Last week, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito joined executives from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to announce $700,722 in grants from the ‘Pathways to Scale’ program, an effort from the Commonwealth to boost tech and innovation companies emerging from the startup phase and poised for growth. The four grants will help build or expand mentorship programs statewide that support ‘scaling companies’ and aim to increase the survival rate of innovative, high-growth companies across Massachusetts.
The four awards include three grants to the UMass Lowell Research Institute, MassChallenge, and TiE Boston, as well as a planning grant for a project led by the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts in partnership with Meristem Partners, FORGE, and Berkshire Innovation Center. Each project will develop and launch programs, deploying seasoned mentors to support companies in the later stages of the entrepreneurial journey. They will also help address growing pains related to market access, revenues, and employees, which can hinder corporate growth.
“Massachusetts has become a hub of innovation for start-up tech companies, and we want to do more to help these organizations thrive here in the Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Providing these companies with mentorship opportunities will jump-start their growth and bring them even closer to their long-term goals.”
“Businesses don’t succeed alone – it takes high-quality education, funding from local investment firms and strategic partnerships to get them off the ground,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “These funds will allow organizations to push past the roadblocks of business today to grow their workforces, find creative solutions to our state’s challenges and excel in a modern business environment.”
Through the work of the Innovation Institute at MassTech, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative has supported entrepreneur mentor programs statewide focused on the acceleration of early-stage startups. Evidence from the Innovation Institute’s work and its sponsored research report with MIT’s Industrial Performance Center titled “Growing Innovative Companies to Scale,” indicates that more work needs to be done to support high-growth companies in the post-acceleration stages. The “presence of business networks, mentors, and role models” with experience launching and scaling companies was identified as a critical ingredient f0r Massachusetts companies looking to professionalize operations and grow headcount, revenue, or market capitalization.
“These projects provide mentorship resources to firms in key tech and innovation sectors,” said Carolyn Kirk, Executive Director of MassTech.“The four grantees have demonstrated an ability to bolster emerging companies and have the networks of expert mentors to help them scale up quickly.”
The grants, totaling $700,722, were awarded to four projects, including three full grants and one planning grant:
UMass Lowell Research Institute (UMLRI) – ‘Commercialization Academy’
- Amount: $129,381
- Timeline: 12 months
- Overview: The UMLRI is a Department of Defense (DoD)-focused emerging technology hub that provides innovative solutions for aerospace & defense industry partners. The “Commercialization Academy” is a mentorship and growth support program tailored to support Massachusetts-based companies offering dual-use technology solutions for both DoD and commercial applications. Over the course of one year, the Academy will deliver 1:1 mentorship and a phased curriculum of six key challenge areas: executive management, intellectual property, selling to DoD, commercial sales, navigating Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, and cost accounting.
MassChallenge – ‘Mentoring for Scale’
- Amount: $190,176
- Timeline: 12 months
- Overview: MassChallenge’s ‘Mentoring for Scale’ program will match executives of scale-up organizations with experienced leaders who identify as executive-level and/or have founder experience who can provide one-to-one leadership coaching over the course of a six-month period. MassChallenge will target their vast network of over 480 Mass.-based alumni who have expressed the need for post-accelerator growth support, mentoring, and executive coaching. Companies supported by the program fall into two categories of scale: 1) deployment startups that are focused on growing and retaining customers while raising their Series A; and 2) distribution startups that are focused on scaling and diversifying their offerings while raising a Series B to fund explosive growth. MassChallenge will run a pilot cohort from July-December 2021, to be followed by a 2nd cohort from January-June 2022.
TiE Boston – ‘TiE ScaleUp’
- Amount: $181,050
- Timeline: 12 months
- Overview: TiE Boston aims to expand the reach and capacity of their ‘TiE ScaleUp’ program, a sector-agnostic accelerator that helps scaling companies overcome typical barriers to growth by helping them optimize their strategic positioning, operations, sales, and competitive advantage. Each scaling company will be matched with two mentors who are trained to become fractional C-suite team members. Companies are guided through a curriculum including topics on attracting and retaining talent, sales, pricing & packaging, product management, company culture, and other topics relevant to scaling.
Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts (WMEDC) – ‘Western MA Mentor Network’
- Amount: $50,000 planning grant, $149,605 reserved conditionally.
- Timeline: 12 months
- Overview: WMEDC, in close partnership with Meristem Partners, FORGE, and Berkshire Innovation Center, is spearheading the initiative to create the ‘Western MA Mentor Network.’ The Mentor Network is a curated mentorship program focused on supporting the growth of scale up-ready companies in the four counties of western Massachusetts (Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, Berkshire). The proposed network consists of three main components: a peer-to-peer founders network, a mentor training network, and a curated mentor matching program. The Network would be the foundation for a sustainable and diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem in Western Mass that creates a virtuous cycle where scaling executives remain in the region, support the local economy, and foster more entrepreneurs. An additional $149,605 has been reserved conditionally to expand the project award, based on the outcomes of the planning grant.
The event, hosted at UMass Lowell’s Northstar Campus in Lincoln, featured welcoming remarks from UMass Lowell Vice Chancellor for Research Julie Chen and a roundtable of executives from the four grantees. Also in attendance were several local companies that will benefit from the grants. Boston-based Pison will work with UMass Lowell Research Institute to advance their applied nerve-sensing and insights platform, and Brookline’s Voatz, an alumnus of MassChallenge, will work to further develop the company’s secured mobile voting platform.
“UMass Lowell is grateful to Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and the Mass Tech Collaborative for supporting our outstanding researchers whose expertise has helped many companies advance their knowledge and capabilities,” said Chancellor Jacquie Moloney. “This funding will only accelerate our efforts to build strong businesses here in the Commonwealth.”
“MassChallenge is excited to join the initiative with MassTech to support founders scaling up their businesses,” said Hope Hopkins, managing director for MassChallenge New England. “Founders are often met with overwhelming amounts of advice about how to grow their business, but not about how to develop personally as leaders. Readily available coaching is cost-prohibitive for most entrepreneurs. It leaves behind some organizations led by members of underrepresented populations, including many that may not have the means or connections to invest in their own leadership skills. The Pathways to Scale Grant will enable MassChallenge to connect with our alumni founders and offer them critical personalized leadership coaching.”
“TiE members represent every aspect of Boston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Anu Chitrapu, President of TiE Boston. “ScaleUp leverages this immense combined power to turbo-charge new startups and help them find success.”
“Innovation and diversity are two of the founding principles of the business community in Western Massachusetts,” said Kate Putnam of Meristem Partners. “These grants, along with a coalition of organizations including the EDC, Meristem, FORGE, and BIC, will ensure emerging businesses have the depth of mentorship that companies in the region deserve, so that high-growth startups that launch in Western Mass are able to stay – and thrive – here in the Bay State.”
The Innovation Institute has shepherded numerous programs that bolster the growth of innovative companies statewide, including targeted investments in research and development infrastructure, workforce development programs that fund internships at startups and boosting diverse talent in the state, and programs that boost emerging sectors in the Commonwealth.
“I am thrilled that the UMass Lowell Research Institute will receive a Pathways to Scale grant,” said Rep. Thomas M. Stanley. “I applaud the Innovation Institute for its efforts to meet the needs of local entrepreneurs and encourage community-building and networking.”
About the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative
The MassTech Collaborative is a quasi-public economic development agency that strengthens the competitiveness of the tech and innovation economy by driving strategic investments, partnerships, and insights that harness the talent of Massachusetts. The Innovation Institute is the division of MassTech that advances its core mission of innovation and cluster growth across the Commonwealth. Created in 2003, the Innovation
Institute intervenes in the economy in the following four ways:
- Conducts research and analysis that improves the state’s understandings of unmet needs and opportunities in the innovation economy;
- Serves as convener and key strategic broker on the landscape;
- Manages high-value projects on behalf of the Commonwealth; and
- Makes strategic investments in support of innovation-based economic development.