Lowell: The Entrepreneurial City
By James Ostis
Historian (and KhmerPostUSA contributor) Richard Howe often says Lowell was the “Silicon Valley of the 19th Century.” But during an engaging discussion last month at the Merrimack Valley Sandbox space, it became clear that the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of the city is still very much alive today. On September 25th, Lowell Heritage Partnership presented Lowell: The Entrepreneurial City, an expert panel discussion on Lowell’s innovative past, present, and potential future. Speakers included Howe, Theresa Park of the City of Lowell Economic Development Office, Steve Tello from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and David Parker of the Merrimack Valley Sandbox.
Richard Howe spoke mainly about Lowell’s history, highlighting many entrepreneurs and innovations through 175 years. In discussing Lowell’s past status as an entrepreneurial hub, Howe described the city by saying “It really was a magnet that drew innovators into the city. People who had talent, drive, and ability all came to Lowell and I think those traits got into the city’s DNA…I think that is still present in the city’s character and helps distinguish itself from other mid-sized cities.”
Theresa Park focused her discussion on the experience of immigrant entrepreneurs. Many immigrants are drawn to entrepreneurship and Park talked about how the local economic development office works to support these efforts.
Steve Tello discussed some of the efforts the University of Massachusetts Lowell has been involved in regarding entrepreneurship including hosting incubator spaces and instituting the DifferenceMaker program that requires all students to create an entrepreneurial endeavor. He also talked about the relationship between risk-taking and innovation, a common element throughout the evening.
Finally, David Parker described the work the Sandbox does cultivating the economic ecosystem in the Merrimack Valley through their Accelerator program, Pitch Contest Series, Student programs and other efforts. He noted that in two and a half years since the organization’s founding, the Sandbox has worked with over 600 students and over 400 would-be entrepreneurs. The Sandbox also served as the host for the evening as the event took place in their new co-working space located within the Wannalancit Mill complex.
After the opening remarks, the panelists also took questions from the crowd, which included a discussion of what makes Lowell unique versus other cities and, on the night following the city’s preliminary election, the impact of local government on entrepreneurship in the city. Guests also were invited to try Moxie Soda, the first mass-manufactured soft drink in the United States, which was created in Lowell in 1876.
The Lowell Heritage Partnership is a coalition formed in 2000 to preserve and enhance Lowell’s natural, built, and cultural heritage through community partnership. For more information please visit: www.lowellheritagepartnership.org