Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one. During her journey to establish and grow her nonprofit tutoring collaborative she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.
There is something magical in the air and many people in the know are starting to feel it.
With its strong local collaborations and emerging businesses, Worcester is beginning to be recognized outside the city limits as much as inside them as a new leader in the startup world — and rightfully so.
Per recent data released by TechNet and the Progressive Policy Institute and reported by Axios.com, Worcester is lumped in with larger cities — from Philadelphia; to Nashville, Tennessee; to Portland, Oregon — as being among the nation’s emerging startup hubs.
While statistics are starting to add up to recognition that Worcester is a hub of innovative entrepreneurs, we have known this for quite some time.
Known as a center of manufacturing as far back as 150 years ago, Worcester has always served as an incubator for industries, so it is no surprise to me that we are collectively regaining our title.
Read Giselle’s previous chapter, The stress test, or scroll down to explore more of her story
Over the past five years, I have experienced the business renaissance in Worcester, and it is something to be proud of. With the expansion of old programs like Leadership Worcester, StartUp Worcester and the growth of groups like the Venture Forum — not to mention the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce’s mission to “recruit, retain and incubate” and new collaborative spaces like Running Start and Worcester Idea Lab — there is seemingly no stopping the city’s growing startup movement.
Except, maybe, for city government.
While the city continues to grow — in population, business opportunity and reputation — Worcester officials seem too often to shy away from embracing grassroots innovation, as the red tape surrounding creating a business in the city continues to ensure that it can’t reach its full potential.
Many new ideas, in my mind, are undervalued. Programs with potential are not considered for funding and dismissed as “overly ambitious.”
To fully take on our role as an emerging startup hub, as much progress as has been made, I think we still need better local policies in place and a more open-minded government.
With The Learning Hub still facing its own challenges within the borders of the city, it is not the only startup carrying the label of “underdog.” The city seems accustomed to embracing projects that are risk-averse or appeal to a more traditional mindset. Sometimes for a frustrated entrepreneur it can feel like style over substance.
When projects can bring value, like Pow!Wow! Worcester did last summer, for example, they are held at arm’s length, away from full city support, and only celebrated after the project has been deemed a success by the public.
To me, the city is in the midst of its own battle over where to focus its resources, and this tug-of-war impacts the rest of us who are trying our hardest to make positive change for Worcester and put the city on the map. City leaders should remember they have an obligation to support large and small businesses alike.
In my most recent conversations with local entrepreneurs, when I’m asked to offer advice I encourage them to contact the city to find out about necessary licenses — but then to keep city involvement to a minimum.
I encourage those with solid ideas to implement them without relying too heavily on city support, to put their plans in motion and ask questions later.
When some city officials are not up to par with innovation and the startup movement, we as entrepreneurs must keep moving forward.
Entrepreneurs, no matter how strong we look, could always use support for our businesses, ideas and concepts, but if the city cannot fill that void, then we must find those that will.
Follow Giselle’s inspiring story from the beginning: