I can show my parent? Can I take this home so I can show my grandmother? I want to save this so when I go to college I can make the right decisions.’

“That’s what you live for, students who have that reaction,” she said, adding that she sees it quite often, which is encouraging.

Also encouraging is seeing students learn by doing, even if it’s difficult to watch at times, said Quercia, who was happy to report that both classes, first those selling water bottles and then those peddling sweatshirts, paid back the seed money she invested.

“They handle everything, I act as their consultant, and Al [Kasper] explains how everything they’re learning is like the real world,” she told BusinessWest. “Together, the students face challenges and confront problems and get creative in finding solutions together.”

Kasper, who has been involved with JA in various capacities since the early ’80s and at ELHS for 15 years now, concurred.

“This isn’t MCAS, ‘memorize-this-stuff’ learning,” he said of the company program. “It’s real-life stuff that students get excited about, and because of that, we’ve really grown this program.

“They’re excited to come to class,” he went on. “It’s something new, it’s reinforcing what they’re learning, and it’s fun. They’re still learning, but they’re having fun doing it, so the retention is great, and their confidence goes up.”

It’s All About the Bottom Line

When asked what she had learned about business through her involvement with JAYE, Johnalie Gomez, another member of the team from Putnam now selling wish anklets, thought for a moment before responding.

“It’s not … easy,” she said softly, deploying three little words, in reference to both business and life itself, that say so much that those around her immediately started shaking their heads — not in disagreement, but rather in solid affirmation, as if to say, ‘no, it’s not.’

Everyone who has ever been in business would no doubt do the same. And that’s because they probably have at least one ‘memory box’ or something approximating it somewhere on their résumé — a seemingly good idea that just didn’t work. With each one, there are hard lessons that bring pain, maturity, and, hopefully (someday), laughs.

Delivering such vital lessons when someone is in the classroom — or the conference room in the suite at Tower Square — so that they may resonate later and throughout life is why Junior Achievement was formed, why it continues to thrive, why it is even more relevant now than it was 98 years ago, and why the organization is a Difference Maker.

Just ask the ‘tax collector,’ or, more specifically, those young students who don’t want to be him.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Features

Making a Solid Return

 

massmutualduqettefacessigncroppedDennis Duquette left MassMutual nearly 30 years ago for what would become a variety of roles at Fidelity Investments in Boston, most all of them in the realms of community relations and corporate responsibility. He says he’s passionate about such work — passionate enough to quickly put aside any thought of retirement last year and agree to lead the team handling those assignments at MassMutual.

When Dennis Duquette returned to his hometown of Springfield last May after a nearly 30-year stint with Fidelity Investments in Boston, he was, at age 57, retired. Sort of.

He was retired from Fidelity, at least, and determined to “recharge a bit,” as he put it. The plan was to take the summer off, rest, travel around the region, and reconnect with some people here, and he did all of the above, while also trying to determine just how well retirement was sitting with him.

As it turned out, it wasn’t sitting well at all.

“Toward the end of the summer, I started thinking, ‘I have to start doing something; I have to start thinking about going back to work,” he told BusinessWest. “I figured out that I was too young to retire … I wasn’t there yet.”

With that question answered, there was now another one facing him. It didn’t concern where he would return to the world of work (he was back in Springfield, and he was going to stay here), but in what capacity; his first thoughts tended toward project work and consulting.

Instead, something much different came into his field of vision.

To make a fairly long story short, there were a few conversations with some colleagues in the financial-services industry that eventually led Duquette to interview for and then accept the position of director of Corporate Responsibility at MassMutual and president of the recently established MassMutual Foundation, succeeding Nick Fyntrilakis, who held that post for several years.

And in every respect, this was a logical move and proverbial perfect match — for both Duquette and the company. That’s because he’s certainly not a stranger to Springfield, the company, or the many duties involved with corporate responsibility.

Indeed, he started his career in financial services at MassMutual’s State Street headquarters in 1981 as a compensation analyst, eventually moving on to community relations specialist and associate director of Group L&H (life and health) Marketing during a stay that lasted more than eight years. And at Fidelity, he would hold a number of titles related to marketing, community relations, and related work, including his last one, vice president of Corporate Sponsorships, a role we’ll hear more about later.

In an interview soon after arriving back on State Street just before Christmas — his order of business cards had been placed, but they had yet to arrive — Duquette told BusinessWest that the phrase (and title) ‘corporate responsibility’ is somewhat new, but the concept certainly isn’t.

MassMutual

Dennis Duquette says the paradigm regarding corporate social responsibility has changed, and MassMutual is on the cutting edge of current trends.

He said major corporations like MassMutual, which employs roughly 7,000 people in Springfield — and even much smaller companies, for that matter — have always had a responsibility to serve the ‘community’ they call home, however that term is defined. In MassMutual’s case, such work within the community dates back to its earliest years in the 1850s.

However, he went on, what has changed, in some respects, is the manner in which these responsibilities are met.

“The model 30 or 40 years ago was … you write a check, and you get your name in support of something; that paradigm has changed, and I think for the better,” he explained, adding quickly that MassMutual does still write some checks. But in most all cases, money is accompanied by programming and direct involvement with the cause or program in question, usually in collaboration with other groups and agencies.

And the initiatives undertaken are part of a broad strategy to improve quality of life within the community, build financial security for families, and create opportunities for people of all ages, but especially young people, he said.

