PITTSFIELD — How to make the county's growing innovation economy more inclusive.
That will be a central question to be explored this week as small business accelerator Lever holds its 2021 Innovation Summit Thursday and Friday at the Berkshire Innovation Center.
This year's event includes three keynote speeches, the finals of Lever's current Berkshire Intrapreneur Challenge, and a first look at Blackshires, a new community-owned platform of media, education and events designed for the Berkshire BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) community to connect in one place.
Innovating for inclusion is among the themes of this year's event which will take place in five sessions held over the two-day time span, and will be presented in a hybrid format. Participants can attend in-person, watch via Zoom or both.
The Blackshires program will be introduced during the summit's second session on Thursday, which takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. That session will also include a keynote address by Kenn Turner, the CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center in Boston.
John Lewis, the co-founder and CEO of R3SET Enterprises, who helped develop Blackshires, said Thursday's presentation will serve as a "very soft launch" of the Blackshires program, held to introduce the beginning of the digital aspects of the actual platform to the public for the first time.
Blackshires is a platform for Black community empowerment and transformation, according to its website. It is a community-owned digital space that creates a place for Black community members to connect easily, and encourages cooperation on issues faced by the community between organizations and other community stakeholders. Turner will speak on diversity and inclusion in the state's health technology sector.
Thursday's first session, which starts at 1 p.m. features the finals of the Berkshire Intrapreneur Challenge. The four finalists, all Berkshire-based entities, will compete for the $25,000 first place prize, an innovation grant from Lever, by participating in a "Shark Tank"-style pitch contest before a panel of expert judges. It concludes with a keynote address at 4 p.m. by Steve Neilsen, the CEO of Dyson Industries of Palm Beach, Fla.
Friday's first session, which begins at 9 a.m., includes presentations by five business executives: Angela Dixon, Berkshire Bank's chief diversity officer; Deborah Gallant, the executive director of Entrepreneurship for All-Berkshires; and Mary Imeybore, Brandale Randolph and Evaguel Rhysing, the CEOs of Waeve, 1856 Cycling Co. and United Aircraft Technology, respectively.
The presentations will be followed by a keynote speech from Carolyn A. Kirk, the executive director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, at noon. The event's fifth and final session, a panel discussion on inclusive strategies for workforce development, will takes place at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
Admission to the Innovation Summit is free, but pre-registration to the event(s) that participants plan to attend is preferred. To register, go to leverinc.org/innovation-summit-2021/.