By Donna Maskery, The BASE enterprise centre, Co Donegal, Ireland
On the 5th of June I accompanied Patsy Donaghey from CoLab and Aideen Doherty from Donegal County Council on their trip to Massachusetts. The aim of this visit was to further develop links with key representatives in order to identify opportunities for the County in relation to economic development.
This trip was one more step in the process, building on the very successful economic/enterprise development seminar hosted by Donegal County Council on the 8th May. Tim Murray, President& CEO of Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce (and perfect gentleman may I add) was our host, he made us feel very welcome and provided us with a wealth of information.
On the 6th Aideen and I attended the Worcester Women’s Leadership Conference. Guest speakers at this event included Molly Barker, Funder of Running Mates USA and Girls on the Run and Claire Shipman, Senior Contributor for ABC News.
Molly is a four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete, and author of Girls on track. A parent’s guide to inspiring our daughters to achieve a lifetime of self-esteem and respect, I have to admit I bought the book, that’s how impressed I was.
Molly used her background in social work, counseling and teaching, along with research on adolescent issues, to develop Girls on the Run. Today, there are Girls on the run Councils in more than 190 cities across North America serving over 150,000 girls and women each year (www.girlsontherun.org). I asked Molly if she had plans for Ireland and it was excellent to hear that we are part of ‘the plan’.
Claire covers politics and other national and international news stories as a senior contributor for ABC News. Prior to joining ABC news Shipman served as a White House correspondent for NBC News where she reported on presidential policy and politics. She regularly conducts in-depth interviews with top news-making figures, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton. She is the co-author, with Katty Kay, of the New York Times best-seller, Womenomics: The workplace revolution that will change your life. Her new book, The Confidence Code: The art and science of self-Assurance – and What Women Need to Know, is an informative guide to understanding the importance of confidence.
Both ladies were excellent. Their presence on the day was electric and emotions ran high as Molly described some of her experiences in working with young girls, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Lunch included questions and answers with a leadership panel, Anne Margulies, Chief Information Officer with Harvard University, Vicary Graham President, BNY Mellon Wealth Management, Christina Chase, Massachusetts Institute of technology and Kelley Tuthill, NewsCenter 5 reporter moderating.
The whole day was an experience and it was refreshing to learn from the breakout sessions that I could relate to all of the themes and topics being discussed. There is no doubt that we can learn from other business people in Worcester but we too have a lot to offer from our own experiences and aspirations.
On Saturday we travelled to Easthampton where we met with Ann Burke, Vice president for the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts and Burns Maxey, City of Easthampton, Arts Director. We visited ‘Cottage Street’, ‘the workbench’ and a number of creative enterprise sites. We talked to local business representatives operating in these shared environments about their experiences, challenges and future plans. We visited ‘knack’ a clever re-use business and experienced first had the flexible and creative approaches been adopted in everyday business operations.
During the trip we visited a number of academic institutions. We met with Sister Mary Reap from Elms College, Carl Herrin from Worcester State University and Robert Johnston President of Becker College. Becker is leading the way in terms of incorporating entrepreneurship into the academia curriculum. I had the opportunity to meet students who are taking part in the Becker intensive Mass DiGi summer programme and I was able to try out some of the games these amazing young people were developing, average age 20, I should add. Becker has recently acquired another premise where they intend on further developing this whole area.
We also had the opportunity to meet Jacob Sanders, Associate Director Becker College, Monty Sharma Managing Director of Mass Digi and Timothy Loew, Executive Director Mass Digi who are delivering the programme at Becker.
We had lunch with representatives from Valley Venture Mentors and River Valley Investors. Valley venture mentors provide key support to carefully selected start-ups together with high quality business mentors at a structured pitch and planning sessions. These events allow businesses to ‘sell’ their business idea and ask for help in addressing hurdles in a 5 min presentation. During the second part of the session volunteer mentors gather with the entrepreneurs of choice and begin a plan, create and problem solve.
We visited a Hackathon– I’m not sure I can do this justice with my explanation as to what it is but here goes, a “Hackathon is an event where people come together to develop creative solutions to local problems through computer programming and technical responses”. There were people participating of all ages and kids learning code.
We spent our last day in Boston with Jon Mahoney, Boston Irish Business Association and before flying home we managed a tour of Cambridge Innovation Centre and venture café, a tour of mass challenge and we had a meeting with key representatives from the Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment (MOITI) also avisit to district hall where weMet Ranch Kimble, Head of entrepreneurship at BABSON college and William Ghormley, Senior Vice President. Xconomy before flying home.
Then we went home, and yes I was tired 🙂
Overall: I accept that the characteristics of the areas are very different in relation to population, climate, access to resources, size and scale of businesses and the list goes on and on however there is a lot we can learn from each-other and the work that is on-going in relation to enterprise development and support, in particular the support and energy that is being focussed on supporting technology businesses and the creative economy. There are some great people over there with a deep affinity for Ireland and they are keen to work with Donegal businesses.
I returned home re-energised with a new ‘to do list’ and it reaffirmed for me that The BASE is headed in the right direction.