Being an entrepreneur means living as a bridge builder between dreams and reality. Entrepreneurs are great at seeing opportunity and capitalizing on it either socially or financially (or preferably both!), regardless of the apparent obstacles and curve balls that life can throw. Tonight I had the chance to meet quite a few people who fit right into this definition.
The UMass Lowell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship alongside Merrimack Valley Sandbox, put on an event at Middlesex Community College where four local entrepreneurs were showcased and shared their wealth of knowledge. The premise of such events is to foster a community of innovation in the region. From near-failures to sustained companies, each story was unique in itself and shed light on the difficulties that are a common thread for start-ups.
First up was Glynn Lloyd of City Fresh Foods. Since 1994, his company has strived to provide excellent foods to the local communities with a emphasis on cost-effectiveness, without succumbing to the ever-present pressures to lower quality. City Fresh Foods now serves overs 8,000 meals per day to schools, businesses and the elderly. Anyone who has ever eaten “school lunch” knows the status quo for a <$2 meal, and Glynn is well on his way to change that. Who knew inexpenssive food can be nutritious, locally sourced and healthy?
On the topic of locally sourced food, Jennifer Hashley of New Entry Sustainable Farming is changing the game. Her company is born from the idea of community supported agriculture (CSA), or farming that is conscientious of its effects on workers, the environment, the animals, and the consumers. There truly is a hidden price we all pay for those goods at the supermarket and raising awareness is key to solving the problem. That and creating the ecosystem that supports CSA from all angles is what her initiative is geared towards.
All this talk about food is making me crave a good slice of pizza. And no, I’m not talking about some cookie-cutter cardboard sauce-laced concoction for a cheap price. I’m talking quality, like the pizza at Espresso Pizza in Lowell MA. Frank Carvalho is one of the owners of the shop and his passion and dedication show in the results. But what really struck me as remarkable about him was his company Mill Cities Community Investments. MCCI aims to provide financial services and loans to under-served people and companies, filling the voids that big banks leave. His knowledge of finances and capital have been instrumental in creating a viable business that is socially conscious and sustainable.
Lastly was the youngest of the bunch, a fellow Riverhawk Sam Antonaccio. His creative idea, while still in the early stages, is an ambitious project to create an interactive experience for people looking to explore Lowell’s history. Using a smartphone or tablet, users will be able to have a real time history lesson based on their location and the surrounding landmarks. Though there is still much to be worked out, he has been making headway with the help of the entrepreneurial community and I look forward to using his product.
Though each of the presenters were different in their history, they all share the same characteristics that any successful entrepreneur needs to have. Passion, creativity, and a never-satisfied appetite for a better future are part of what has made them achievers. Luckily these traits can be nurtured in all of us, and with a little sweat equity, our pipe dreams can actually see the light of day. It can be done, and they’re proving it.