12 local startups win space, mentors

posted: Mar 31, 2015

Twelve startups founded by locally educated entrepreneurs will spend the next year trying to get off the ground in Worcester.

That is thanks to StartUp Worcester, an “initiative (that) helps to incubate new businesses to retain the bright young graduates of the area’s college and universities. StartUp Worcester encourages them to grow their business here – where they have access to everything they need to succeed,” according to the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Tim Murray, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer, wants these local graduates to stay in the heart of Massachusetts. As he said, “The goal is to retain … bright, young entrepreneurs and encourage them to grow their business here – in Worcester – where they will soon learn that they have access to everything they need to succeed, including a well-educated and trained workforce”

Slightly more than half the people who applied were accepted. According to Karen Pelletier, director of Higher Education-Business Partnerships, StartUp Worcester received 23 applications from seven campuses.

Twelve companies were accepted – five from Clark University, two from Becker College, two from WPI, one each from Worcester State University and Holy Cross, and one WPI/Worcester State team.

Each of StartUp Worcester’s partners was represented on the group that decided on the winners – the chamber, Running Start and Venture Forum, and sponsors DarrowEverett and Commerce Bank, according to Ms. Pelletier.

As she explained, “The committee looked at their potential for business viability and growth, business model, potential for obtaining funding, team readiness, filling a need in marketplace and if they would benefit from the program.”

The one-year StartUp Worcester membership includes “space at Running Start and membership in the Chamber and The Venture Forum affording them access to a variety of tools, events and resources to help them succeed. They also get a mentor from SCORE,” noted Ms. Pelletier.

And Startup Worcester hopes that many of the companies go from concept to job-creating growth. As Ms. Pelletier argued, “Many companies are in the idea stage and growing their ideas into a company. It seems likely that with that growth will come additional staff.”

I will interview each of the companies to learn more about their plans and growth potential. In the meantime, here are the 12 companies.

From Becker College, there are two gaming companies. Petricore Games is “a game development company, focused on creating high quality mobile games and applications,” according to its LinkedIn page. Zephyr Workshop is “dedicated to (creating) new, innovative and exciting strategy games,” according to its web site.

Clark’s five companies cover a broader range of products.

Agraponics LLC is a “biotech and agriculture start-up in the product development phase. Products and services include food production systems for industrial/commercial and consumer/retail markets.”

ISLA International is a “corporate start-up that focuses on finding sustainable solutions to contemporary development challenges. Specializing in ‘Sustainable Island Engineering and Development’ through energy, water, and food infrastructure projects that promote community empowerment and resiliency to climate change.”

The Fashion Cookbook is “a fashion and lifestyle blog featuring an image consulting service.”

LiveLab will develop “entrepreneurial co-housing in Worcester.”

WooConnect will provide smart phone and web applications that integrate and connect “campuses with their students and community to discover the best events and promotions in their area.”

Holy Cross’ Sprezza Technologies seeks to “increase the effectiveness of existing transportation systems.”

Worcester State University Lambert’s Landcare specializes in “landcare management.”

WPI offers two technology companies. For All To Play is an” Interactive media and game development studio.” And Sensae provides “biomedical and robotics engineering utilizing lean technology [that] focuses on providing sensors and systems that together create a fitness feedback platform for adaptive instructive exercise and physical therapy.”

The WSU/WPI joint project, YourScene, is “a mobile app company to discover the events that you are interested in attending, no matter where you are.”

I do not know whether any of these companies have growth potential, and I question whether they will be able to obtain everything they need to achieve that potential in Worcester, as the Chamber suggested above.

For example, it remains to be seen whether Worcester investors would be willing to put capital into any of the companies.

Nevertheless, I applaud the chamber’s efforts to encourage local students to start companies in Worcester. As Confucius said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Peter Cohan of Marlboro heads a management consulting and venture capital firm and teaches business strategy and entrepreneurship at Babson College. His email address is peter@petercohan.com.

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