Massachusetts Startup Creates Database to Connect Manufacturers

While experts have regularly acknowledged the decline of the manufacturing industry in America, they have done very little to reverse it. An innovative, new-business incubator in Somerville, MA is starting to take steps in a better direction.

Greentown Labs—A Manufacturing and Technology Incubator

Greentown Labs assists other startups in the technology and manufacturing fields. Like many business incubators, it incorporates a cooperative working space for startups. However, unlike the others, Greentown also offers prototype-manufacturing space, shared machinery and shop tools, and a large event space. In total, the lab offers 33,000 total square feet of creative space for their companies. Manufacturing startups at Greentown are provided with the necessary infrastructure to move their company from conceptual stages to actual production- and revenue-making stages.

Greentown Labs currently hosts 40 companies and supporting organizations that employ over 300 people. Not surprisingly, many of Greentown’s companies specialize in clean technology and the energy industry. The lab also boasts an impressive list of energy-conscious alumni that have “graduated” into their own spaces.

Connect Green Startups Boston Massachusetts

Not only do Greentown companies have a versatile physical space to use, they also utilize the services of “sponsor companies” to assist their operations. For example, members are granted access to sponsor-supplied software at little to no cost to their company. Additionally, members have access to marketing, human resources, graphic design, insurance, and other services. Companies working in the incubator also have the all-important opportunity to network and collaborate with other startups.

Bringing Manufacturing Innovation Back to the Bay State

Incubators such as Greentown Labs make it easier for startups to bring manufacturing job opportunities back to Massachusetts. Over the past several years, Boston has quickly emerged as one of the country’s leading technological hubs. While major research universities such as MIT and Harvard play a role, a business incubator devoted to manufacturing provides a unique, invaluable advantage to the Boston area.

Massachusetts Business Incubator Is Popular Among Politicians

The incubator philosophy has not gone unnoticed by local business and government leaders. During a recent visit to the Greentown Labs, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said they were “the best of what America has to offer.” She said that it is crucial to “level the playing field” between startup initiatives and technology giants; this will help prevent the behemoths from dominating the industry. As Greentown Labs continues to nurture these successful startups, we look forward to their growth and the positive impact they will have on our economy.


Will Aging Infrastructure Prevent Massachusetts Business Growth?

Massachusetts is known for its convoluted roadways and aggressive drivers. Its residents are no stranger to the aging infrastructure that transforms their daily commutes into heroic efforts of driving prowess and cunning. The roads are both difficult to navigate and dangerous to traverse— full of potholes and spans of structurally deficient bridges. Repairs are underway throughout the state on bridges, highways and tunnels, which only seems to add hours in detours and traffic as unsound areas are brought up to meet standards. While progress is being made, the work that has occurred has only made a small dent in Massachusetts’ transportation system woes, and is further affecting timely delivery of goods, commuting times, and the overall appeal of the state as a location to do business.

The New England Council, a business advocacy group, has expressed concern over the congestion caused by road construction, as these type of inconveniences are often a factor in whether companies stay and expand or leave a region. At the moment, 20 tunnel projects and over 250 road reconstruction and resurfacing projects have entered the design phase, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Whether these projects will occur, and when, is another story. If approved, these repairs would happen in addition to projects like the ongoing initiative to repair more than 450 bridges. Initially a $3 billion project, it is now predicted to cost a total of $14.4 billion by the time the statewide repairs are completed.

Somerville Street in Blizzard Nemo-

Massachusetts has been experiencing a notable increase in economic growth over the last five years, however businesses are concerned about the timely delivery of goods and services. In a fast-paced economy, meeting deadlines with a tight turnaround time is a key factor of success. Delays and detours ultimately affect the bottom line.

The difficulties commuters faced last winter, between impassable roads, service delays, and cancellations of the MBTA, has business owners worried about the reliability of their employees as well. Dilapidated infrastructure could potentially keep top job candidates from considering working in certain areas. Efforts are being made to overhaul the financial management of the MBTA, as a panel convened by Gov. Charlie Baker in April predicted that the MBTA’s revenue shortfall would total $560 Million by 2020 if changes are not made.

rough roadAlthough business and state leaders agree that Massachusetts’ infrastructure needs refurbishing, the means to pay for these improvements remains uncertain. Maintenance has been deferred multiple times due to lapses in funding, leading to obsolete equipment and crumbling roadways full of potholes. Gasoline taxes have traditionally paid for road and bridge projects, but voters have not approved an increase in the gas tax since 1993.

