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NORTH ADAMS — A Berkshire-based business accelerator is planning to launch another entreprenurial-style challenge, but this one includes an environmental component to complement the economic aspects.

Lever has received a $65,000 grant from the Baker-Polito administration to create a support network for the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership, an initiative that involves 21 municipalities in Berkshire and Franklin counties and several regional nonprofit organizations.

The Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership is a grassroots effort to help conserve forestland, and enhance land-based economic development opportunities like recreational tourism and sustainable forestry to help increase the revenue streams in rural communities located along the state's border with New York and Vermont.

Three Berkshire municipalities, Adams, New Ashford and North Adams, each has received $20,000 state grants to fund a variety of ventures associated with the project. In total, the state has provided $225,000 in project funding to Lever, the three Berkshire municipalities and five towns in Franklin County.

Lever will use its money to create the Mohawk Trail Entrepreneurial Challenge, which is intended to create a regional support network for entrepreneurs looking to launch or expand innovative businesses within the parameters of this new initiative.

"Similar format, but definitely a different theme," Lever Executive Director Jeffery Thomas said about the new event in Lever's business challenge series, contests that Lever has been holding since its inception in 2014.

"There are two prongs to the mission," he said. "One is to conserve and sustainably manage the woodland resource. The other is to do economic development related to that resource. That's where we fit in."

The Mohawk Trail Entreprenurial Challenge will follow the same format that Lever has used in its previous events. It will select a group of companies that make products associated with the partnership, provide them with mentorship, then select a smaller group of finalists who will participate in a pitch contest to select a winner chosen by a panel of independent judges. The winning project will receive $25,000 from Lever to help with bringing the product to fruition.

"We'll take them through what, for us, is our standard kind of program," Thomas said. "We'll hold workshops with mentors to validate their ideas, talk to customers to get them market traction, then prepare them for the pitch competition."

The date for the pitch contest has yet to be set, but Thomas said Lever is "looking to do it in February."

"We're going to keep it as open as much as we can," Thomas said, referring to the eligibility requirements for companies that are interested in participating in the Mohawk Trail challenge. "The business concepts have to relate somehow to the woodland resource. They could be eco-tourism, they could be sustainable forest product concepts. But, we're hoping to be surprised by some of these ideas, so we don't want to be too specific about what we're looking for."

In the Berkshires, Adams received money for a forests and climate education project that will design kiosks for trailheads at the Greylock Glen Conservation Area and prepare preliminary designs for the forest center that is envisioned for the Mohawk Trail Woodland Partnership.

New Ashford will use its money to improve trails and parking along a town road to connect the town to Mount Greylock State Reservation for the first time. North Adams has received money to create and market a citywide trail map designed to draw more tourists to the Steeple City for hiking and walking. The other Berkshire County towns involved in the partnership are Cheshire, Clarksburg, Peru, Windsor and Williamstown.

The Berkshire Natural Resources Council, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and the Hoosic River Watershed Association also are members of the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership.

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-2755.


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