There are myriad examples of this, he said, before citing a few to get his points across, including MassMutual’s involvement with Valley Venture Mentors and the project to create an innovation center in downtown Springfield; the MassMutual Foundation’s awarding of $15 million to UMass Amherst over 10 years to further strengthen its world-class data-science and cybersecurity research and education programs; and the foundation’s launch just last October of free digital financial-education curriculum — part of its FutureSmart program — for middle-school students nationwide.

There are many other examples, he went on, all of which reflect a broad strategy with stated goals and clear objectives for meeting them.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Duquette about his decision to unretire, but especially about his new role — in which he serves as the unofficial face of MassMutual within the community — and the many ways MassMutual’s corporate responsibility is manifesting itself, in Western Mass. and beyond.

At Home with the Idea

While Duquette left Springfield and MassMutual in 1989 for Fidelity and the Boston area, he didn’t exactly leave his hometown completely behind him.

He still had family and friends in this area, and stayed in touch as best he could. “I read MassLive a lot,” he said with a laugh, adding that various media outlets (including BusinessWest) and contact with acquaintances kept him abreast of everything from the 2011 tornado and its aftermath — he’s a Cathedral graduate and donated money to the rebuilding of that school, which was destroyed by the twister — to the difficult financial times that visited the city over the past few decades, to some of the many recent forms of progress, including the arrival of MGM.

Taking stock of the city and what’s happening within it — something he’s been doing all along, but especially since returning home eight months ago — he said there are many signs that the city is truly on the right track.

“I drive around Springfield, and I walk around Springfield, and I see potential,” he explained. “I know the city has fallen on tough times in the past and has worked to dig itself out. There was a natural disaster that blew through the town, literally, but I think the mayor has done an outstanding job of leading the city back, obviously with the help of a lot of people.

“When you consider this city’s history, its location, the resources that it has — material and intellectual — there is a lot of potential here,” he went on. “It’s really just a matter of having the right leadership and vision, and I believe the mayor, the City Council, and city officials are super diligent about that. And I think we have a governor and lieutenant governor now who are very focused on helping the gateway cities, and Springfield is one of them. Overall, I’m very hopeful.”

Dennis Duquette says involvement in entrepreneurship initiatives, such as the innovation center on Bridge Street now under construction, fit into MassMutual’s broad CSR strategy.

Dennis Duquette says involvement in entrepreneurship initiatives, such as the innovation center on Bridge Street now under construction, fit into MassMutual’s broad CSR strategy.

He acknowledged that Springfield, and Western Mass. as a whole, haven’t seen anything approaching the explosive growth that Boston and the areas surrounding it did over the past few decades, but told BusinessWest that efforts to compare and contrast the two regions are neither warranted nor particularly fruitful.

“I don’t think Springfield has to be like Boston to be a successful city,” he explained. “There are some great things that Springfield can do that are unique to Springfield that don’t necessarily have to replicate Boston.”

With that, he acknowledged that he will now have a much better view of what’s happening across Greater Springfield and, through the many aspects of his new role, will be taking a direct role in helping to see that the region’s potential is realized.

And, as noted, he brings a good deal of experience to that role.

Indeed, at Fidelity he led a number of initiatives involving corporate sponsorships, education, employee volunteerism, and employee giving.

As one example, he cited development of a digital financial-literacy game in cooperation with New York-based Dopamine Inc. for middle- and high-school students, an initiative launched in support of Fidelity’s broader financial-literacy programs, in partnership with FidelityCares, the firm’s community-relations apparatus.

Another example is The Alzheimer’s Project. That was the name attached to a HBO series on the crippling disease, for which Fidelity Investments took a key sponsorship role.

In many respects, Duquette explained, Fidelity’s broad corporate-responsibility strategy, if you will, mirrors MassMutual’s in that many initiatives focus on young people, education, financial literacy, and overall quality of life.

And these initiatives involve partnerships, not simply check writing, he went on, adding that this same philosophy reigns at MassMutual, which has a 165-year history of giving back to the community and status as Springfield’s largest corporate citizen.

“MassMutual is an important community partner in Greater Springfield, not only by virtue of its size, but also by virtue of its legacy,” he explained. “I don’t see that changing, but what will change, potentially, is the way we do our partnerships; we have a great opportunity to continue our partnerships and build new ones, and I’m very excited about that.”

Paying Dividends

As he noted earlier, Duquette, upon deciding to ‘unretire,’ approached a number of people to solicit possible leads on landing spots, again, with the thought that consulting or project work were the most likely contenders for what would come next.

One of those people was Jennifer Halloran, MassMutual’s head of Brand and Advertising — only Duquette needed to be told this was what it said on her business card. He had worked with her at Fidelity for years, but was unaware that she had come to MassMutual. It was Halloran who alerted him to an opening at the company at the top of its Corporate Responsibility team.

Duquette was somewhat surprised by this news — he had recently been a spectator for the groundbreaking, or “wall-smashing,” as he called it, for the innovation center on Bridge Street and heard Fyntrilakis speak on behalf of MassMutual, a partner in the project. But he was also quite intrigued, because such work had come to define his career in recent years.

“I got really excited about this role,” he explained. “And I got excited for a few reasons. For starters, this is something I’m passionate about. I think the role of corporations in this country and around the world is changing — the impact corporations can have on the communities in which they’re based, and society in general, is immense.

“Secondly, and I think more importantly, my view had always been that MassMutual was really exemplary in this space,” he went on. “I say that as someone who left MassMutual in 1989, never thinking or intending that I would be back here, but over the years, I was taking note of things that MassMutual was doing when it came to corporate responsibility.”