What do you think? Does the current Infrastructure impact Massachusetts business growth in YOUR sector or does it simply add to the Old England charm?

Massachusetts Cracks Down on Misclassified Independent Contractors

Economic growth and the power of the Internet have ignited rapid proliferation of startup companies across the US. Services like Uber have typically been filling their ranks with drivers who are employed as independent contractors rather than full employees. However, in Massachusetts the law regarding the classification of workers as independent contractors is relatively strict, and it seems many of these new age business moguls have been cutting corners in the hiring process, which raises some interesting questions about the legality of their employment models.

What Separates an Employee from an Independent Contractor?

proceed with cautionBusiness of all sizes tend to prefer independent contractors for several reasons. Workers hired as IC are not entitled to benefits like health insurance, overtime, and paid sick time or vacation; which saves the employing company a significant amount of money year over year. On the other hand, workers are willing to forego the usual employee benefits and sign on as independent contractors because their paychecks will not have taxes withheld by employers. The lack of immediate taxation has motivated the US Department of Labor, the IRS, and the state of Massachusetts to begin investigating misclassified workers with more zeal.

Massachusetts requires independent contractors to fulfill three conditions in order to be classified as such:

(1) the individual is free from control and direction in connection with the performance of the service, both under his contract for the performance of service and in fact

(2) the service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer

(3) the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business of the same nature as that involved in the service performed.

To qualify as an independent contractor, all three conditions of the law must be met. The problem is that many companies are hiring “independent contractors” who do not meet one or any of these criteria. This might save money at first, but could also incur heavy financial penalties. For instance, a cable company recently had to pay $1.075 Million for misclassifying cable installers, while a texting service had to hand over $1.3 Million for misclassifying “special agents” who answer text messages from web users.  Misclassifying independent contractors also leaves the business at the mercy of their workers who may be legally savvy enough to pursue a claim in the event of a disagreement.

Businesses Are Getting Busted

pinocchioIn fact, thousands of charges have been brought up against companies for misclassifying employees in response to complaints filed by workers who were seeking to collect unpaid overtime. The US Department of Labor has created a Misclassification Initiative website where workers can file a complaint. Several industries are squarely in the crosshairs as the most notorious misclassification culprits, including construction, nursing, internet services, transportation, cable, security, landscaping, and car services such as valets or limousines.

Several growing companies have begun to alter their hiring model, converting independent contractors into full or part-time employees. Luxe Valet, an on-demand parking service, recently re-classified their workers as employees, though the decision was apparently not motivated by the flood of lawsuits that many employers are facing. There are also a few recent exceptions to the classification rules.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the provisions of the real estate licensing and registration scheme outweighs the state law regarding independent contractors. Massachusetts state law was once again overruled in July when a court decided that delivery services are entitled to hire independent contractors as drivers, despite the fact that delivery would fall under “the usual course of business of the employer.”
While Massachusetts law may be stricter than any other state requirements, it does not mean there is no place for independent contractors in the Massachusetts economy. The goal is not to eradicate this type of hiring, but to ensure that it is not being abused. Workers should be wary before signing a contract that would label them as an independent contractor, while companies would do well to remember how much it would cost if their “frugal hiring” strategy were ever discovered by the state.

Massachusetts Wealth is No Accident

This year has been a period of positive growth for the bay state. Unemployment has declined to a low of 4.8% as of March and current economic reports show that we are no longer in a recession. With just under 7 million workers at its disposal and a growing economy in many industries, the highly productive and profitable state of Massachusetts is set to achieve a new level in its wealth creation prospects. The resulting positive economic fallout will create a great deal of opportunity for development properties.

The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the unemployment rate of Massachusetts is steadily going down. This is a great sign for future development prospects. The state saw a rise of about 12,000 jobs in some of its most important sectors, including healthcare, education, hospitality, science, leisure and professional business services. The positive growth has not happened by accident, and state initiatives have been a huge boon in helping the state move forward out of the recent recession.

Among other efforts by the state of Massachusetts, the ReadyMass 100 initiative is a very efficient way to promote site expansion opportunities for companies that are in the area. It is an initiative for companies, located anywhere in the US, who may be considering a move to or within Massachusetts. The site provides images and information regarding available commercial locations and highlights their most profitable features.

The ReadyMass 100 initiative is a public and private partnership. Massachusetts created the effort in conjunction with MassEcon along with the private real estate community as well as many other regional development groups that are focused on the economy that is within the state. There are many other efforts that private companies have started that are undergoing separate RFPs for the state as well.

