Second Mohawk Trail Entrepreneurship Challenge accepting applications

  • Last year’s winner of the Mohawk Trail Entrepreneurship Challenge was Foolhardy Hill, a campground in Charlemont, pictured, owned by the husband-wife duo of Patrick and Katie Banks. Applications are now open for the second challenge, which will award a $25,000 grant to a small company with an innovative and sustainable business model. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/21/2021 2:04:15 PM

Applications are open for the second Mohawk Trail Entrepreneurship Challenge, which will award a $25,000 grant to a small company with an innovative and sustainable business model.

Lever Inc., a North Adams-based economic development nonprofit, is looking for entrepreneurs with sustainable, wood-related businesses that can attract revenue outside the Mohawk Trail region. Following a Nov. 19 application deadline, eight finalists will be selected to participate in a nine-month program, with the winning company receiving a $25,000 reward. The challenge is funded through a $60,000 grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA).

Lever Executive Director Jeffrey Thomas said last year’s challenge was successful and the nonprofit is “really excited” to offer another one with a different twist. He added the EOEEA, which funds the challenge, has requested fewer projects focused on tourism and more geared toward conserving the forests of the Mohawk Trail region.

“I think it fits with the priorities of the Mohawk Trail program,” Thomas said in a phone interview. “They want to see economic development for both tourism and driving visitors as well as driving sustainable use of wood and forest resources.”

To qualify, entrepreneurs must be located in one of the 16 member towns of the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership, a program that supports sustainable economic development in rural communities. In Franklin County, that includes Ashfield, Charlemont, Heath, Leyden, Monroe, Rowe and Shelburne. Entrepreneurs’ business ventures must also be less than a year old, earn no more than $500,000 in revenue and incorporate resilience to climate change.

Thomas said Lever is expecting applications in a wide range of industries and is open to any ideas. Companies that convert forest products into fuel, however, are excluded from the challenge.

“We’re hoping to see entrepreneurs who are, for example, doing some cool, innovative work in furniture. maybe flooring and specialty wood products,” Thomas said. “We may have some innovations in forest management. There’s some enterprises that are super interesting.”

Lever expects approximately a dozen to 20 applications and preference will be given to entrepreneurs who show their business can create jobs while also giving back to the woodlands.

“Job creation is certainly a priority. We’re looking to develop enterprises that can grow and access local, regional and maybe national revenues,” Thomas said. “So those revenues can come into the Mohawk area.”

Last year’s winner out of five finalists was Foolhardy Hill, a campground in Charlemont owned by the husband-wife duo of Patrick and Katie Banks.

The eight finalist companies participating in the nine-month program will participate in a final pitch event on April 27, with one company being awarded the $25,000 prize. Thomas said the companies that don’t win can still expect assistance from Lever beyond the pitch event.

We typically work with companies well beyond the challenge period,” he said, “and support them however we can.”

Interested entrepreneurs can apply for the Mohawk Trail Entrepreneurship Challenge on Lever’s website at bit.ly/3pjKnqy.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.




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