Piranha Pond Investing Opportunity—Entrepreneurs Latch On

Hopeful entrepreneurs and established businesses are always looking for more money to develop and expand. Finding investors through pitching to “angels” has become a popular way to make the connections necessary to learn the ropes and get the money necessary to make it big with a great idea.

When it comes to finding investors, television has brought the idea of sharks to the forefront of the entrepreneurial mind, but it can be very hard to find the people in everyday life that have that kind of influence and backing. That is where the Piranha Pond investing opportunity comes in. It is a program developed to encourage new entrepreneurs and help them meet with the movers and shakers who have the power to make their dreams come true.

Bringing Entrepreneurs and Sharks Together with a “Pitch Party”

For the third time, the annual “Pitch Party” gives hopeful entrepreneurs the ability to talk with investors. For a $50 application fee, worthy business owners can submit a resume for their business online for the chance to connect with venture capitalists with the money to finance start ups and business expansions.

The TechSandBox CEO, Barb Finer, worked with her team to create the Piranha Pond. Every year the program gets up to 40 applications from a nationwide pool of entrepreneurs. They are filtered through an approval process that determines eight finalists who will then have the opportunity to face a panel of five angel investors who, if their interest is peaked, compete to finance the business.  This year, the numbers were strong enough that there were nine companies chosen: Femme Forte, Enflux, SmartDiet, Intagora, Innoblative Technologies, ThinkInsite, Fremont Scientific, Rumi Spice and Ridgewing.

How the Piranha Pond Works

Applications are submitted via an online application form that allows entrepreneurs only a  one paragraph description of their idea to grab the interests of the investors reviewing the applications. The finalists are chosen from that pool of applicants. Prior to the entrepreneur’s official pitch to the Piranha Pond’s panel of investors, there is a Pitch Practice Session. This allows the presenters to practice their full presentation and receive feedback from a panel of experts about how to make their pitch more effective and successful. Though participating in the practice session is not a requirement for the process, it is highly recommended that applicants take the opportunity to fine tune their presentations.

The next step is just like the famous television show “Shark Tank.” The finalists from the TechSandBox applicants face the panel of investors, the entrepreneur has five minutes to pitch their idea or developing business. After which, the investors let the presenters know if they are interested in backing the idea or not. If the investors chose to back an idea, then the presenters are given the opportunity to meet with potential stakeholders at the end of the pitch session.

Learning Business Methods

One of the most difficult parts of getting funding can be gathering the courage to approach investors. Piranha Pond investing helps by providing feedback and experience. The Piranha Pond pitch meeting is open to the public with tickets ranging from $28 for TechSandbox members and $35 for the general public.

Rolling Out the Welcome Mat for Artists in Central Massachusetts

Massachusetts is known as a place of innovation and achievement in fields such as technology, medicine and manufacturing. It is also home to a vibrant community of artists practicing a broad spectrum of creative disciplines. But these painters, sculptors, performance artists and countless other less-easily-categorized creatives, face significant challenges when seeking suitable work and living spaces.

Organizations like the Worcester Artists Group, the Fitchburg Art Museum (FAM) and Twin Cities Community Development Center are seeking to change that with plans already underway to develop several new artist spaces throughout Worcester and Fitchburg.


Central Mass. is in need of affordable spaces where artists can live and work.

For many working artists in central Mass., the cost of maintaining a separate residence and workspace can be well beyond their means, and some are forced to resort to questionable practices such as illegally living in a space not zoned as a residential area. Others may attempt to use hazardous materials or techniques at home, putting themselves and neighbors at serious risk.

Increasing the number of venues where artists, already on tight budgets, can live and work affordably would free up time and resources they now spend commuting to larger cities. The savings would allow artists to do more to benefit and enrich the community around them. The proposed developments will not only encourage the arts communities in central MA to flourish, but would also invigorate the local economy as their occupants live, work, shop and eat locally.

In Fitchburg, a plan to convert three buildings near the FAM is under review as community leaders assess the impact of the proposed 55 apartments and determine the best use of the 94,000 square feet of available space.

Worcester will also undertake similar deliberations as a part of broader downtown revitalization plans. Boasting several arts organizations and the world-renowned Worcester Art Museum, Worcester is considered a highly desirable location for artists. The city will be collaborating with organizers and potential residents to assist with development requests and zoning requirements.