Overall, the economic growth of the state of Massachusetts is an encouraging sign for business as a whole. If you are looking for an opportunity to develop properties, then this is definitely one of the best times to be in your shoes. Look for places that encourage growth and development such as Massachusetts. You will have a great chance of success with this type of backing from the state.

Massachusetts Economic Growth Is an Encouraging Sign for Businesses

At the recent Economic Summit breakfast, hosted by Randolph Savings Bank, economic expert Dr. Elliott Eisenberg confidently declared that the state of Massachusetts is not in a recession. Corroborating data shows that since the beginning of 2015, Massachusetts economic growth is moving at a steady pace that exceeds the national average.

According to Eisenberg, the chances of a recession in the next six to twelve months is less than 5%. Although the change has not been a drastically positive one, the economy is still moving steadily forward. The trend in growth is a positive sign for growing businesses in the area, despite some factors that remain a point of concern. The number of experienced baby-boomers retiring from the work force, deteriorating fiscal conditions, income inequality, and the negative after-effects of a brutal winter could be troublesome if not resolved carefully.

However, the rising trend in financial growth sheds a positive light on the future. There has been a significant increase in job opportunities thanks to thriving industries such as technology and software development. Many experienced workers are re-entering the workforce and a population boom has provided additional able bodies to fill available positions.

For business owners, this is the perfect time to lay the foundations for growth. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has been kept under pressure to maintain current interest rates in order to nurture financial growth in the state. Experts anticipate that any raise in rates would be gradually implemented as inflation requires, as opposed to previous hikes that were made in an attempt to quell a boiling economy.

The current financial atmosphere smacks of opportunity. Businesses considering expansion, either by hiring more personnel, constructing new venues, or investing in new equipment are being encouraged to act now. For those who are not quite ready to push forward, experts advise securing capital for growth objectives before interest rates increase. Massachusetts is now leading the US economy in terms of growth, and Massachusetts businesses stand to gain significant financial ground if they take advantage of the opportunity.

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.

Worcester hotel development brings rooms, room for growth

Over the course of the next two years, Worcester will see the opening of at least three new hotels, bringing an estimated 360 new rooms to the city. The expansion of hotel space is vital if the city hopes to draw and retain tourist and convention revenues.

XSS Hotels, a hotel development and management company, plans to open a 100-room Hampton Inn in early 2016. The company is also looking to build a 150-room Renaissance Hotel downtown to compliment the new CitySquare project. Homewood Suites will be breaking ground on a 110-room hotel located in close proximity to Union Station by the end of this year.

While the new rooms are a good step forward, they are making up for lost ground. In 2010 the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Lincoln Square closed when the owners defaulted on a mortgage. Those 243 rooms were converted into dorms and classroom space by MCPHS University. Fortunately, the Crowne Plaza’s closing wasn’t due to a lack of customers. Today, seven hotels in Worcester provide 745 rooms. The need for additional lodging is displayed in the occupancy rates with 75% of beds full throughout the year, which is significantly higher than the 65% national average. This means that the 360 new rooms will help stabilize the market and keep any one establishment from being overburdened.

Extra rooms also help increase the town’s capacity for hosting large events, creating a symbiotic relationship with Worcester’s growing number of conventions and tournaments. The DCU center boasts over 100,000 square feet of exhibit space for trade shows, conventions, entertainment, and private functions.  The adjoining arena has the capacity to accommodate anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 attendees for concerts and sporting events, each one a potential customer of gas, food, souvenirs, and, of course, lodging. Developing more hotels in the area will help Worcester be a better host to these large events, and help business and the city itself earn more.

Worcester could also hope to bring NCAA regional tournaments as part of the March Madness events, or other competitions. Unfortunately, the NCAA hasn’t been to Worcester since 2005, in part due to the lack of accommodations for guests. Recently, the Massive Comic Con was held at the DCU Center and welcomed 5000 attendees, most of whom were visiting from out of town and quickly filled the city’s current hotel offerings.

Of course, new hotels are only part of the solution. Worcester city government needs to offer a streamlined approval service for new construction applications and business licenses. Tax schedules, while needing to be favorable to the city, must also be competitive and attractive for potential developers. The coming rooms are a good sign of growth, but also a reminder that there is always room to improve.

How Will the “Internet of Things” Affect Business?

The continuing advancement of wireless technology has created a world where devices are connected in incredible ways. Cloud computing and the increasingly widespread network of data-gathering sensors have made it possible for devices to communicate with one another to accomplish goals—a trend people are calling “The Internet of Things,” or IoT.

