LAWRENCE — Large numbers of Lawrence residents do not have access to the Internet.
Usually, it's because they can't afford a computer – so they're unable to seek and apply for jobs online.
Josue Jerez, 36, an electrical engineering student, wants to change this, so he started a company that acquires old computers, overhauls them as needed and sells them at low cost to people who can't afford new equipment.
Jerez was one of 13 new business owners who graduated from the 12-week Business Accelerator program, which is offered by the nonprofit group Entrepreneurship for All, also known as EforAll.
Jerez and his fellow graduates were honored at the Everett Mill last week. The new entrepreneurs completed an intensive 12-week course that prepared them for owning and operating their own businesses.
Alaina Brackett, 36, of Lowell, who along with her husband Douglas Brackett has started the Purple Carrot Bread Co., said the course helped her with questions about taxes and other day-to-day aspects of running a business.
"We have a great product," she said, but she needed assistance with some of the bureaucratic issues that a business owner must navigate.
Many of the people who attended the graduation ceremony feasted on sandwiches made with bread baked by Purple Carrot. They are now baking their product at a shared commercial kitchen in Lawrence, Brackett said.
"We're getting close to opening a place of (our) own," she said.
EforAll is financed by grants from the Deshpande Foundation and other donors. Desh Deshpande is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who has contributed a fortune to help other people start their own businesses.
Jerez, Brackett and the other graduates received their training, from men and women who have already established themselves in the business world, free of charge.
Raj Melville, executive director of the Deshpande Foundation, said he is grateful to "the families that have stood by the entrepreneurs." He also thanked Mayor Daniel Rivera for his support of the Business Accelerator program.
"An entrepreneur is an optimist," Melville said.
Cristina Pimentel, 24, of Lawrence, founder and owner of Fuschia Files, a fashion consulting firm, was the keynote speaker for the evening. She certainly agreed with Melville's statement.
She started her company six months ago with $3,000 in savings after having worked in New York City.
"I was scared," she said. The Accelerator program, however, has given her the confidence to succeed, she said.
"You have to be resilient, you have to be hopeful," she said. Her goal, Pimentel said, is to help people acquire the best wardrobe and the best look for them. Those who use her services, she said, will never again have to say, "I have nothing to wear."
In addition to the free training they received over the last few months, the graduates also won varying amounts of cash to further their ventures. The big winner of the evening was Tammy Roussell of Lowell, proprietor of Mitsy Kit, who won $5,000.
Roussell, 54, an information technology professional for many years, has developed a tactile strip that enables blind people to sew. It all started, she said, when her elderly mother lost her sight.
Roussell wanted to find a way to help her mother keep busy. She succeeded.
She displayed a quilt and pillows that her mother, who had worked as a seamstress, created without the benefit of sight.
The Bracketts won $2,500 while Jerez gained $1,500. The people in the audience were the judges.
Potential business owners who are interested in using the services of EforAll are advised to email Andres Vargas, marketing director for the nonprofit enterprise, at firstname.lastname@example.org.