New-business launcher EforAll raises $1M, offers mentors to county entrepreneurs

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This article has been updated with a new contact email for EforAll Berkshire County.

PITTSFIELD — A group of area civic, community and business leaders has raised $1 million to help launch new Berkshire County businesses through the incubator program EforAll.

The group announced the new push for entrepreneurs at a news conference Wednesday morning at Framework. EforAll is a startup launcher that got its beginning in 2010 and has since been replicated nine times in Massachusetts, including an EforAll program in Holyoke.

Locally, the group that helped launch EforAll Berkshire County consists of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the city of Pittsfield, the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp., Greylock Federal Credit Union, Mill Town Capital, 1Berkshire, The Feigenbaum Foundation, the Berkshire Bank Foundation, the Callahan Dee Family Foundation, the Shah Family Foundation, Common Capital and MassDevelopment.

The nonprofit program provides seed grants to qualifying entrepreneurs and lots of guidance via mentors. So far, EforAll, aka Entrepreneurship for All, has launched 350 businesses, with 83 percent of them still up and running, according to the organization's website.

Area leaders said Wednesday that they believe EforAll will help jump-start new businesses across Berkshire County.

"There are a lot of awesome days in the city of Pittsfield, and this is going to be one of those days," Mayor Linda Tyer said at the news conference.

Wherever there is a program, EforAll runs two, 15-member sessions that are 12 weeks long and feature insight from 20 specialists every year. During that time, the burgeoning business owner is paired with at least three mentors and learns how to develop business skills. EforAll will hold pitch contests across the county to help select business owners for the program.

EforAll targets people typically not represented in business ownership — women, people of color and immigrants. Participation in the program is free for businesses, and there are no contracts to sign with EforAll to receive help or grants, said EforAll CEO David Parker.

Parker said he is confident that EforAll will work for Berkshire County because of the already established cooperation among philanthropists, business leaders and area politicians.

"This is everyone we need to do the work in and around the country," Parker said. "I have no doubt it will work here."

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Because EforAll does not charge businesses for participating in the program and does not take an equity share, fundraising will be key to its continued work. The $1 million raised locally will keep the program going for three years, Parker estimated.

EforAll doesn't have a local headquarters yet, and likely won't have much of one in the future. Berkshire County EforAll Executive Director Deborah Gallant said she will be doing most of her work on the road, meeting entrepreneurs and connecting people to the right services and guidance.

"I'll be at every coffee shop from Williamstown to Otis," said Gallant, owner of East Chatham, N.Y.-based small business consulting firm Bold Business Works. "I want to be as close to entrepreneurs as possible."

Tyer said EforAll is a good fit for the city because it fills a need. Pittsfield already has a Red Carpet Team, which is dedicated to attracting businesses to the area, but more services are needed for people who want to start businesses.

"When we stand together we can be transformative," she said.

EforAll isn't the first business incubator to come to the area. That's part of the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp.'s mission as well. PERC President Jay Anderson noted that PERC is one of the contributors to EforAll and that he believes the new program is needed in Berkshire County.

EforAll might be able to offer more consistent guidance than PERC, which focuses on connecting people with financing.

"The thing people need most is not money, it's expertise. And if we can match that early on in the process, it will greatly enhance the success of the business," Anderson said.

Taconic Community Foundation President Peter Taylor said EforAll will directly help businesses, but it also will send a message to entrepreneurs.

"The community is behind you, that is the promise of this program," he said.

For more information, email Executive Director Deborah Gallant at deborah@eforall.org.

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @kristinpalpini.


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