Elaborating, he would summon the words ‘bold’ and ‘innovative’ to describe some of those initiatives, adding that, as he watched them unfold while working for a competitor, he would nod his head in approval.

“For me, as someone who cares about this work, to come into an environment that really supports it and champions it — and that goes right to the top of the house — this was a no-brainer for me to pursue this opportunity,” he said, adding that, just a few weeks in, he’s “pumped.”

He’s spent those few weeks doing more of that connecting he described earlier — he’s met with the leadership team at the Community Foundation of Western Mass., for example — but also on the road. Indeed, he spent his second week on the job in Phoenix, where the corporation also has a huge presence, becoming acquainted with various initiatives taking place there and on a national level.

There will be much more of all that in the months and years to come, he said, adding that creation of the MassMutual Foundation in 2015 is an important development when it comes to the shape and scope of corporate-responsibility initiatives at the company.

“It gives us guardrails and parameters through which we can do our corporate giving,” he said of the foundation, “and it also gives us a platform from which we can launch ideas and partnerships — that I think are deeper and smarter — with some of our critical nonprofit partners.”

Elaborating, he said the foundation provides a vehicle with which the corporation can work with a host of partners — locally, in other communities where it has a presence, and in markets important to the business — to “amplify the things we care about.”

With that, he returned to the FutureSmart program as one solid example. To make it happen, MassMutual partners with education-technology leader EverFi, which is building a network of relationships with school districts around the country to introduce financial-literacy curriculum.

“We work with them as a partner to get us into some of the markets we’re interested in, and build those local programs,” he said, adding that the broad goal is to reach 2 million students by 2020.

There are many other examples, he went on, adding that, to slice through his multi-faceted job description, the primary goal is to create more of these partnerships and continue to develop new and fruitful ways to invest in the community — literally and figuratively.

The work with VVM and other economic-development-related groups to encourage entrepreneurship and fund startup companies certainly falls into that category, he said. The various initiatives are in some ways unique for a financial-services company, he noted, but overall, such efforts dovetail with the major goals of the company’s broad corporate-responsibility strategy.

“If you look at that strategy, it’s all about securing and enabling economic security for families,” he explained. “We help people secure their futures through financial means, so as a community partner, we’re about getting in and supporting initiatives, ideas, and programs that will help build and sustain economic viability for communities that we care about.”

Elaborating, he said that, by providing various types of support to startups and the groups that mentor them — everything from capital for startups to technical support in an investment that totals $5 million — MassMutual is investing not only in those ventures, but in Greater Springfield itself.

“I’ve had prior experience with an incubator in Boston with MassChallenge,” he said, referring to the entity that describes itself as ‘the most startup-friendly incubator on the planet.’ “And I was excited to see that there was a vibrant incubator/entrepreneur community that was bubbling up here in Springfield.

“When you think of this particular region, where we’re located, the access to higher education in the Pioneer Valley and the surrounding areas, it’s a logical place,” he went on. “And it’s also a great place for people to come, young people in particular, and kick the tires on some new ideas and try their wares.”

Investments in the Community

Talk of the partnership with VVM brings Duquette back to his comments about how corporate social responsibility, or CSR, as it’s called, now goes well beyond simply writing checks.

“My approach to CSR is this — if we’re going to be working together and providing financial support to a nonprofit, that’s great, but I also want to understand what that group’s objectives are as a nonprofit,” he explained. “And then say, ‘here are my objectives as a representative of MassMutual. Let’s talk about how we can work together to build something that goes beyond the money. Let’s build something that’s really meaningful.’”

Working toward such ends is something Duquette is passionate about, and something that certainly propelled him out of retirement.

You might say he’s at home with his latest, and perhaps last, career stop — in every sense of that phrase.

George O’Brien can be reached at  [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

Milton Bradley. Horace Smith. Daniel Wesson. Curtis and Prestley Blake. Paul and Gerry D’Amour. Everett Barney. Theodor Geisel. Paul Kozub?

OK, maybe it’s too soon to place the founder of V-One Vodka in the same paragraph as the founders of Friendly Ice Cream, Dr. Seuss, the inventor of the clip-on ice skate, iconic gunmakers, and some of the other entrepreneurs who have shaped the local landscape.

But, then again, maybe not. While Kozub doesn’t have anything from his company on display at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History (the unofficial litmus test for being one of the region’s truly historic entrepreneurs), he shares many traits with those (and that’s everyone else listed above) who do.

These include a thirst for risk taking, a fervent imagination, a large dose of determination, and a willingness to confront — and tackle — the innumerable and constant challenges standing in the way of a successful business.

For these reasons, Kozub has been named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur for 2016 (see story, page 20). Those others mentioned above came decades, if not a century and a half, before the award was established in 1996 (the D’Amours started Big Y too early to be recognized, but successive generations were honored just last year for their efforts to grow and diversify the corporation), but Kozub is in the right place at the right time.

Not to simply win our award, but to capitalize on the growing popularity of what he called ‘craft vodkas,’ a phrase that certainly sums up V-One.

The Top Entrepreneur award honors those who possess entrepreneurial spirit, but, more specifically, those who have been able to harness it effectively and fashion a success story.

V-One is already what most people would consider a success — a brand that is now available in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and, yes, some airports in Europe, and hundreds of specific locations, generating a few million dollars in sales annually.

But Kozub wants to make it more of a success, naturally, by taking the brand national, a move that will require capital, patience, determination, and above all else, a solid battle plan and the tools necessary to carry it out.

