Start Me Up! The Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Alive And Well

By Douglas Karlson

No one embodies the American spirit more than an entrepreneur. But sometimes that spirit needs nurturing. That’s the mission of EforAll, or Entrepreneurship for All.

That entrepreneurial spirit that was on full display recently at a nail salon pop-up store in Mashpee Commons, where EforAll entrepreneurs, mentors, staff and supporters gathered to share success stories.
Among those success stories is Washashore Productions.

When Alison Leporati moved from Los Angeles to Cape Cod 15 months ago, she missed the creative atmosphere she had left on the West Coast, and saw opportunity in the Cape’s slow winter economy.  She decided to start a production company to make quality movies  with modest budgets, and create well-paying skilled careers among the declining demographic of 25- to 45-year-olds. In short, Leporati says she wants her production company to do for the Cape what the television series “Breaking Bad” did for New Mexico.

She assembled a team including Geoffrey Bassett, a cinematographer, and Andrew Prendergast, a director, as well as other local talent responsible for everything from music to makeup.
With the help of EforAll, Leporati and her team researched what sort of movies they could make – and sell.

They realized that monster movies do well, in part because they can be translated for the large foreign market.  As a result, they began work on a movie called “Shocktapus” about a giant octopus that destroys a lighthouse.

Last spring, Washashore produced a “proof of concept” trailer. With that in hand, while at the Cannes Film Festival, Prendergast was able to secure a $150,000 line of investment, as well as sales agents, which will allow the project to go forward.

Economic Development Through Entrepreneurship
Washashore Productions is just one of many EforAll success stories. In addition to Cape Cod, EforAll has chapters in Fall River, Holyoke, Lynn, New Bedford and Roxbury.  All totaled, the organization says it’s created 687 jobs, and new ventures launched through the program have raised more than $21 million in capital, and generated revenue of nearly $20 million.

The organization was founded in 2010 at UMass Lowell as the Merrimack Valley Sandbox with the idea of creating an entrepreneurial support network and business accelerator for the cities of Lowell and Lawrence.

According to Christin Marshall, executive director of EforAll’s Cape Cod chapter, which opened in 2018, EforAll’s goal is economic development through entrepreneurship. To accomplish that, the nonprofit organization offers entrepreneurs technical assistance, mentorship and access to capital.

Perhaps most important, it provides a network of people who can help entrepreneurs launch successful enterprises.

Leporati says EforAll has helped in many ways, from helping her develop a business plan to marketing materials. She credits the intensive mentorship that helped her create a prospectus that spoke to potential investors.

She especially credits her mentors at EforAll. “They have been instrumental each step of the way offering both constant support, guidance, an ear and constructive feedback as well helping me navigate through some obstacles and cheering me on when we overcame them.”

“When the obstacles of producing such a unique and VFX-heavy trailer seemed insurmountable, I was met with so much belief and encouragement. On the day we wrapped everyone was filled with such optimism and joy from being part of creating something from a whole lot of faith…and sweat.  I thank EforAll for that moment. They gave us the community, resources and classes that helped each of us grow into the next phase  and inspire us to keep going,” says Leporati.

Marshall reports that about 15 entrepreneurs join each of the Cape’s bi-annual programs, resulting in about 30 new businesses springing up on Cape Cod every year as a result of EforAll.

“It’s been an unbelievable welcome,” says Marshall, who is herself a graduate of the program. With its help, she founded Camp TimeOut, a business that hosts summer camp getaways for members of the CrossFit community.

Business Basics
EforAll runs a business accelerator program that lasts one year, offered at no cost to participants. It begins with a 12-week intensive period during which aspiring entrepreneurs attend a three-hour class on Tuesday, a two-hour class on Thursday, and an additional mentoring session every week.  Classes are held at Cape Light Compact and Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.

“The first twelve weeks are pretty wild,” says Marshall. “They’re just at the beginning and need to develop business plans, develop their value proposition and figure out who their customers are.”

Following that, classes are held just once a month.  At the same time, every entrepreneur is assigned three mentors and meets with them once a week for 90 minutes.  Those mentors help them develop their business plans and form a support network that helps them access the resources they need.  If available, the entrepreneurs also make use of free office space.  At different stages during the year the entrepreneurs are given seed money to advance their plans.

“EforAll has been phenomenally helpful. I’ve learned a lot and I’m learning more every day,” says Darren Witherspoon, founder of a stylish golf shirt company called Pure Gallus.

“It’s more than just a curriculum of business courses,” says Amanda Kaiser, program manager for EforAll Cape Cod, “rather, it’s a network we’re building. EforAll is an amazing community to be a part of.”