With IoT, it may be possible to create useful structures such as  “smart bridges,” which would be constructed out of cement containing sensors that monitor stress, fissures, or warping. The monitoring system could provide ample warning before a serious collapse. IoT would make it possible for stores to track the spending habits of their customers via their unique cell phone signatures and also make purchase suggestions. It even makes it possible for you to control every appliance in your home with your cell phone.

But what effect will the “Internet of Things” have on businesses?

The infographic below, created by Leigh-Ann Carroll with Exigent Networks in the UK, illustrates some key factors where IoT will have a definite, positive influence on the global market.

Internet of things infographic

Internet of Things Infographic by Leigh-Ann Carrol

FLEXcon Gains Space-Age Flexibility in Spencer Business Market

FLEXcon, a family-owned business in Spencer, Massachusetts, has recently landed national attention with their new space-age business partnership. NASA’s Glenn Research Center has agreed to license the production of a special insulator to FLEXcon, a local business in Massachusetts. “We are delighted to secure a licensing agreement for Glenn’s technology,” said Glenn Research Center Director Jim Free, in a press release.

The special insulator is a significant improvement over other products. The material is a polyimide aerogel film that insulates against both heat and cold. The film, which is 500 times stronger than traditional silica aerogels, is currently patent-pending. FLEXcon’s license will allow the Massachusetts business to manufacture and market the film, as well as develop new applications for it.

FLEXcon won’t need to install any new equipment, as their existing  manufacturing equipment can be re-calibrated to create the new technology.

“We know how to take their invention and make it commercially feasible, … We’re excited about this. We’re proud of it. … This is a good win for FLEXcon.”

—Bill Sullivan, Vice President of Performance Products, FLEXcon

While the product was developed for use in space suits, it can also be used in a variety of every-day applications. The efficient, lightweight insulator can be used in household applications like refrigerators, dishwashers, and to insulate pipes. It can also be used in clothing.  Sullivan explained that, “You don’t want to put on a big parka when you’re climbing up Mt. Everest. You want to put on something that’s light but will give you good thermal energy.”

The polyimide aerogel also has applications in the medical industry as it can be used to insulate the containers used for organ transport and blood storage.

The ability to manufacture and distribute a brand-new bleeding-edge product can be a significant boon for the town of Spencer. The product will be a new sales item, which will increase corporate revenues for the local business. is There is potential for further deals with NASA. According to Free, “By licensing the polyimide aerogel technology to FLEXcon, Glenn will gain a commercialization partner.” This makes the implications of the business partnership exciting, because there may be future collaboration between the two companies.  Sullivan shared, “I think more good things are going to come through the relationship NASA has with FLEXcon.”

One-Year Extension for Massachusetts to Comply with Obamacare

Massachusetts has been given an additional year to comply with the Affordable Care Act, following a trend of deadline extensions. Initially granted a one-year extension in 2013, they have now been granted another year to get the program aligned with federally mandated standards. Governor Baker has asked for an “indefinite extension” citing that the reduction of qualifiers used to determine premiums could cause a ripple effect of “instability” in the insurance marketplace. The new deadline allows them until January of 2018 to fully comply with ACA requirements.

Currently, Massachusetts Health Connector uses nine identifiers to determine health premiums, under Obamacare, that number would need to be reduced to four—only age, family size, geographic area, and tobacco use would be considered. The extension allows insurance companies to use their full range of factors—such as industry, group size, and participation rate—until 2017 when determining health care premiums. Another point of contention is the definition of small businesses under the ACA requirements. Governor Baker has asked that the definition of a small business in Massachusetts remains 50 employees rather than the ACA specified 100 employees.

The hope is that these allowances will help prevent small business from falling prey to huge rate hikes in insurance and the associated risk of having to downsize or even close shop should the premiums become too large for a small business to afford. Administrators from both sides have continued to negotiate the specifics of the requirements over the last few weeks.
This is just the latest chapter in the story of MassHealth’s continued difficulties complying to the federal ACA requirements and regulations. Just last month it was reported that the US attorney served a subpoena in January of 2015 for the Massachusetts Health Connector records dating back to 2010 in an attempt to figure out the difficulties MassHealth has encountered when trying to meet the ACA regulations. Massachusetts’ continued trouble complying with the ACA is an interesting puzzle, given that the ACA was modeled in large part after Massachusetts law, Chapter 58: An act Providing Access to Affordable, Quality, Accountable Health Care. This leaves one to wonder whether there are true difficulties with and concerns about the ACA regulations or whether the changing winds of political rhetoric and special interests are at the source of these current difficulties.