OCTOBER SPOTLIGHT   /   Economic Opportunity 

 Valerie Chisom (right) of Lee, Mass., explains her business idea at EforAll Berkshire County's inaugural pitch contest Oct. 22 at the Berkshire Museum. Photo by John Dolan.
A Closer Look at Economic Opportunity 
As our economy continues to shift, the need for high-quality jobs remains a primary concern for residents of all ages, incomes and education levels. Jobs and career advancement opportunities are critical factors in residents' decisions to stay in -- or consider leaving -- our extraordinary region. 
While philanthropy can never be an engine of job creation, it can play a vital role in bringing partners together to develop strategies that improve the conditions for the economy to grow and residents to prosper. With our decision to pursue economic opportunity as a strategic priority, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation is dedicating time and resources to partnerships that will support strong, local economies, spur inclusive growth and leave fewer residents behind. 
What We're Learning
Community foundations have a unique opportunity to use the power of convening for social impact. In Berkshire County, where cross-sector commitment is well established and planning processes are robust, we gathered economic development leaders to explore ways BTCF could help support business development -- especially in lower-income, under-represented and immigrant communities. 

To get started, we commissioned research from Next Street, an advisory firm that helps drive small business growth to create more equitable economic development. We wanted to know more about the landscape for small business and entrepreneurs, since both are so important for fostering local economies and supporting neighborhoods and communities. Next Street's research revealed important findings: 
  • The business support environment -- from incubators to chambers of commerce to co-working spaces -- is somewhat fragmented in Berkshire County.
  • These organizations are high caliber, but they are under resourced and primarily focused on economic development, with few providing direct service to entrepreneurs.
  • There is an opportunity to attract, fund and/or establish additional entrepreneurial supports (e.g., incubators, accelerators) to fill a gap in the marketplace.  
A smaller planning group of civic, business and economic development partners examined these findings closely. Together, we focused on identifying opportunities to increase the breadth and depth of services and supports for emerging entrepreneurs, in ways that complement existing programs and contribute to business growth. 

What We're Doing
On August 17, we announced that Entrepreneurship for All, or EforAll, has launched in Berkshire County. EforAll is a statewide organization with a proven model for supporting emerging entrepreneurs, especially those from communities that are traditionally overlooked for economic investment. It currently operates in smaller cities (such as Lowell) and regions (such as the South Coast) like ours where partners are pursuing economic revitalization strategies. EforAll has a track record of helping residents turn their promising ideas into successful businesses and transforming communities into inclusive and thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems. [ Read a cover story in this month's Berkshire Trade & Commerce.]

Leaders gathered in August for the EforAll launch
With its focus on the untapped potential of residents, EforAll takes a uniquely inclusive approach to economic development. Women and minorities, immigrants and those previously unemployed are the important faces of EforAll. 

The program has a few key elements:
  • Pitch Contests: Pitch contests bring budding entrepreneurs together with seasoned business leaders to share their ideas, get feedback and compete for funding. The first such event was just held in Pittsfield, with others planned for early 2020.
  • Accelerator Program: An intensive, 12-week accelerator program provides each entrepreneur with: a full year of support from three mentors, a group of peers and other local experts; knowledge of "bootstrapping," or building a company from the ground up; and a chance to win seed money for startup. [ Applications for the program are now being accepted.]
  • Networks: After launch, participants have access to an alumni network, co-working space and financial guidance.
EforAll is already transforming lives across Massachusetts. Residents who previously lacked knowledge and access to networks are now successful entrepreneurs with viable businesses. Communities that were searching for ways to create a more welcoming path for people with big ideas are now reaping social and economic benefits.  Since 2013, EforAll alumni have created 350 new startups and over 680 jobs, raised $21.2 million and generated $19.7 million in revenue. EforAll startups are 75% women owned, 56% minority owned and 54% immigrant owned. An impressive 83% of teams are still active.

To launch EforAll Berkshire County, a funder group that includes BTCF and several of our donors raised over $1 million for the first three years of operation. The City of Pittsfield/PERC, Greylock Federal Credit Union, 1Berkshire, Mill Town Capital, Common Capital, the Feigenbaum Foundation, the Berkshire Bank Foundation, and Jill and Niraj Shah of Wayfair joined us in this effort. As a result of this public-private partnership, EforAll Berkshire County is now open to residents, mentors and other partners countywide. And that, we hope, is just the beginning.  
Canaan Selectman Christian Allyn coordinated a community hub with grant funding
Last year, BTCF also launched a small grantmaking initiative for p rojects that promote and strengthen the conditions for economic opportunity, town center development and affordable housing in our four-county region.  Five organizations have been part of our Community Development Collaborations initiative. Earlier this month, we got them together at a forum to share learning to date from projects such as revitalizing storefront businesses in Philmont and piloting pop-up hubs in two northwest Litchfield County towns that brought together residents  to address common issues. Participants agreed that building cross-sector partnerships, engaging residents and bringing visibility to these topics are key factors to create lasting change. 

Working Together
Our strategic priorities are the building blocks for a stronger region. They help us sharpen our direction, identify and fund community projects, and create partnerships to help make life here even better. We invite you to join us. 
Spotlights are an occasional series of e-newsletters focused on Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation's strategic priorities. You can update your email preferences by clicking on the Update Profile link at the bottom of this email.