For putting that plan together, and for leaving no stone unturned, as he put it, in preparation for this national launch, Kozub has been recognized as the Top Entrepreneur for 2016.

He’s in good company, as the chart on page 28 reveals. Indeed, in addition to the D’Amour family, previous winners include Peter Rosskothen, who co-founded the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House; Jeb Balise, president of Balise Motor Sales; Timm Van Epps, president and CEO of Sandri LLC; Holyoke Gas & Electric; Bob Bolduc, founder and CEO of Pride; former STCC President Andrew Scibelli; and many others.

And we hope Kozub creates more company for the years to come.

Indeed, as we’ve said on many occasions, there are many effective economic-development strategies for this region, and one of them is to encourage entrepreneurship and mentor those who choose that route.

While most think of economic development as filling industrial parks and attracting large employers such as CRRC and MGM, this is only one component of a larger strategy, and a small one, given the immense competition for such major employers today and the geographic disadvantages hindering this region.

Spurring entrepreneurship and mentoring small-business owners is a strategy that requires considerable time and patience; there is no instant gratification here. But it often yields lasting results, and it can put a region — as in the cases of Silicon Valley and the city of Cambridge — on the map.

Encouraging more would-be entrepreneurs to join Smith, Wesson, Bradley, Geisel, Barney, and, yes, Kozub is one of the reasons we launched the Top Entrepreneur award 20 years ago.

The larger reason was to recognize those who are taking risks, building companies, and creating jobs. And we look forward to adding more names to an already-impressive list of winners.

Cover Story Sections Top Entrepreneur

Paul Kozub Tackles the Hard Stuff to Take V-One National

Proof Positive

paulkozubcoverpicWhen he launched the V-One brand more than 11 years ago, Paul Kozub had a good product and a great story — the one about a commercial lender who quit banking to make vodka in his basement. As he prepares to take the brand national, he knows the great story isn’t nearly enough. The good product is the foundation of his efforts, but getting to the next level will be a daunting task. So he’s leaving no stone unturned, and these efforts have earned him BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur award for 2016.

He calls it ‘V-One Vodka Corporate Headquarters.’ Except when he opts to simply to say ‘the Church.’

Those are Paul Kozub’s chosen methods for referencing the former St. John’s Church on bustling Route 9 in Hadley, the 114-year-old structure he acquired in 2014 after some prolonged negotiations with the Diocese of Springfield and then spent months rehabbing, mostly by himself.

On the outside, it still looks like … a church, except for the huge slab of Goshen stone on the front lawn with the V-One logo placed on it, signage approved after months of hard talks with the town fathers.

On the inside, though, it looks a little like a bar and a lot like a banquet hall. Which it isn’t. Kozub doesn’t actually have a liquor license, but he can — and does — host a number of ‘tastings’ each year to promote his growing line of vodka flavors, as well as weekly sales meetings and a host of special events, including one on Christmas Eve for his family and his wife’s as well.

One fixture of V-One HQ is a large collection of vodkas, maybe 100 of them, kept on racks just off what used to be the altar long ago. You won’t find every brand here — there are more than 1,000 of them — but certainly all the recognizable names and then another few dozen recognizable only to those certainly in the know. Which he is, as will become quite clear.

Indeed, Kozub says he’s amassed this collection — and keeps adding to it — so he will know about the competition. Everything about the competition, that is — from the new flavors they’re putting out to the design of their bottles to the ingredients printed on the label.

Paul Kozub stands beside his new signage

Paul Kozub stands beside his new signage, placed on a huge slab of Goshen stone, outside V-One Corporate Headquarters, a.k.a. ‘the Church.’

Take grapefruit-flavored vodka, which all the major brands now have, for example. Kozub did.

“What I did was buy every grapefruit vodka I could find,” he said, while reaching for a few. “When I come up with an idea, like this one, I try every grapefruit offering I can get my hands on, with the goal of making mine unique.”

It is only through such research and legwork, said Kozub, that he will be able to take V-One from status as a ‘local’ flavor and make it a regional and then national and perhaps international brand.

Actually, V-One is already international, as Kozub explained while digging for his phone and scrolling to a photo of him next to a poster for his vodka at Frederick Chopin Airport in Warsaw (his vodkas are made in Poland and available in duty-free shops at several airports in that country), right next to similar posters for Rolex watches and high-end perfumes.

But, while obviously proud of that product placement, Kozub knows he is facing a long, winding, extremely difficult road just to take his vodkas beyond most of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, the places where they are now available.

However, with the help of some new investors to whom he is selling a small equity stake in the company, Kozub is poised for territorial expansion. The first target is New Hampshire, where Kozub is currently gaining the necessary approvals to secure shelf space in the state-operated stores that feature low prices that often entice people to cross borders.

After that, other New England states are being eyed, as well as the potentially lucrative but tough-to-crack Boston and New York City markets.

To get to the next level, though, Kozub knows he needs something beyond the proverbial ‘good story’ that helped him get off the ground and then well-established within the 413 area code. Most people in this region know it by now: it’s about how an intrepid commercial lender rising in the ranks at TD Bank put that career on permanent hold after deciding to take a small inheritance from his grandfather, as well as some inspiration from his entrepreneurial father, and create a new vodka label in his home.

“As I go into Miami, San Francisco, and other major cities, the story about the guy who started making vodka in his basement is great, but we’ll need much more,” he explained. “So I want to lead with the product itself, and how we tell our story.”

