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Communities Unite to Get Local Entrepreneurs Off the Ground

Dialogue Hosted by UMass Lowell, Merrimack Valley Sandbox

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Desh Deshpande

By Edwin L. Aguirre

A little over a year ago, the Merrimack Valley Sandbox — one of only three programs of its kind in the world — was launched at the first Development Dialogue at UMass Lowell. Since then, the Sandbox has worked in Lowell and Lawrence to promote entrepreneurship and leadership among students and members of the community.

Development Dialogue 2012, which will be held Wednesday, April 25 and Thursday, April 26 at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, will unveil the initiative’s next step: launching startups in the region. More than 300 people are expected to attend this conference. 

The Sandbox was founded by the Deshpande Foundation in partnership with UMass Lowell, Merrimack College and Middlesex and Northern Essex community colleges.

Wednesday’s program includes a session called Federal Government “Entrepreneur in Residence Office Hours” from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Nishith Acharya, director of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and senior adviser to the U.S. secretary of commerce, will discuss federal resources for local entrepreneurs. Acharya will be joined by Theresa Park and Patrick Blanchette, directors of economic development for the cities of Lowell and Lawrence, respectively.

The session will be followed by the Campus Catalyst Showcase and Pitch Contest from 6 to 9 p.m. Nearly 200 student entrepreneurs from area schools, colleges and youth programs will showcase and pitch their projects and ideas. The winner will receive a top prize of $1,000.

Thursday’s program includes the Sandbox Forum from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The forum, which will discuss the first 15 months of the Sandbox Initiative and its future, features UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan and Desh Deshpande, co-founder of the Deshpande Foundation as well as chairman of Sycamore Networks, Sparta Group LLC and A123 Systems and co-chair of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Other panelists include Rose Gonzales, deputy director of Groundwork Lawrence; Stacie Hargis, director of the Merrimack Valley Small Business Assistance Center; John Howard, vice president of the Merrimack Valley Federal Credit Union; Josephine Modica-Napolitano, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Merrimack College; Philip Sisson, provost and vice president of Academic and Student Affairs at Middlesex Community College; and Sochenda Uch, youth leadership program coordinator at Lowell Community Health Center.

The keynote address will be delivered by Tony Medhurst, president of Harrow College in London.

Deshpande Forum

Immediately following the Development Dialogue is the Deshpande Forum on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which will be held April 26 and 27 at the ICC.

This invitation-only event features a gathering of about 100 higher-education practitioners, academics and faculty that will focus on accelerating innovation and entrepreneurship across the University. It gives them the opportunity to engage with fellow leaders, learn from each other’s experiences and gain wider exposure to innovative campus ideas, successes and programs.

In addition to Deshpande and Acharya, speakers at the forum will include UMass Lowell Executive Vice Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney; Jack Wilson, University Distinguished Professor of Higher Education, Emerging Technologies and Innovation; and Assoc. Prof. Steve Tello, associate vice chancellor for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development.

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