On June 10, eight weeks into their inaugural inclusive entrepreneurship Accelerator program, Ossining Innovates! (OI) and the Women’s Enterprise Development Center (WEDC), held their 1st Pitch contest. Accelerator participants pitched to 3 seasoned judges, including a manager of a large investment fund, head of a college entrepreneurship program, and founder and leader of a successful businesses. “It was an inspiring evening; everyone did a beautiful job, clearly demonstrating how their personal, sometimes emotional, experiences – prepared them to address their customers’ needs. Seeing the evolution was rewarding,” said Cathy Jirak, Ossining resident, Co-Founder and COO, QueBIT Consulting, and program mentor. “I’ve been in business for over 20 years and found the judges questions and feedback constructive and valuable.”
Founders Abby Lewis and Henry Welt and their WEDC partners describe themselves as “wonderfully swamped”.. Although expected to be an in-person program housed in Ossining’s Theater O, the community Accelerator launched virtually, on Zoom, on April 13th.
“With over 30 applicants, we began with in-person interviews, but then Covid-19 disrupted all our lives. We felt strongly that the need for our program was greater than ever so we quickly migrated to an online platform”, says, Abby, “learning and adapting fast. We think we managed to get to know those who applied and these past weeks have confirmed we have a terrific group.” Persephone Zill, WEDC’s Women’s Business Center Director, notes the program is comprised of 12 entrepreneurs, men and women, ranging in age from late 20’s to late 60’s and working on a wide variety of for- and not-for- profit efforts. “It’s joyful to experience how folks – from all walks of life and educational backgrounds – are learning side by side, supporting one another through the excitement and uncertainty of being an entrepreneur.” “We set out to build community and now we are seeing it take shape”, observes Welt.
The free Accelerator uses the Business Model Canvas framework and is deeply committed to a customer centric, values-driven orientation to doing business.
Mentors are an essential piece of the story and Lewis and Welt are thankful for those who’ve volunteered their time, like Vicki Kroviak, CEO & Founder of Acorn Health, who has built several businesses. “OI’s values and the Accelerator’s mission, are important. I’ve learned a lot building my businesses and I love sharing what I know to help others.”
When asked whether launching an accelerator in the midst of a pandemic seems overwhelming, Lewis and Welt, responded that the pandemic, like most crisis and quickly changing circumstances, has created unexpected opportunities for the program.
OI continues to virtually conduct its Meet the Entrepreneur Next Door meetings and has added Open Hours, a relaxed, unstructured, public session, where people join to converse.
“I always seem to learn something by participating in Ossining Innovates! Open Hours. The atmosphere is welcoming and exudes positive energy. I’ve made meaningful connections and look forward to joining every week,” said Jenet Ferris, a Beacon resident who is Chief Marketing Officer at Club Fit.