The spaces up for consideration are not limited to the most obvious options. Worcester’s cultural development officer, Erin Williams, explained, “We need to think, not just about old mill buildings anymore, but empty supermarkets, empty church buildings that are not being used by their community, but vacant buildings in all their forms.”

Worcester Chamber Lists Annual Business Award Winners

The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce announced their list of local business award winners, all of whom will be honored at a special ceremony commencing at 4:00 p.m. on May 14, 2015, at The Haven Country Club in Boylston.

  • The Richard B. Kennedy Business of the Year award goes to Imperial Distributors, located in Worcester and Auburn, a company that has handled supermarket non-foods distribution and merchandising services since 1939.
  • West Side Steak & BBQ won as Small Business of the Year.
  • Skyscope Creative is honored as the Entrepreneur of the Year.
  • Percy’s TV and Appliance received the Family-Owned Business of the Year.
  • Jim Donoghue, the Tweed’s Pub owner, is the Chamber Advocate of the Year.
  • The Joe Cohen Retailer of the Year is Crompton Collective for its innovative addition of a farmer’s market and, later, an event venue.
  • Maureen Raillo, CEO and president of WLimo, West Boylston, is the Ambassador of the Year.

The Silver Hammer Awards for local distinguished construction or rehabilitation projects has three winners:  SpencerBANK for turning the former Fire and Telegraph Building on Park Avenue into a branch with a community room for the public to use; Winn Companies, for restoration of the former Worcester Technical High School into housing known as Voke Lofts, and Commerce Bank for its restoration of the Slater Building on Main Street.

Congratulations to all!

Boston to Investigate Gender Wage Gap

On Tuesday, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh jumped head first into the bickering swirling around the issue of the gender wage gap. He did so by announcing that the city is getting set  to study the wages of male and female employees at dozens of  local companies. This is the first attempt by any major U.S. city to quantify the gender wage gap by scrutinizing actual salary data.

Addressing an audience at the inaugural Boston Women’s Venture Capital Summit in the Seaport on Tuesday morning, Walsh said, “We know that the wage gap continues to be an issue all across this nation, and it’s time to stop talking about it and start taking action.”

Many of the state’s largest employers, including Putnam Investments and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, have agreed to anonymously provide wage information, broken down by gender, race, job category, and length of employment.

Evelyn Murphy, former lieutenant governor and member of Boston’s Women’s Workforce Council, said, “This is the game changer. Prior to now, this has been all so secretive. Some companies just don’t want people to know [salaries]. And you can understand why. But on the other hand it means there’s been no collaboration to get at the inequities that are really there.”

“We’re not trying to punish companies, we’re trying to have people understand where they’re at,” said Megan Costello, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement.

So, how do you convince a major corporation to peel back the lid on sensitive salary information when competitors would so clearly benefit from having access to that data?

By keeping it anonymous, that’s how. Even when the aggregate salary information is made public, the companies attached to specific data will not be revealed.

Tuesday morning, Walsh also made it clear that he is determined to lead by example.

The mayor says he observed a wage gap among top City Hall staffers as noted in a draft report from his new Office of Diversity. According to an analysis of payroll data, men in Walsh’s cabinet are paid, on average, nearly $156,000, while women in the cabinet earn $123,000.

To help close the gap, Walsh gave a 12 percent raise to his chief of policy, Joyce Linehan, increasing her annual salary from $125,000 to $140,000 and Laura Oggeri, the mayor’s spokeswoman, received a 15 percent pay hike, increasing her annual salary to $116,000 from $101,000. Despite these pay increases, women in Walsh’s cabinet are still being paid, on average, almost $27,000 less than men.

Previous attempts to address the wage gap have largely been limited to legislative proposals, including the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, which would increase pay transparency and require businesses to justify pay grade differences. Bills filed in Massachusetts earlier this year would prohibit employers from seeking job candidates’ salary histories and require that minimum pay be disclosed for advertised positions.

Analyzing the gender wage gap is a complex undertaking, said Kathy Horgan, chief operating officer for global human resources at State Street Corp., one of the companies taking part in the survey. She noted that one of the sources of salary disparities at the Boston financial services company appears to be a lack of women in senior positions.

“That’s where we don’t have the kind of representation of women that we want to see, and we do believe that’s a driver of our wage gap,” she said.

The city pledges to make the salary information public early this summer.


Coffee is… GOOD FOR YOU??

