Fairmount Innovation Lab launches in Uphams Corner

Artists, creative entrepreneurs, residents, and city officials gathered on Saturday, May 9, in Dorchester’s Uphams Corner for the launch of the Fairmount Innovation Lab and its LaunchPad program, a new workspace and neighborhood-based business incubator.

The lab is a product of the Fairmount Cultural Corridor Placemaking Initiative, which partners with the city, The Boston Foundation and community organizations to revitalize neighborhoods along the Fairmount commuter line by supporting a sustainable local economy.

Liora Beer, founder and executive director of the lab, spoke on Saturday about the important impact this initiative will have on surrounding communities.

“When you think about the creative economy, people don’t realize the ripple effect it can have on other sectors,” said Beer. “This lab will not just benefit the neighborhood here, it will radiate all over the city.”

In its early stages, the lab will provide business training, legal services and networking opportunities to nine creative-sector startups based in the Fairmount area. This will ensure that the talented people working to revitalize the neighborhood receive the support needed to effect long-term change, Beer said.

“This is a great moment, with a great group of people, in a great community,” she said. “We’re going to rock it.”

During Saturday’s launch party, Rafael Carbonell, director of the office of business development for the city of Boston, announced that the city is awarding the lab a $10,000 innovation grant. This is the first of three grants the city plans to give to support development in Boston’s underserved neighborhoods, he said.

“We are working to position neighborhoods like this one as creative economic destinations,” Carbonell said. “We’re taking what has worked downtown and extending it to neighborhoods.”

“Innovation cannot stop at geographic borders,” he said.

Boston City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley stopped by Saturday’s party to meet with some of the entrepreneurs benefiting from the initiative. She said she thinks there is a tendency in the Boston business community to narrowly define what constitutes enterprise and where it takes place.

“Innovation is happening in all our neighborhoods, not just on the waterfront,” said Pressley. “I hope to see more of this in the city.”

The party allowed the businesses selected to participate in the incubator, which include fashion and textile design firms, an open-air art gallery and a non-profit writing consultancy, a chance to showcase their work to the community. Jerel Ferguson, founder of Hike4Life, an outdoor enrichment program he started five years ago, said he is most excited about the education and networking opportunities the incubator offers.

“I got in with a really great group of other entrepreneurs,” Ferguson said. “Good people make businesses better.”

Ferguson said he previously relied on social media and word of mouth to promote his organization, which brings together people of all ages and ethnicities to explore the natural world around Boston through guided hikes. Now, he’s looking forward to using the visibility the lab provides to spread word about his mission to get community members “out of the hood and into the woods.”

Isabelle Brandao, founder of Bella Rose, a fashion startup specializing in women’s ready-to-wear clothing, agreed that the business training provided by the lab will be indispensable. The 21-year-old has lived in Dorchester her entire life, and said she learned to sew as a teenager at the Bird Street Community Center in Uphams Corner.

“I’m really excited about this opportunity,” she said.

Julie Burros, chief of arts and culture for the city of Boston, also spoke at Saturday’s event and said that the city’s innovation grant reinforces the commitment the city is making in the neighborhood.

“Transit, stability and access to good jobs are part of what makes a neighborhood livable and sustainable,” she said.

“This lab is really going to help the city feel optimistic about future investment here.”