EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 7, 2014

Merrimack Valley Sandbox gets $150K state grantto spur entrepreneurs

By Bill Kirk

---- — LOWELL — The Merrimack Valley Sandbox, a non-profit organization started by an Andover couple, received a $150,000 state grant this week to strengthen its business mentoring program in Lawrence and Lowell.

The funds, announced during a roundtable discussion Tuesday with Gov. Deval Patrick at the organization’s headquarters in Lowell, will help the group hire two, additional part-time ‘Managers of Mentorship,’ including a bilingual mentor who will support the Sandbox’s new program for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs in the region.

The Merrimack Valley Sandbox, a UMass-Lowell-based non-profit, works to spur entrepreneurship and innovation. It was started by Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande and his wife Jaishree in 2010 with the mission of boosting the economic and social well-being of greater Lowell and Lawrence by advancing entrepreneurship and innovation, according to its Web site.

Desh is a well-known entrepreneur in his own right, who has built a number of high-tech companies and continues to sit on the boards of several start-ups.

“We can’t wait to start strengthening and growing the mentoring program through the funds provided by the Commonwealth and the Mass Tech Collaborative,” said Merrimack Valley Sandbox Executive Director David Parker. “The hundreds of entrepreneurs coming through our program consistently report that mentors are the most valuable service that the MVS program provides.”

The grant to Sandbox was one of three awarded by the Massachusetts Innovation Mentoring Initiative, which was established at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborate in 2012 to strengthen entrepreneur and start-up mentoring activities across underserved populations, regions and industries in the Commonwealth. The goal is to encourage the growth of new jobs, startups and businesses.

Interise, Inc., based on the South Shore, got $149,613 which will be used to provide executive mentoring to a select number of established small business owners in the South Coast region. Valley Venture Mentors, in Western Massachusetts, received $149,259 to expand its private sector-led entrepreneur mentorship program.