Hungry for new business

MCLA's first Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge names healthy snacks the winner

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NORTH ADAMS — MJ Shannon isn't wasting any time.

"We start tomorrow," she told The Eagle after her idea won first place at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' first Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Shannon's health food business "LoCal" was one of four finalists in the student entrepreneur competition. The other three finalists included runner-up mobile app WiseEye, nonprofit educational program Taproot, and underwater GPS locator Aqua Bob.

The competition was sponsored by local philanthropists Jack and Lucy Wadsworth and the Pittsfield-based Feigenbaum Fund. Jack Wadsworth was one of the judges, alongside local business leader Nancy Fitzpatrick and Massachusetts Business Roundtable Executive Director J.D. Chesloff.

Lisa Donovan, professor of Arts Management at the college, told the crowd of around 80 that the judges' "deep expertise and willingness to collaborate" with the students was a positive aspect of the event. And college President James F. Birge said that the contest was a part of the school's mission of helping every student.

The presentations showed the students' attention to solving market and community problems. Each group showed off their solutions to an issue facing the Berkshires and the world at large. This competition is the first of what the school plans to be an annual event.

LoCal, which will offer low priced healthy snacks for on-the-go consumers, is the result of long-term planning. Shannon said the project is a dream she's had since growing up in North Adams.

"This has been my dream since I was 10 years old," Shannon said.

WiseEye proposed to use geotagging and augmented reality to give local businesses a chance to shine.

"It's an inexpensive high tech solution for local venues," said Daniel Heinen.

Taproot proposed an educational nonprofit to introduce local kids to STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. The nonprofit would use a combination of after school programs and summer camps to accelerate the educational benefits for local children.

Presenter Elizabeth Dawson told the judges that the lack of programs in north Berkshire county meant there was a gap the project could fill.

"We're adding to a market where there is a need," Dawson said.

Finally, the Aqua Bob team proposed a GPS locator for commercial fishing equipment. Every year, the group said, thousands of pieces of equipment go missing— the tracking system and corresponding phone application could solve this problem.

"This allows for social salvage," said Tenzin Khunkyen.

The judges praised each presentation and idea, but in the end it was LoCal that won with WiseEye as the runner up.

"This is a special moment," said Wadsworth before awarding the grand prize— a $10,000 check — to Shannon and her team.

Shannon and her partners AJ Cote, Avery Woodbury, Barbara Reeves, and Katrina Staaf are going to use the capital for purchasing a food truck and investing in permitting and insurance. The team will have a presence at local festivals this summer, Shannon told The Eagle.

"We need to be present," she said.

In his remarks before announcing the winner, Wadsworth summed up the hope of the event.

"The future is not in the big companies that dominate our economy," he said, "it's in the new ideas that are being developed here."

Reach staff writer Eoin Higgins at 413-496-6236 or @BE_EoinHiggins.


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