Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll) is accelerating economic and social impact through entrepreneurship in the cities of Lowell & Lawrence, Massachusetts.
EforAll started in December 2010 as the Merrimack Valley Sandbox, a non-profit with initial funding from the Deshpande Foundation. The Deshpande Foundation at that time had two other successful programs up and going at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Hubli Sandbox in Hubli, India. Both the MIT and Hubli programs encouraged entrepreneurship as a means to improve communities, and building on that success, the Deshpande Foundation decided to try to use entrepreneurship to help the cities of Lowell and Lawrence MA, both of which were struggling with high unemployment in the shadow of the very visible entrepreneurial activity 30 miles away in Boston.
The Merrimack Valley Sandbox recruited many education, non-profit, government, and business partners in Lowell and Lawrence. These organizations, including most notably UMass Lowell and Enterprise Bank, contributed considerable volunteer hours, advice, facilities, contacts, and sponsorship funds, and EforAll would not be where it is today with all of these partners.
Initial programs started by the Sandbox included a student program targeting local high school and college students (the “Catalyst” program). Students were given initial funding for business or non-profit ideas and then participated in a Showcase, where at dozens of tables the students explained their ideas and progress to hundreds of attendees. Eventually many non-profit agencies and schools adopted entrepreneurship into their own programs, encouraging students to come up with ideas and then helping them achieve them. UMass Lowell’s DifferenceMaker program, Middlesex Community College’s Entrepreneurship Program, YouthBuild Lowell’s entrepreneurship class, GroundWorksLawrence’s farmstand program – all of these started or grew through the Sandbox’s Catalyst program. EforAll now encourages students of all ages to apply to its programs; we’ve had a 14 year old present at our pitch contest and a number of college students participate in our accelerator programs!
The Merrimack Valley Sandbox also launched the Sandbox Leadership Institute, which is now the Mill City Leadership Institute. Todd Fry, the founding Executive Director of the Sandbox, led the Leadership Institute, which over the course of nine months led local executives and concerned citizens through a period of discovery of their cities and themselves, with the goal of helping these individuals achieve leadership success in their careers and personal lives. After two years Lawrence Community Works took over management of Mill City Leadership Institute, with Fry as its head, and the Institute continues to inform and educate and develop leaders.
In September 2014, EforAll changed its name from the Merrimack Valley Sandbox to better reflect its mission and give the organization a name that will let it add new cities and regions. Current programs include:
- Entrepreneurial awareness building events, including Pitch Contests, Workshops, Entrepreneur Talks, and Mixers
- Twice yearly Accelerator Programs, where 15-20 entrepreneurs work with mentors and experts to move their ventures forward quickly. A $30,000 prize pool awaits some of the graduates at the end of each 12 week program; the goal is to help the entrepreneurs make it through that critical first year of building their venture.
- First in the Nation Spanish language entrepreneurship programs including Pitch Contests (Concurso Pitch “Lanza Tu Idea”), Workshops, and Entrepreneur Talks
- Co-Working Space for local entrepreneurs, at the EforAll office in Lowell at 175 Cabot Street, Suite 100. Up to 20 entrepreneurs take advantage of EforAll programs and have 24/7 access to workspaces, conference rooms, printers, WiFi, and a shared ktichen, all for $200/month per person (plus parking).