Efforts to move beyond his Hollywood-script saga and create a product that will appeal nationally essentially sum up what Kozub has been doing for the past 12 to 18 months or so. This is a multi-faceted assignment involving everything from lining up investors to initiating marketing pushes in some major cities, to months of hard work designing a new bottle for his vodkas.

Paul Kozub stands next to a sign for his vodka at Frederick Chopin Airport in Warsaw

Paul Kozub stands next to a sign for his vodka at Frederick Chopin Airport in Warsaw. While V-One is technically international, the next real challenge is to make it a national brand.

The sum of these efforts has earned Kozub BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur award for 2016. Established two decades ago, the award recognizes a centuries-old tradition of entrepreneurship in this region and honors those who are continuing that legacy, something Kozub summed up simply by saying, “I feel like I haven’t worked a day in 11 years.”

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Beyond those racks loaded with vodka bottles, Kozub has a number of other items, or props, lurking behind what resembles a bar counter (complete with bar stools) installed at the front of the old church’s nave.

One of them is a 50-pound bag of corn, bought at a nearby Tractor Supply Co. location, very effectively labeled (at least for this exercise) with the words ‘feed for cattle, sheep, and horses.’

Paul Kozub says he has a patent on his so-called ‘bottle jacket,’

Paul Kozub says he has a patent on his so-called ‘bottle jacket,’ one of many examples of how he’s leaving no stone unturned as he takes the brand national.

“This is what you feed cows — a lot of popular vodkas today are made from corn,” said Kozub, as he began a well-rehearsed presentation he gives to various audiences while not-so-delicately lowering the bag onto the counter so its weight can resonate. “It’s the cheapest ingredient you can find; it costs about six cents a pound, and it takes about three pounds to make a bottle of corn vodka.

“This is spelt,” he went on, holding up a small box of the hulled wheat that is his not-so-secret ingredient. “If you buy this at the store, it’s about eight dollars a pound; so you’re talking six to eight cents versus eight dollars.”

That bag of corn is one of many selling points used by Kozub as he goes about introducing his product and differentiating it from all those competitors. Others include the fake-fur-lined ‘bottle jackets’ and soon-to-arrive summer ‘bottle life vests’ (made in Poland) that he says are unique and patented.

“They’re something cool — no one can else can make a bottle winter coat like this,” he noted while holding one aloft. “Almost everyone has a box with two glasses in it. This is my equivalent, but I like to stand out.

“Over the past few years, I’ve been prepping for a national launch,” he went on while putting most of what is now on display at the church in perspective. “I’m trying to get the whole brand tightened and leave no stone unturned, because it’s going to take a lot to get from where we are to where I want to be.”

Those sentiments, and the aggressive, confident manner in which he backs them up, speak volumes about the passion and commitment Kozub has for all aspects of this endeavor, qualities that Shaun Dwyer recognized long ago.

Now the first vice president of Commercial Banking for Holyoke-based PeoplesBank, which is now financing aspects of the V-One venture, Dwyer says he’s known Kozub for 15 years now, or back to when they were both young lenders at TD Bank trying to earn their stripes. He’s followed Kozub’s adventures throughout his career, and summons most of the same adjectives and adverbs used by others to describe how the entrepreneur goes about his work.

“Paul is a driven, highly motivated guy who’s very focused on what he does,” Dwyer explained. “He’s passionate about V-One, which contributes significantly to its success. And he’s involved in every aspect of the business, from creating and testing new products and flavors to the marketing, to the distribution, to customer relations.

Shaun Dwyer

Shaun Dwyer, a commercial lender with PeoplesBank, says Paul Kozub’s passion for his vodka brand has been a key ingredient in its success.

“And he knows how to earn money, which is the most important thing,” Dwyer went on, adding that his client definitely used his years in banking to his advantage. “He’s done well. He hasn’t gone in over his head during the time he’s been in business, he’s taken smart steps, he knows his markets, and he knows he’s got a good product.”

While those comments neatly and concisely sum up Kozub’s first 11 or so years in business, marked by strong success — growth has averaged 20% per year, by Dwyer’s estimates — one really needs to go back to 2005 for a more detailed look at how things got started and, hopefully, a deeper appreciation for the chapters to the story now being written.

It was in October of that year that Kozub first graced the cover of BusinessWest. Actually, it was one of those smaller pictures at the bottom of the page that alert readers to the stories inside.

That piece revealed that Kozub entered banking with no real intention of making it a career. Instead, he was focused on following the lead of his father, Edward, who took Janlynn Corp. from a mom-and-pop operation to a business that employed more than 100 people, but tragically died while Paul was still in high school. He was, as he put it, working in financial services to learn the mechanics of small-business management from the “other side.”

While his father inspired him, it was his grandfather, Stanley, who is actually credited with giving him the proverbial push he needed. Family legend has it that he was a moonshiner during Prohibition, and young Paul, upon seeing a truck laden with potatoes pass his Hadley home, began conceptualizing a plan to make vodka with that vegetable as its base.

Using $6,000 his grandfather left him, he started in his basement, and, after a number of fits and starts, eventually brought V-One to the marketplace.

Over the ensuing years, Kozub and V-One would regularly grace the pages of BusinessWest, with everything from an actual cover story to a host of news briefs detailing everything from new flavors (there are now four) to awards (there have been many of those); from his purchase of St. John’s Church to his 10th anniversary in business, celebrated, as only they can in this business, 18 or so months ago.

Slicing through all those articles and updates, Kozub said the message they send is that there isn’t nearly as much glamour in this business as one might think, and far more challenges and high hurdles than one can imagine.