Over 50% of the American adult population drink coffee daily. The next time you feel bad about making your fourth trip to the break room in two hours, allow yourself to bypass the guilt of relying so heavily on the bean and remind yourself that your caffeine habit (it’s totally not an addiction) could actually be doing some good for your health. Apparently, there are health advantages to drinking the brew daily; it can even help lower the risk of developing liver cancer.

Coffee is, first and foremost, rich with antioxidants. Antioxidants, in case you may have forgotten their actual function, help prevent cell damage by blocking the activity of chemicals known as free radicals. Free radicals are produced naturally by your body as a byproduct of respiration, and can cause cell damage as well as lead to cancer. Statistics show that coffee drinking can lower that risk by up to 14%.

A study by a research team at Imperial College London analyzed 34 existing global studies on the effects of diet, nutrition, exercise and weight in regards to the risk of cancer. In total, the studies encompassed about 8.2 million adults and 24,500 cases of liver cancer.

While the exact reason as to why coffee may lower the risk of the disease is still unknown, researches speculate that it may have something to do with certain compounds present in the beverage that can help fight toxins. The report noted that studies have shown coffee to reduce the inflammation of cells, and that the effects were most pronounced on the liver.

So in case you were debating taking that extra mid-afternoon brew, go ahead! Drink up in the name of health!

Berkshire County Rep. Proposes Change to Minimum Wage for Tipped Workers

Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Berkshire County, Massachusetts has presented a bill that, if passed, would gradually increase the minimum wage for tipped workers in the state until they are paid the same as other minimum wage workers. This is an addition to the current law, which will increase minimum wage for tipped workers to $3.75 per hour from the current $2.63 by 2017. Standard minimum wage for those employees who do not receive tips was raised to $9 in January.

Massachusetts currently defines tipped employees as those who earn more than $20 per month in tips and who, with minimum wage plus tips, make at least $9 per hour. While employers are legally required to make up the difference for tipped workers who do not reach the $9 per hour threshold, restaurant worker advocates say that many avoid actually doing so. This is especially true for restaurants that employ large numbers of undocumented workers.

The bill is supported through the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) of Boston advocacy group’s “One Fair Wage” campaign, which seeks to end wage theft by employers. According to research by the Economic Policy Institute, this type of theft results in employee loss of more than $50 billion per year.

Beyond the wage theft issue, many labor and gender relations experts believe that a landscape in which employees must work for tips leads to a culture of sexual harassment by customers. According to a report by the ROC, 78 percent of women and 55 percent of men who work in restaurants report experiencing this type of harassment. Their research also shows that restaurant servers, who are traditionally tipped employees, are three times more likely than other types of workers to live in poverty.

As expected, restaurant owners argue that moving away from the current system would make it difficult for them to create jobs because of the resulting economic loss. Stephen Clark, director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, argues that in Massachusetts, most servers make at least $13 per hour, with some topping out at as much as $30 per hour.

California and Nevada have both enacted similar legislation.

WPI Introduces Data Tool to Evaluate Massachusetts’ Competitive Edge

Worcester Polytechnic Institute has announced the development of a new system to help evaluate Massachusetts’ competitive position among leading technology states. The program has been dubbed the Massachusetts’ Technology, Talents and Economic Reporting System (MATTERS).

MATTERS is an online system that consolidates a collection of independent national rankings along with a set of key cost, economic and talent metrics into a single source for use by all parties interested in building a successful future for Massachusetts’ technology-based businesses. The platform allows users to compare technology strengths between states. For example, they can examine and assess how Massachusetts and New York stack up on talent, cost and economy metrics, as well as national rankings on tax climate and technology indexes.

This data provides companies with critical information while also providing policymakers and advocates with dynamic, searchable data to substantiate public policies, leading to decisions that help attract and retain business to the state.

“This reporting dashboard makes important data accessible to those who need it. It also demonstrates the impact that our faculty and students can have on the state’s competitiveness, especially in the technology sector,” Stephen Flavin, vice president of academic and corporate development at WPI, and a member of the Massachusetts High Tech Council, said in a statement Wednesday.

The tool can be accessed online here.


“Snow Loans” To Help Small Business Owners Recover from Difficult Winter

The Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) has issued its first snowstorm loan, part of an initiative to help small business owners bounce back after record snowfall this winter. Up to $1 million has been set aside in a fund that is available to qualifying businesses throughout the state.

