By Ed Brennen
As Chancellor Jacquie Moloney welcomed hundreds of small business owners to the Tsongas Center for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s third annual Massachusetts Business Matchmaker event, she pointed out how fitting it was to hold the gathering in a building named after Paul Tsongas, the late U.S. senator who was a visionary champion of small business.
“Senator Tsongas was a hero to many, especially here in Lowell,” said Moloney, who noted that Tsongas was an original co-sponsor of the Small Business Innovation Research Act of 1982. “He was ahead of his time, and he inspired the economic redevelopment of this great city, and the region.”
Warren’s “matchmaking” event was designed to help companies from across the Commonwealth explore business opportunities with 40 government agencies and contractors in attendance, including Raytheon, BAE Systems, Pitney Bowes and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Gov. Charlie Baker and Maria Contreras-Sweet, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration and a member of President Obama's Cabinet, joined Warren as honored guests.
“I love doing these matchmaker events because small businesses are the heart of the economy, and the federal government ought to be a good partner to our small businesses,” said Warren, who was inspired to create the event after experiencing just how difficult it was to connect and contract with small businesses while setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2010. “I thought that this is a problem we ought to be able to solve, and that’s what today is all about.”
Tom O’Donnell, director of the Innovation Hub and a visiting professor of management and entrepreneurship in the Manning School of Business, was pleased to see such a focus being put on removing obstacles for startups and small companies.
“Anything that can be done to reduce those hurdles up front is a great thing, because if companies are focusing more on how to engage versus their core business, their chance of success goes down significantly,” said O’Donnell, who attended the event to “understand the landscape more and find out who the players are.”
“Our job is to help lower those barriers,” he said, “so the more we know at the Innovation Hub, the more we can help and guide and support and nurture companies.”
O’Donnell added that outside of Boston and Cambridge, there is no better place in the state than Lowell to showcase the work being done to support early-stage companies and tech-based startups.
“The more the university is viewed as a convener and supporter and mentor of this … it’s huge,” he said.
Moloney agreed, noting that entrepreneurship has been central to the university’s transformation over the past decade, from partnering with the city on the acquisition of the Tsongas Center, to the creation of the Innovation Hub, to the education of students through programs like DifferenceMaker.
“Entrepreneurship, and our commitment to small business, has never been as strong as it is today,” Moloney said.