By Mike Lawrence
August 19. 2015 8:01PM
NEW BEDFORD — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren told a small gathering of local business leaders Wednesday that “New Bedford is clearly building a future around entrepreneurship,” encouraging innovation and sharing ideas in a space designed for that exact purpose.
More than 20 people sweated in summer heat while fans whirred in the under-construction Groundwork space at the Quest Center, where Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, spoke briefly and took a quick tour on a swing through SouthCoast.
She got a firsthand look at New Bedford’s entrepreneurial potential, as several speakers spoke about needs, challenges and successes in the local startup and small business communities.
INEX Advisors founder Christopher Rezendes, for example, said New Bedford is an ideal location for his technology consultancy and an affiliated Internet of Things “impact lab” downtown, in Bristol Community College space in the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Center for Visual and Performing Arts. The location is known informally as the Star Store.
Rezendes said the impact lab will work with tech startups to develop and pilot their products, and is expecting to have a formal launch next month. He put a water well sensor in Warren’s hands to demonstrate one such product, made by Milwaukee-based Wellntel.
The well sensors can provide information about groundwater levels and sources before farmers, homeowners or other well users pump water. The sensors are an example of the Internet of Things, or the merging of physical objects with network technology.
Rezendes told Warren that there’s a need for “someone like you to champion the idea that future leaders will come from everywhere.”
Ramon Silva, director of financial incentives and senior lending officer for the New Bedford Economic Development Council (EDC), said the EDC is working to foster future business leaders.
Silva said as of July, the EDC had a portfolio of 77 loans totaling nearly $3.9 million, with minority- and women-owned businesses representing about 40 percent of borrowers.
Danielle Cyr DeFrias, director of business development for Boston-based digital agency Pidalia, said most of the agency’s key staff lives in New Bedford, and she’s hoping to strengthen the ability of local workers to stay in SouthCoast.
“One of the challenges we face as a very small business is attracting and retaining talented staff in the New Bedford area,” she said. “Everyone wants to go to Boston.”
To that end, she said, she and others will be hosting a “Night Shift” lecture series at Groundwork this fall, to develop ideas for building local business.
Groundwork is a shared office facility that provides space and resources for startups, freelancers and others.
“This is a city that has the right pieces in place — it has the right bones,” Warren said. “It’s exciting to see the collaboration here, the partnership.”
By Mike Lawrence