EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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October 14, 2012

Local entrepreneurs have their eyes on a bigger prize

Sandbox initiative helps give a boost to business startup ideas

Harlyene D. Goss was on the phone with her elderly father who lives in Florida one day recently when he made a remark that got her thinking.

“ ‘You know mom is the keeper of all the information,’ he said, and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s not new,’ ” Goss said. “And he said, ‘But if I call 911, I don’t know where to find anything.’ ”

The medical technologist from Methuen wondered how to organize critical medical and insurance information for her parents so it could be handy in case of emergencies. A search of available products did not satisfy her, so she came up with her own idea for a kit to hold paper and electronic copies of those documents.

But then she ran into the big problem: Where does the money for materials and conferences and distribution come from?

Last month, Goss was one of three local women with entrepreneurial ideas who got a boost with grants to help them move their projects from idea to reality, and this week they have a shot at a much bigger prize.

The Merrimack Valley Sandbox Entrepreneur Program, based at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, awarded them grants ranging from $500 to $1,000 as part of what they called a “pitch program,” where dozens of people entered their ideas for a chance at a little start-up cash.

This Thursday, the three award winners will be among a group pitching their ideas to a panel of “celebrity” judges, who will decide which plan will receive a $10,000 grant.

“I’m going to be exhibiting at a conference that targets home-care professionals. I wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise,” Goss said. Her idea, which she pitched with seven other finalists in Lawrence on Sept. 13, earned her the “wild card” grant of $500.

Jessica K. Wilson, a Lawrence resident who works in Lowell, took first place and a $1,000 grant for an idea to create a training and entrepreneur program for people interested in using video, the Internet and social media in a for-profit business idea.

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