“As small businesses throughout Massachusetts continue to recover from extreme winter weather conditions that have restricted business, we are pleased to announce this low-interest loan program is available to help them regain their financial stability,” said Governor Baker in a statement late February. “While our local economies continue to bounce back, we encourage everyone to continue shopping at their local retailers, restaurants and small businesses.”

The $5,000 to $10,000 micro-loans are available at low interest rates and are intended to help businesses in heavily impacted communities to recover. In the wake of lost revenue from this particularly harsh winter, the funds could make the difference for many locals.

“It’s been a tough winter and these micro-loans can make the difference to meeting a payroll, or paying the rent. We’re here to help and hope other businesses that need a hand will take advantage of this great opportunity,” MGCC President Larry Andrews said.

Massachusetts saw record snowfall this year of 108.1 inches, compared to the highest recorded levels of 107.6 inches in 1996. Closures and road bans brought down revenue for many business owners this season.

“Our small businesses are the backbone of our economy and it is important that we help ensure their longevity by lending a helping hand when they need it most,” said Lieutenant Governor Polito in a statement. “We are confident that our entire economy will continue to recover from one of the toughest winters we have seen in decades.”

MGCC issued the first micro-loan, set at $10,000, to Dorchester caterer Down Home Delivery & Catering last Tuesday. MGCC will be responsible for funding the loans, collection of interest and principal payments, managing the loan portfolio, and loan approvals. It is expected that businesses in heavily impacted areas, particularly those in Boston and gateway cities such as Worcester and Leominster, will receive priority. The program will continue through May 2015.


Mass Revenue Gains Are Good – Not Great

With the month of January coming to a close, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts received a mixed bag of news as legislators poured over projected revenue surpluses and the instability of state, national, and world economies.

Economic experts forecast an increase in state tax revenues around 4.5 percent for the 2016 fiscal year, slightly up from the previous year’s growth of 4 percent.

Despite this good news, Massachusetts House incumbent budget chief, Rep. Brian Dempsey, cautioned that the revenue gains might not be as good as the numbers suggest.

Instability in foreign oil markets, continued turmoil in the Middle East, and a slowing European economy have led to tender markets across the board. Low oil prices have helped spur an increase in American consumer spending.

Similar economic recovery occurred during the 1990s when the state began recovering from the effects of the previous decade’s high oil prices that slammed the brakes on economic growth. However, during the dwindling years of the twentieth century, Massachusetts was able to surpass 6 percent growth in tax revenues while implementing tax cuts, increasing spending on education, and increasing the amount the state had in its treasury.

State representatives still have a looming $765 million dollar deficit to handle as 2015 begins its crawl toward the warmer months and the end of the fiscal year. Discrepancy between revenue estimates have also forced legislators to discuss which budgetary actions would best serve Massachusetts heading into the 2016 fiscal year.

Even with uncertainty regarding the actions needed to keep the state’s tax revenues climbing, there is good news for the state’s residents. The amount of people unemployed or underemployed has dropped 5 percent since reaching 16 percent in 2009 during the recession. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is sitting at 5.5 percent, with hopes it will drop even lower as the year unfolds.

Massachusetts adds 10,900 jobs in December

According to a January 22, 2015 statement from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD), there were 10,900 jobs added in Massachusetts in December. The EOLWD based these figures on early estimates provided by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The largest number of jobs added in December was in the leisure and hospitality sector with 4,700 jobs added. Other significant sectors with jobs added in December were scientific and business services as well as education and health services, adding 2,700 and 2,200 jobs respectively. In addition, there were 2,300 jobs added by the government in December. There were also significant numbers of jobs added in construction, transportation, and utilities, which added 600, 300 and 200 jobs, respectively.

However, the news was not all positive as the financial activities sector lost 800 jobs, and the manufacturing and information sectors each lost 700 jobs.

The EOLWD also reported in their recent statement that the state’s unemployment rate decreased to 5.5 percent in December, which was 0.3 of a percentage point less than the November unemployment rate. The December 2014 estimates provided by the BLS indicated that 194,900 Massachusetts residents were unemployed while 3,371,500 residents were employed, representing a cumulative labor force of 3,566,400 residents. This total labor force was estimated to be approximately 83,300 more than the December 2013 BLS estimation of 3,483,100, with 51,400 less residents unemployed and 134,700 more residents employed. In addition, BLS amended their November job estimate to show a gain of 11,700 jobs rather than the 13,500 formerly reported for November.