“They go through with a cohort of 13 to 15 other entrepreneurs, and continue to collaborate. It’s kind of a nice little family,” adds Marshall.

Maureen O’Shea, who started Native Scape Design, a garden design firm focused on native plants and sustainable landscaping, says EforAll was instrumental in that regard. “This is a network of people who are very creative,” she says.

EforAll also hosts pitch contests every quarter at various locations around the Cape, from Falmouth to Provincetown. Through these contests, many are introduced to the program. The pitch contests are opportunities for entrepreneurs to gain experience presenting their ideas, and receive feedback from judges.

It’s “like Shark Tank but without the teeth,” jokes EforAll CEO David Parker.

One of those pitch contest participants was Sarah Mason, who founded Cape Cod Nail Co., a mobile nail salon, in 2016 after participating in both the pitch contest and EforAll’s accelerator program.

The startup offers vegan-friendly nail polish in custom colors and stages events at businesses, homes and weddings. (Thirty percent of some of their custom colors, such as We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat, go to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.)

“We’re doing a lot of out-of-the-box really cool stuff,” she says.

Cape Cod Nail Co. currently occupies a pop-up store in Mashpee Commons.  It’s an arrangement offered by Mashpee Commons to help new businesses to eventually become paying tenants. The small retail space was designed to nurture new businesses and develop them into long term tenants of larger spaces, explains John Renz, vice president of Mashpee Commons. Marshall hopes to replicate the model in other locations on Cape Cod.

Beyond The Baystate
While EforAll is now focused primarily in Massachusetts, it has national ambitions and recently opened chapters in Colorado and California.

“We want to be perceived as a national organization,” says CEO Parker, whose goal is to have 50 programs across the country within the next five years.

“There are so many communities that could use entrepreneurial help – regions, small to mid-sized cities, and as well neighborhoods within large cities.  Too many communities put all their energy and resources into attracting large employers – this should be balanced with investment in their own residents, encouraging them to start businesses and generate jobs that are rooted in the community,” he says.

According to Parker, the Cape chapter is a successful model that will be replicated. “It’s definitely a model of EforAll’s ability to cover a region.  We’re now in Berkshire County, for instance; we felt confident launching there because of our successful launch on the Cape.”

“You’re an early part of EforAll’s growth,” Parker told the entrepreneurs, mentors and supporters assembled at Cape Cod Nail Co. “No other chapter has a space like this,” he says of the Mashpee Commons storefront. “It gives us visibility.”

Making it all work on Cape Cod are 90 mentors, and 150 volunteers overall. “People are really willing to help,” observes Marshall.  (Those interested in volunteering may do so on the EforAll website.)

Successful entrepreneurs and philanthropists have been instrumental in EforAll’s growth. “At the national level, Desh and Jaishree Deshpande literally launched EforAll and have been supporting our growth ever since; the Morgridge Family Foundation is a key, major sponsor; Mass Tech Collaborative launched us in the South Coast and helped in the Cape; and Gail Goodman of Constant Contact is a generous supporter as well as our Board Chair.  In Cape Cod, we wouldn’t be there without the generous support of Mike Fitzgerald,” says Parker.

To help support the local program, Cape Cod Young Professionals applied for and received a $100,000 grant from the Mass Tech Collaborative. Marshall says that CCYP has also been extremely helpful in leveraging their community to support EforAll. Support has been strong, both in donations and volunteers.

According to Parker, EforAll’s supporters are motivated by both a love of a community and a profound belief that entrepreneurship is critical to improving society.

“People are so incredibly grateful. A common refrain I hear is ‘I can’t believe this is free,’” says Marshall.

Making Dreams Reality
Often, the decision to be an entrepreneur is a way for someone to realize a dream and dramatically change a career.

An immigrant from Jamaica, Cleonie Mainvielle felt uninspired and unhappy in her federal job of 17 years.  Her family’s dream felt more like a burden.  Rather than find a new job, she realized she had to create the right job. She started Inspired Outcome, a time management and organizing consultancy.  About her idea, she says, “I felt passionate, but there was no structure.”

With the help of mentors and weekly business classes, Mainvielle left her federal job and now works full time at her own business, delivering her services via workshops, one-on-one coaching, and through long-term group support.

“Being a ‘solopreneur’ is very lonely,” she says. But her involvement with EforAll allowed to talk to more people about her idea.  She realized her idea was viable.

Thanks to EforAll, she says “I am more informed about what is required to run a wildly successful business and how to scale it so that I don’t burn out.”

Such an outcome is typical, says Parker. When budding entrepreneurs first come to the program, they’re often shy, uncertain, and question their ideas.  But through the program, they challenge their ideas and develop their business and then they are done and they can say with confidence,  “I’m an entrepreneur.”