A new face among SouthCoast entrepreneurs

Posted Jan. 15, 2015 @ 2:01 am
By Steve Urbon, Standard-Times
First off, let me say that I think it was a wise move to drop the silly name Merrimack Valley Sandbox and change it to Entrepreneurship for All, or EforAll.
Second, the arrival of a new kid on the economic development block in SouthCoast can’t be a bad thing, and from what I am told EforAll is being welcomed with open arms by those who encourage self-starters.
It’s got some good credentials. For one thing, its executive director is David Parker, a Harvard MBA with amazing energy who was one of those who started, among other things, TripAdvisor, which you might have heard of. It trades on NASDAQ.
For the last few years Sandbox, or EforAll, has been targeting its efforts on the Lowell and Lawrence area, putting people with bright, ambitious ideas together with mentors and coaches who can help them make it happen.
After building some momentum, Parker’s group started looking around to scale up the operation and expand to new cities. In particular, they wanted something that resembled the situation in the Merrimack Valley. It was good to hear Parker say that it was Greg Bialecki, former Gov. Deval Patrick’s economic development secretary, who pointed EforAll in the direction of SouthCoast.
In recent weeks Parker and others have visited and held getting-to-know-you sessions with local business and civic leaders. Parker said he’s also looking for mentors, successful entrepreneurs or people with some particular expertise, such as accountants, who can spend a day getting ambitious people up to speed so they don’t fall flat.
“If you take a crowd of people and ask how many have an idea for a business or a product, half the hands go up,” Parker said. “We want people to share those ideas.”
And not in the matter of “Shark Tank” cable shows, either. Parker wants positivity. To keep the door open, everything’s free, he said. “There are no restrictions on who can apply and participate. If they drive here from the Cape or Providence, we’re happy to take them.”
Plus, “We intentionally keep the bar at zero so no one can say they didn’t come because of the cost,” he added.
We won’t know for a while what EforAll will do first, but it’s been busy scouting SouthCoast (all the while assuring Lowell and Lawrence that they’re still No.1 in EforAll’s book).
This is an important moment because it’s a fact that most people don’t have any idea of how to pursue a business vision. They might not even know what questions to ask. Their ideas need attention before they wither on the vine.
Derek Santos, New Bedford’s economic development director, is happy EforAll is coming to town with a three-year state commitment, and very charged up about it. So is Toby Stapleton, ‎assistant dean of the graduate programs at Charlton College of Business, who is chairman of a decade-old collaboration with UMass Dartmouth and the cities to promote entrepreneurship. Called the Southern New England Entrepreneurs Forum, it has a different business model, he thinks EforAll but will complement SNEEF nicely, even if there is a little duplication.
There are so many people who could use the guidance that a little duplication will help. “We cover a lot of ground figuratively and literally,” he said.
“This is the most exciting, rewarding job I have had in my career,” Parker told me, and I believe it. He is bound and determined to make that the case for a lot of other people. So get out the welcome mat, SouthCoast. We’ve got company.
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