“It’s a difficult, incredibly competitive business,” he said, adding that each step in the process of growing V-One and bringing its brand to prominence has been carefully choreographed, with the goal of achieving marked — but controlled — growth.

And so it is with the next, very ambitious steps now on the drawing board and in the process of becoming reality.

Taking His Shot

Kozub told BusinessWest that, by his conservative estimates, it takes at least $500,000 to enter a new market — a state or major city, for example — and do the job right, which is the only way he knows.

“I’ve been thinking about how we’re going to grow and how we’re going to get bigger, and of course everything comes down to money,” he explained with a heavy sigh. “You need money to enter each state because you need salespeople, you need marketing, you need brand awareness … there’s a lot that goes into this.”

This simple math and sobering dose of reality made it clear that, for him to grow, he needed capital, probably in the form of investors willing to gamble on his brand in exchange for a piece of it.

New vans like this one, detailed with the V-One logo

New vans like this one, detailed with the V-One logo, are one of many ways Paul Kozub is building his brand.

Since he started V-One, Kozub has been largely resistant to the idea of taking on investors, not wanting to relinquish even a small percentage of his venture. But having gone about as far as he thought he could in the markets he’s in, and with a strong desire to continue growing, he understood he was at a crossroads.

So he started talking to some money people — in the careful, studious manner that has marked all of his activities to date.

“About 18 months or so ago, I was approached by a very influential person in the business who had started a similar company and eventually sold it for millions, and he wanted to invest in V-One,” he explained. “After months of negotiations, I found out that he really wanted to take over my company and not simply invest, so we cut off talks.”

Roughly a month later, he was approached by another group, based in Texas, he went on, adding that his research, and the negotiations, eventually led to a deal that will generate a few million dollars in capital that will enable him to expand the V-One footprint, if you will, in a few directions.

One is north, to New Hampshire and the other New England states, and then west and south, to New York and New Jersey.

It’s a bold step, and Kozub acknowledged there are risks. But the alternative, merely standing pat, does not reflect the established growth formula. And he will continue to move in a measured, controlled manner.

“When I quit my job at TD Bank, I went for it, and I knew that if I could sell 500 cases in a year I’d be able to make a nice living,” he said, adding that he long ago recalibrated his goals and aspirations. “So with this next stage, I’m going for it again, but we’re going to be very calculated moving forward, and we’re definitely going to test each market before we enter it.”

Elaborating, he said the financing from his new investors will essentially come in three rounds, which will facilitate and essentially drive this controlled pace of growth he described. And the first goal, as mentioned earlier, is basically the rest of New England, meaning New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont.

That includes Boston, he went on, where the company has really just put a toe in the water, with the understanding that penetrating that market will be extremely difficult, due to some well-established heavyweights in the industry.

“I just hired a PR firm in Boston to help me get established there,” he explained. “It’s a great market, but it’s also very tight-knit; getting into some of Boston’s famous restaurants is … next to impossible.

“The competition in these big cities is just unbelievable, because everyone wants to be there,” he went on. “For example, Russian Standard Vodka went to Boston seven or eight years ago, and I know they spent half a million dollars to get their brand going there, and it really didn’t do much.”

BusinessWest Associate Publisher Kate Campiti presents Paul Kozub with the plaque marking his selection as Top Entrepreneur for 2016.

BusinessWest Associate Publisher Kate Campiti presents Paul Kozub with the plaque marking his selection as Top Entrepreneur for 2016.

This outcome helps explain that, while capital is obviously critical to the process of penetrating new markets, the product, or products, will ultimately determine how successful those efforts are.

Thus, he returned to that notion of leaving no stone unturned as he prepares to take V-One national.

Fifth Dimension

With that, Kozub went behind the bar again, this time to collect a thick file folder detailing his work to create a new bottle for his vodkas; his current model is a futura style, essentially something off the shelf, as they say in this business, and fairly common, with several brands using it.

He wasn’t about to reveal anything too specific about what he had in mind for this redesign, but did get into great detail about how this is a very serious — and expensive — exercise, worthy of as much attention as what goes inside the bottle.

“It’s always been my dream to have my own bottle because I have my own vodka that’s the only vodka in the world made from spelt, and we feel it’s the cleanest vodka in the world,” he explained. “We want our bottle to reflect that. As I roll out nationally and get on the shelves in Miami and San Francisco, I really want the bottle to stand out.”

Elaborating, he said that, through his contacts in Poland, he was introduced to what he called the “best bottle designers in the world,” based in Cognac, France. These designers gave him 13 options, all different in some way, and he has whittled that field down to two, and essentially one that he says he’s leaning toward.

Why is the bottle so important? In the vodka world, image is an important consideration, he said, and the ornate, decorative bottles one sees on the shelf — often doubling as works of art — play a big role in image-projection efforts. But practicality is also an issue.

“You think about everything, including how it’s going to fit in the bartender’s hand and how it’s going to pour,” he explained. “Some of these bottles that brands come out with … they’ll never be used in bars because bartenders don’t like to hold them and they’re very awkward to pour. We do very well in bars and restaurants, and the new bottle will fit very well in bartenders’ hands.”

Kozub’s intense focus on creating a new bottle is an example of how he’s still fully involved with every aspect of this operation, but also how his role is changing in some ways.

He no longer makes deliveries himself, and he lets his sales staff handle most of the roughly 100 tastings the company will schedule a year — although he still presides over several of them. Instead, he’s content to wear what he called his ‘CFO hat’ and the ‘strategic planning hat.’

