Friday, March 14, 2014
If rookies can benefit from great coaches, so too can budding entrepreneurs from great mentors. A four-year-old regional program called Valley Venture Mentors is being recognized by the state for success in helping early-stage entrepreneurs in western Massachusetts launch their companies.
The Springfield-based program creates a link between the college classrooms where ideas are born and the real world, where ideas either flourish or, as is the case for seven out of 10 startups, fail. It pairs fledgling entrepreneurs with professional mentors who share expertise and experience, help new businesses vet ideas and provide support through the challenging startup process.
Valley Venture Mentors since 2011 has served more than 30 entrepreneurs and is preparing to support its eighth class of startups. It’s a proven model that recently caught the attention of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which this year awarded Valley Venture Mentors $150,000 to open up new opportunities for others.
A key component involves creating a co-working space for entrepreneurs. These shared work spaces are rare in the western part of the state, but have helped fuel the tech boom in eastern Massachusetts. Such spaces are important because they allow entrepreneurs to interact with each another and keep startup costs down.
This is important work. While we’d all love to see a major employer set up shop in western Massachusetts, bringing hundreds of jobs with it, that’s unlikely. But the Valley has a solid knowledge base and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. Efforts like Valley Venture Mentors can be a catalyst for economic development. Programs for startups can help them become sound and productive small businesses.
There are other programs that address this challenge. One of Valley Venture Mentors’ co-founders is now executive director of Click Workspace Inc. in Northampton. Click Workspace creates shared space for developers, freelancers, entrepreneurs and others who want to work individually but also want a spot to swap ideas.
Click Workspace also offers courses to help entrepreneurs develop ideas, identify and secure funding and make pitches to venture capitalists and angel investors.
Since 2011, the nonprofit has grown to 35 members and is now looking for larger quarters in downtown Northampton.
There’s another benefit behind these creative relationships. They help keep talented people and businesses rooted here, and illustrate that the Pioneer Valley has much to offer, including a strong network to support spirited entrepreneurs.