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Entrepreneurs Pitch Their Innovative Education, Environment, And Human Services Ideas

Press Release

On September 13th, the Merrimack Valley Sandbox, an initiative of the Deshpande Foundation, held its third pitch contest at Chester’s- Bell Tower Square in Lawrence, MA. The contest was focused on entrepreneurs with education, environment, and human services ideas. During the contest, eight selected finalists (of forty-seven applicants) squared off in front of five judges and over one-hundred audience members for over $2,000 in cash prizes. The winners included:

•    1st Place ($1000)-Jessica Wilson (resident of Lawrence, MA)
Videographer Startup Boost:  offers video and social media entrepreneurs training in videography, editing, social media services, customer service, and business development.

•    2nd Place ($750) & Fan Favorite ($500)- Nicolette Nordin Heavey (resident of Andover, MA)
Stories in the Streets:  brings storytelling and books to families and children in various locations in Lawrence, including playgrounds, farmer’s markets, and food bank lines.

•    3rd Place ($500)- Harlyene D. Goss (resident of Methuen, MA)
Emergency Medical Info Kits: provides individual’s emergency contact information and medical history data readily available in a magnetic vinyl envelope in case of a medical emergency.    

“This is the start of this idea” said Jessica Wilson, the first place winner of the pitch contest.  “I’m thrilled that other people think it’s a good idea too and now I know we can make it happen!”

Boston-based Sevan Chorluyan of Bell Tower Foods was impressed by the spirit of innovation on display in the Merrimack Valley, “There’s a definite charm about it, smaller cities building up their infrastructure for this kind of thing. It’s cool. You get the sense that the people involved really care about it.”

During the contest, finalists received feedback about their ideas from a special panel of judges that included:   

•    Anita Worden – Chairwoman, Solectria Renewables
•    Frank Carvalho – Executive Director, Mill Cities Community Investments
•    Adam Baacke – Assistant City Manager, City of Lowell
•    Jean Hammond – Angel Investor/Entrepreneur
•    Nathan Rothstein – President, Project Repat

“I think it (pitch contest) plays a vital role in bringing together different assets and resources in the community in order to help people that want to start a business to get the resources that they need to become successful.”, said Frank Carvalho, Executive Director of Mill Cities Community Investments, and a judge at the Sandbox Pitch Contest.

"The Deshpande Foundation has been proud to support the efforts of the Merrimack Valley Sandbox (MVS) as it helps identify local community based entrepreneurs", said Raj Melville, Executive Director of the foundation. "We hope the MVS will be able to guide these teams as they take their ideas and implement them in the Merrimack Valley and thereby strengthen the entrepreneurial fabric of the region."

This is a community wide initiative supporting entrepreneurship. More than 30 partner organizations and institutions are participating including the City of Lawrence, the City of Lowell, the Merrimack Valley YMCA, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

The initiative aims to give entrepreneurs a greater chance at success through pitch contests, workshops, and intensive programs. Between May and September of this year, the Merrimack Valley Sandbox is holding a series of five pitch contests. Of the three pitch contests held so far, there have been over 100 applications, over 300 people in attendance, and $6,000 in cash prizes given out. On October 4, 2012, there will be a pitch contest where all ideas will be welcome.  The pitch contest series will conclude on October 18 at the “Winner’ Showdown”. Selected winners from all four pitch contests will square off for $10,000 in cash prizes.

Starting in December, the Merrimack Valley Sandbox will be hosting a 12-week Mini-Accelerator for start-ups in the Merrimack Valley. This program will have mentors, workshops, and a space for entrepreneurs to work in. It will all lead to a business-plan competition with significant cash prizes.

For more information, please visit: MVSandbox.org.

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