He has the latter on all the time, as one might imagine, and there are many elements to it, from the bottle to the bottle jackets; from the marketing strategies for entering new regions to lining up investors; from ongoing renovations of ‘the Church’ (there is still a lot of work to be done) to determining when and if to add more flavors to the portfolio.

And there will likely be at least one flavor to join grapefruit, triple berry, lime, hazelnut, and vanilla, he told BusinessWest, adding that he doesn’t know what it will be yet, and there are several possible contenders for the light blue bottle he’s already picked out to give him a full rainbow.

The need to keep adding flavors, the need to keep undertaking strategic planning, is very necessary, he said, because this is a fast-moving, constantly changing industry, where trends change quickly and often.

Indeed, while vodkas — and, specifically, flavored vodkas — were all the rage just a few years ago, bourbons and other ‘brown whiskeys’ are now hot, and vodka is essentially flat, Kozub explained.

Meanwhile, tastes among all demographic groups, and especially the younger generations, are shifting away from mainstream offerings and more toward designer products, such as the myriad craft beers now populating the market.

Which means he is likely in the right places at the right time with the right products.

“As time goes on, I think there will be more people seeking out niche vodkas, or ‘craft vodkas,’ as I like to call them,” he explained. “If you have a bar, and you have Bud, Miller, and Coors on tap, your bar probably won’t be in business for long. You need to have those craft beers, and it’s the same with whisky, rum, gin, and vodka — that’s the trend.”

As he goes about tackling life in this constantly changing landscape and the myriad challenges still ahead of him, Kozub displays the same entrepreneurial spirit and not-so-quiet confidence that have defined his efforts from the beginning.

And while the stage is set to get exponentially bigger, he’s saying essentially the same thing he was when he was delivering cases to area liquor stores and restaurants himself.

“We have one of the best vodkas in the world — I just have to let people try it,” he said. “If I can do that …”

Glass Act

He didn’t actually finish that thought, but he didn’t really have to.

From the start, he’s always thought, and always known, that if he could make a good introduction, then people would buy his product.

In other words, he’s always had more than a good story about making vodka in his basement — a lot more. And as he prepares to take his portfolio of flavors national, he plans to add even more.

That’s what he means by “leaving no stone unturned” — even the one in front of V-One Corporate Headquarters.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Previous Top Entrepreneurs

• 2015: The D’Amour Family, founders of Big Y
• 2014: Delcie Bean, president of Paragus Strategic IT
• 2013: Tim Van Epps, president and CEO of Sandri LLC
• 2012: Rick Crews and Jim Brennan, franchisees of Doctors Express
• 2011: Heriberto Flores, director of the New England Farm Workers’ Council and Partners for Community
• 2010: Bob Bolduc, founder and CEO of Pride
• 2009: Holyoke Gas & Electric
• 2008: Arlene Kelly and Kim Sanborn, founders of Human Resource Solutions and Convergent Solutions Inc.
• 2007: John Maybury, president of Maybury Material Handling
• 2006: Rocco, Jim, and Jayson Falcone, principals of Rocky’s Hardware Stores and Falcone Retail Properties
• 2005: James (Jeb) Balise, president of Balise Motor Sales
• 2004: Craig Melin, then-president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital
• 2003: Tony Dolphin, president of Springboard Technologies
• 2002: Timm Tobin, then-president of Tobin Systems Inc.
• 2001: Dan Kelley, then-president of Equal Access Partners
• 2000: Jim Ross, Doug Brown, and Richard DiGeronimo, then-principals of Concourse Communications
• 1999: Andrew Scibelli, then-president of Springfield Technical Community College
• 1998: Eric Suher, president of E.S. Sports
• 1997: Peter Rosskothen and Larry Perreault, then-co-owners of the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House
• 1996: David Epstein, president and co-founder of JavaNet and the JavaNet Café

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Continuing a tradition that began more than 20 years ago, BusinessWest will profile the winner of its ‘Top Entrepreneur’ award in its next issue, to be released Jan. 9.

The award pays homage to the region’s more-than-250-yeard-old tradition of entrepreneurship, said Associate Publisher Kate Campiti, and honors individuals, families, and companies that are carrying on that tradition.

Previous winners of the award, first presented in 1996, include Peter Rosskothen, co-creator of the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, former Springfield Technical Community College President Andrew Scibelli, the D’Amour family, founders of Big Y, Timm Van Epps, president and CEO of Sandri LLC, the Holyoke Gas & Electric, Jeb Balise, president of Balise Motor Sales, and many others.

Opinion

Editorial

As we noted last issue, 2016 was, in many ways, and across the region, a year of progress. The economy didn’t grow by leaps and bounds — although the stock market certainly soared after the election — but that’s been the trend for roughly eight years now.

Overall, there was notable movement of the needle in the right directions — on economic development, entrepreneurship, revitalization of downtown Springfield, progress in efforts to reinvent the so-called Gateway Cities, and much more.

As the new year approaches, our basic hope is for essentially more of all of the above. Here, though, are some more specific thoughts on what we’d like to see:

• Continued movement in response to the aging Baby Boom generation. Everyone is talking about it, which is a good thing, but companies, and the region as a whole, have to move beyond talk. Baby Boomers are retiring in great numbers, and companies are waking up to the fact that, unless they are proactive, they may be facing a huge void in talent.

