Representatives from 20 organizations gathered at the Fairmount Innovation Lab in Uphams Corner last Thursday for the announcement of MassDevelopment’s Collaborative Workspace Program grants to innovation centers, maker spaces, artist spaces, collaborative kitchens, and co-work spaces across the Commonwealth.
Among the winners of more than $1.2 million in funding, ranging from $25,000 to upwards of $150,000, announced by Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash was the event’s host organization, the Fairmount Lab, which was granted $85,000 to develop and equip some 3,000-square feet of additional collaborative workspace in its existing building.
“Massachusetts is number one in talent,” said Ash in noting that “we have the highest-educated workforce. We have the most innovative workforce in the country.”
The Collaborative Workspace Program supports new business formation, entrepreneurial activity, and job creation by assisting in the development of collaborative infrastructure. The program “is very much a product of collaboration,” said Lauren Liss, president and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency. “It involved taking a fabulous idea, incubating that idea, and collaborating amongst a group of stakeholders in order to implement that idea.”
In part, the collaborative program is funded by legislation that supports the revitalization, growth, and prosperity of communities throughout Massachusetts. In addition to that funding, the Barr Foundation, a private, Boston-based foundation that supports arts, creativity, climate, and education programs, donated $645,000 to the program, the first installment of a three-year, $1,965,000 grant to expand support for arts-related collaborative workspaces.
“There is a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that exists in every community,” Ash said. “We want innovators and entrepreneurs to come out of isolationism, to see others, to share resources, to talk about strategies, to push each other, maybe sometimes to cry with each other.”
The Fairmount Innovation Lab is a creative incubator geared toward elevating, launching, and growing projects within the Fairmount Cultural Corridor. Collaborators who work in the lab draw upon local cultural assets and ethnic traditions along the commuter rail line, supporting vibrant neighborhoods and a sustainable creative economy.
The cornerstone of the Fairmount Lab is its Launchpad Program, an intensive 12-week educational training session for creative or social entrepreneurs. The Launchpad helps participants translate creative ideas into business endeavors. Participants attend weekly presentations, participate in peer-to-peer learning, and work within a community of entrepreneurs, in the process gaining competency in market research, pricing, sales, marketing, branding, finances, and delivering ideas.
“In the two years that we’ve had the Launchpad, 57 entrepreneurs and artists have come through this program, 95 percent of them minority, 75 percent of them women,” said Liora Beer, director of the Fairmount Innovation Lab. “Seventeen creative and social enterprises were created.”
Of the enterprises Fairmount helped foster, “I am Kréyol”—a fashion line created by Boston-based designer Joelle Fontaine—has experienced both critical and commercial success. Fontaine’s Spring/Summer 2018 Lotus Collection was shown last month at London Fashion Week, where it was acquired by a New York-based clothing boutique.
“The collection philosophy represents the lotus flower and its audacity to grow in unfavorable environments,” Fontaine writes of her collection on her website. “It illustrates a woman’s tenacity to be strong, resilient, and powerful in the midst of adversity.”
In addition to the Fairmount Lab, two other Boston-based organizations were awarded grants. Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation received $25,000 to develop the Bartlett Station Food Incubator—a 2,000-square-foot food retail space within a mixed-use building under construction in Roxbury’s Dudley Square. The Food Incubator will help address the neighborhood’s need to connect small businesses to affordable spaces and networked support.
The Fort Point Arts Community in Boston was awarded $151,000 to create the FPAC Space, a collaborative arts incubator and venue for film, media, music, fine art, dance, poetry, and craft programming.
“I want to congratulate each and every one of the grant recipients,” Liss said. “Now, the program really is a working, effective collaboration of all of our partners.”