Nonprofit helps turn business dreams into reality

  • The out side of where Crave, owned by Nicole Ortiz, will open in Holyoke. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Totally Baked menu

  • Sandra Rubio, owner of Totally Baked in Holyoke, waits for permitting so she can take the next steps to opening her business. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sandra Rubio, owner of Totally Baked in Holyoke, waits for permitting so she can take the next steps to opening her business. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sandra Rubio, owner of Totally Baked in Holyoke, waits for permitting so she can take the next steps to opening her business. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sandra Rubio, owner of Totally Baked in Holyoke, is waiting for permitting so she can take the next steps to open her business. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sandra Rubio, owner of Totally Baked in Holyoke, waits for permitting so she can take the next steps to opening her business. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 2/24/2021 8:43:16 PM

When 47-year-old Sandra Rubio of Easthampton turned the key in the lock of her café space and took that first step into her new business, she was overwhelmed with pride and a sense of accomplishment.

“It was surreal,” Rubio said. “I immediately took pictures and sent them to my family members, saying, ‘Look what I’ve got!’”

Rubio’s bakery and café, Totally Baked 413, is the culmination of passion, hard work and the dedicated support of EforAll, (Entrepreneurship for All) a nonprofit entrepreneurial assistance program.

A first-time business owner, Rubio said that EforAll played a pivotal role in her journey from working in early childhood education, to creating her family-run bakery, which she says will open its doors at 206 Maple St. in Holyoke this March.

Rubio said that she began baking and selling cakes out of her home, but needed help in turning that side hustle into a profitable, sustainable business.

“I wasn’t a business-savvy person and I had no clue where to start,” she said. “I learned so much through EforAll, and this definitely would have been unattainable without them.”

Totally Baked 413 will feature custom cakes, pastries, sandwiches, salads, hot and cold beverages, some hot food selections, and a quick grab-and-go section.

“The best part of getting my location was when I brought my mom in for the first time,” Rubio said. “She got emotional because it was something that we have been working toward for a long time, and she and my dad had always wanted to own their own business.”

A family affair, her husband, Angel Rubio, and her daughter, Ashlynn Morales, 17, will be helping out as her parents, Ana and Felix Morales of Holyoke, cheer her on.

EforAll

Based in Lowell with nine locations across the state, the EforAll office opened in Holyoke in 2018, replacing a similar three-year grant program known as SPARK.

“I was running SPARK at the Chamber of Commerce for about two years and then led the transition to the Eforall model,” Tessa Murphy-Romboletti, EforAll executive director said.

Funded by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Working Cities Challenge Grant, SPARK was an initiative designed to demonstrate the need for inclusive entrepreneurial assistance programming.

As the grant was coming to an end, Murphy-Romboletti said she wanted to replace it with a program that would build on the SPARK model, continue to help people who are not typically supported in economic development, and provide long-term sustainability.

“Our mission at EforAll is about providing inclusive entrepreneurship,” she said. “We work with a lot of women, a lot of minority-owned businesses, and just folks that don’t always have the access to traditional forms of capital and education.”

EforAll offers a “Business Accelerator” program and a “Pitch” program. These programs are free and anyone with a desire to start or grow a business or nonprofit is encouraged to apply.

The Business Accelerator is a one-year program that is offered twice a year. It provides immersive business training, mentorship, access to professional networks, and opportunities for individual entrepreneurs to win seed money throughout the program.

The classes are offered in English or Spanish and each class or “cohort” can accommodate up to 15 people.

“We bring in a variety of different volunteers who cover topics related to starting a business, like customer discovery, marketing, websites and legal issues, all of those different things that go into starting a business,” Murphy-Romboletti said. “We also have a very strong mentorship program.”

Participants are assigned a team of three hand-picked mentors who meet with them for 90 minutes every week as they take the Accelerator classes.

“When you are an entrepreneur, it’s hard, and you struggle sometimes with all of the work and wonder if it is even worth it,” Rubio said. “Just having your mentors there gives you renewed motivation and that kick to keep going.”