Much of the focus is on leadership and the higher rungs of a company’s management, but the problem will be felt at all levels. Succession planning is a must, as are steps to train people — in everything from soft skills to ever-advancing technology — so that, when it’s their time to lead, they’re ready.

• More and better efforts to promote the region. This goes well beyond efforts to find a new logo or slogan to somehow replace ‘Pioneer Valley’ and/or ‘Arrive Curious/Leave Inspired,’ which certainly needs replacing. And it goes further than making greater use of Dr. Seuss and his worldwide fame to promote Springfield, as one consultant has recommended. We’re talking about real marketing campaigns — for Springfield and the region, whatever we decide to call it from now on.

With MGM due to open in 18 months or so, the Dr. Seuss museum nearly ready to open its doors, Union Station set for its rebirth, and Springfield primed to put its troubled past behind it, the world needs to know what’s going on here. Yes, this takes money, but the region needs to find some and tell its story with a loud and effective voice.

• More momentum on entrepreneurship. We’ve managed to create quite a bit of it over the past few years, through Valley Venture Mentors, the EDC, other agencies, and the region’s colleges and universities, but the region as a whole needs to keep the pedal to the metal.

As we’ve said countless times, promoting entrepreneurship and mentoring those who choose that course is one of this region’s best economic-development strategies. Large numbers of jobs will not come overnight, and there is certainly a temptation to become frustrated with the pace of progress. But entrepreneurship is a huge part of this region’s business history, and there are many chapters still to write.

• A continued focus on keeping talent here. In some of the more rural areas of this region (such as Stockbridge: see story, page 10), the exodus of young people is reaching what amounts to crisis proportions. Indeed, the average age of the residents of some of the communities in Franklin and Berkshire counties is approaching 60, and this is dangerous territory.

Young people are leaving because there are no jobs — or no jobs that can become careers. With fewer and fewer young people, cities and towns lose vibrancy, tax dollars, and leadership. The problem is less acute in Hampden and Hampshire counties, but it remains a threat.

Elected officials and economic-development leaders have to work together to diversify economies and bring good jobs to some of these towns. If they don’t, they will pay a huge price down the road.

Opinion

Editorial

Over the years, BusinessWest has worn out the ‘question-mark’ key when writing stories and headlines for its Economic Outlook sections each December.

Any why not? No one really knows what lies ahead, especially when it comes to the economy. And over the past 15-20 years, there have been some times — such as the months after 9/11 and the very darkest days of the Great Recession in the fall of 2008 — when trying to speculate what might come next was all but impossible.

This isn’t exactly one of those times, but it’s close, and all because of history. Actually, two kinds of it.

First, that election about a month or so ago, because it ushered in a presidency seemingly defined by unpredictability and speculation — about what will happen domestically and abroad. And second, the nation’s economic track record.

Indeed, not once in the full history of this country has it gone more than 10 years without a recession. Don’t look now, but that means, sad to say, that we’re just about due for one. And if it comes soon — we’ve had almost nine years of mostly unspectacular growth — we’ll likely be entering it without the two most common methods of fighting one: lowering interest rates (because they’re already at historic lows and just can’t get any lower) and tax cuts (especially if President Trump makes good on his pledge to almost immediately lower them after getting sworn in).

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Sort of.

While it might be time to talk about that recession seemingly certain to come some time in Trump’s first term, the immediate future seems worthy of something else that gets typed often when writing about the year ahead — that phrase ‘cautious optimism.’

That’s especially true of the Western Mass. region, which, while it continues to lag maddeningly well behind most of the rest of the state in terms of growth and prosperity, is, for the most part, riding on an arrow pointed upward. Here are some reasons for the optimism:

• Springfield’s continuing climb. Last issue, we wrote about cranes and their uplifting abilities, no pun intended. It’s not hyperbole. Cranes do generate optimism and, well, more cranes. But it’s not just those machines at the casino site generating positive energy. It’s everything from new vibrancy downtown to the Thunderbirds; from Union Station to subway-car manufacturing. Springfield still has considerable work to do, but it is in what we believe are the early stages of a renaissance, which means there is more progress to come, and it will likely have a strong ripple effect throughout the region.

• Progress in other communities. As we’re written before, the process of reinventing a city — moving from a manufacturing hub to the proverbial ‘something else’ — is slow and often difficult. But many cities in this region, including Holyoke, Easthampton, Pittsfield, and Westfield, are making substantial progress in that regard, becoming centers for entrepreneurship, the arts, small business, tourism, and combinations of all of the above. This progress bodes well for the region, and it should continue in the year ahead.

• Promoting entrepreneurship. One of the most encouraging developments in this region in recent years, as we’ve noted, has been the efforts to not only promote and encourage entrepreneurship, but to create a population of smarter, more resilient entrepreneurs. Springfield has become the hub of this activity, but it’s happening region-wide. And while the landscape won’t change overnight, certainly, a stronger, more diverse economy will result.

• Eds and meds. Or is it meds and eds? While the region continues to diversify its economy, these two stalwarts continue to grow and become ever-more pivotal forces in overall economic development. Healthcare continues to be an ultra-steady source of jobs, and the region’s higher-ed institutions, led by UMass Amherst, are developing new degree programs and initiatives aimed at providing area businesses with their most important asset — qualified talent. These sectors are not only strong, but getting stronger, and the region will benefit accordingly.

While there are still many question marks regarding the economy and which way it will go in the year ahead, there are seemingly fewer of them. And this is a byproduct of the optimism (OK, guarded optimism) that is growing in intensity and bound to generate more progress in the year to come.

Briefcase Departments

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.”