Ossining Innovates! (OI), an Ossining-based, inclusive entrepreneurship initiative, and the Women’s Enterprise Development Center (WEDC), a non-profit organization that helps women and minorities start, strengthen and succeed in business, have announced the launch of an Inclusive Entrepreneurship Community Accelerator this April in Ossining.
When launched, this program will be the first one of its kind in New York State. OI founders, Abby Lewis and Henry Welt, note that, “The program is designed to eliminate the very real structural barriers that often prevent people from participating in more traditionally–designed incubators and accelerators.”
The Ossining Innovates! WEDC pilot will be accessible to all. No fees charged, no equity stakes taken; books and learning materials are also free. Evening classes are scheduled to be accessible to those with day jobs.
Mentors will receive training and will be asked to commit to participate both during the twelve–week program and for the remainder of the year.
Both WEDC and OI view entrepreneurship as a team sport that thrives best when supported by local communities. The group also believes the entrepreneur’s framework can help residents solve some of their local communities’ toughest challenges and is equally as applicable to nonprofit endeavors as commercial ones.
OI offers its popular Meet the Entrepreneur Next Door Program, in which local residents share their experiences in creating their own businesses, both profit and non–profit. Lewis says, “One of our goals is to demystify the concept of entrepreneurship; our communities should perceive that entrepreneurial skills and mindset are available to all.”
Anne Janiak, CEO of WEDC agrees, commenting, “WEDC and Ossining Innovates! are joined together by our mutual commitment to the ideas that entrepreneurship creates opportunity and that everyone, no matter one’s socio-economic circumstances, race, age or gender, is entitled to the opportunity to learn entrepreneurship skills. These skills are life skills.
Lewis adds, “The entrepreneur’s toolkit unlocks opportunity and fosters innovation for individuals and communities. It’s being taught throughout the nation and is widely seen as necessary to thrive in our increasingly fast-paced world. We want to make the most current thinking accessible to all local area residents.”
Participants in the program will learn Lean Startup, design thinking and a customer-centric approach to creating a business or non-profit. Upon completion, participants will be able to begin their start-up or progress their existing business, with skills that enhance innovation and mitigate risk.
Participants will also be matched with mentors trained by the program; and they will have the opportunity to participate in pitch contests, win small prizes, and grow their networking skills.
The founders note they did not invent these program attributes. They credit EforAll, a non-profit, inclusive entrepreneurship model created in Massachusetts. Welt notes, “The success and impact of the EforAll model, and the advice from the EforAll team, have been huge sources of inspiration for us.” And Lewis adds, “It’s convinced us that we were on to something potentially transformative for our community and for smaller communities elsewhere”
Lewis continues, “We remain in close touch with EforAll and hope to grow our relationship as our model evolves. And now, we’re so fortunate to have found in WEDC a local partner with which we share core values and the enthusiasm and experience to turn our dream into reality.”
The group is seeking applications for participants and mentors and is planning information sessions for the pilot.
Bridget Gibbons, Director of Economic Development, Westchester County, agrees, “This important collaboration between Ossining Innovates! and WEDC to launch the first inclusive entrepreneurship accelerator in Westchester is an integral component in the County’s vision to support the creation of a twenty-first-century entrepreneurial ecosystem. We look forward to a successful collaboration with them.”