After three months of classes, mentors continue to meet with entrepreneurs once a month as they work on their businesses. Cohort teams also meet once per quarter to share ideas, and get feedback and support.

“Even though our businesses weren’t the same, we still struggled with similar things. Being able to give each other support and encouragement and just knowing that we are all in this together was really, really valuable,” Rubio said.

Many people first hear about the Accelerator program through EforAll’s Pitch program.

The Pitch program is a free community event that enables budding entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to a panel of EforAll judges, local business owners, potential customers and community members.

Entrepreneurs are selected to give a 2½-minute presentation on their business idea, and the EforAll judges then award three cash prizes — $1,000 for first place, $750 for second place and $500 for third place. A fourth “fan favorite” cash prize of $500 is also awarded by audience vote.

Nicole Ortiz, owner of Crave Food Truck, was enrolled in the Holyoke Community College Culinary Program, when she first heard about EforAll from flyers posted on campus. The pitch program provided her with her first opportunity to serve her food and present her food truck idea to the public.

“I signed up in 2019 and I won first place for my pitch,” she said. “The $1,000 covered the cost for a pop-up food truck that I did at HCC last February.”

She then signed up for the Accelerator program and graduated in May 2020.

During the program she won a $500 progress pitch, which she used to get her LLC, and upon graduation, she won a $2,500 prize that she put toward getting her truck wrapped and purchasing a fire suppression system.

“When I entered the program, I just had an idea, I didn’t know how I was going to get the money or do anything,” Ortiz said. “They helped me bring everything together to start my business and figure out numbers, so I knew exactly what to expect going into it.”

Crave Food Truck sells Latin-inspired food and is now opening a takeout business in Holyoke called Crave.

“Holyoke Hummus Company are graduates of EforAll too, and they reached out to us and offered the opportunity to bunk up with them and share the kitchen,” Ortiz said. “So we jumped on that, and decided to prep our food there and open for takeout as well.

In fall 2020 Damaris Aponte of Holyoke pitched her idea of a cannabis delivery service. To her surprise, she walked away with $1,500, winning both first place and fan favorite.

“Winning the money was very helpful but the biggest boost was getting the support from the judges and the community,” Aponte said. “Having that community support meant everything and made me believe that I will be successful.”

Aponte said she used her prize money as a down payment for her business location on Cabot Street in Holyoke. She is currently waiting for her cannabis delivery license to come through this summer.

“The pitch contests are great for people like Damaris who have something that they are working on and want to get the word out,” Murphy-Romboletti said. “It gives them the confidence they need and helps them to get comfortable speaking about their business.”

EforAll is funded through a mix of sources including community development block grants and fundraising.

“We rely heavily on grant funding and we also have foundations that support us like the Mass Mutual Foundation, the Davis Foundation and a mix of corporate and individual sponsors,” Murphy-Romboletti said.

Located in a co-working space at 193 High St. in Holyoke, EforAll transitioned to a remote learning model when COVID-19 hit. Murphy-Romboletti said the transition was very smooth but that she looks forward to returning to High Street sometime next year.

Murphy-Romboletti said that the previous SPARK program graduated about 100 individuals and the EforAll program now has 65 graduates. She said that roughly 55% of those who have been through the two programs are still actively pursuing and operating their businesses.

“I get emotional when I see my entrepreneurs’ products on the shelves somewhere and I have to stop and take a picture,” she said. “It’s just so rewarding, because you are not only helping people start businesses, but you are also helping them become better leaders, and you see just how much they grow as individuals.”

The EforAll office is run by a three-person team consisting of Murphy-Romboletti and two program managers, one for English and one for Spanish.

“We are a small but fierce group,” she said.

The program works with about 150 volunteers who have a passion for helping small business owners in the Pioneer Valley.

“It takes a village to grow and entrepreneur and we have an amazing village,” Murphy-Romboletti said.




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