(Caption: Desh Deshpande, founder of Merrimack Valley Sandbox)
How do we foster the next generation of entrepreneurs in Massachusetts? One sure way is to bring budding entrepreneurs together with seasoned entrepreneurs, business executives, government officials and academic leaders who are willing to share expertise, insights and encouragement about what it takes to thrive in the state’s robust innovation community.
Such was the setting at the second annual Merrimack Valley Sandbox Summit in Lowell this week, an inspiring gathering of creative thinkers, generous mentors and willing collaborators who are working to bring their ideas to market, thereby spurring economic growth at local and regional levels. Over 250 people attended the two-day summit, held at University of Massachusetts in Lowell.
Keynote speakers included Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts; Gururaj (Desh) Deshpande, founder of the Deshpande Foundation and the Merrimack Valley Sandbox; Akhil Nigam, founder and president of MassChallenge; and Poonam Ahluwalia, executive director of Youth Trade and YES Campaign.
Governor Patrick said that expanding opportunity for everyone across the state was a key to economic growth. By focusing on state investments in education, innovation and infrastructure, the Patrick Administration has a deliberate strategy to stimulate growth. “As I see it, growth is a choice…not something we leave to chance, not simply something we hope for, it’s something we work for and choose to bring about,” Patrick said.
“Entrepreneurship isn’t just technology – it is creative problem solving in context,” said Deshpande, a theme that echoed throughout the summit as speakers and participants agreed that entrepreneurial opportunities were to be found in all sectors of society and industry.
This year’s theme was “Entrepreneurship for All,” which Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki described as “a robust strategy for how we grow the Commonwealth’s economy. Programs like the Merrimack Valley Sandbox are bringing people together focused on choosing growth and innovation, enhancing the competitiveness of the state’s innovation industry for generations to come.”
A highlight of the summit was the pitch contests, which featured the region’s top entrepreneurs squaring off against each other for a chance to win cash prizes to fuel their work.
Participants said the summit was an ideal opportunity for like-minded individuals to gather and share information, ideas and encouragement in a room full of other focused, creative, problem-solving people.
“Massachusetts prides itself on our collaborative approach to economic development, an effort led by the Patrick Administration and the Legislature,” said Patrick Larkin, Director of the Innovation Institute at MassTech Collaborative. “That spirit of cooperation and inclusion is fully on display here today.”
The Sandbox Summit was organized by the Merrimack Valley Sandbox, with sponsorship support from the Deshpande Foundation and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, through the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.