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Seeking a ‘Shark Tank’ for nonprofits

Steve Rosenthal now runs a real estate investment company, West Shore LLC.Chris Morris for The Boston Globe

As a successful executive, Steve Rosenthal has written his share of checks to worthy causes.

But this time, Rosenthal is taking a different approach. He wants to see if the competitive method used in business plan contests, such as the TV show “Shark Tank,” can be applied to the nonprofit world.

Rosenthal, the former CEO of real estate developer Northland Investment Corp., has donated $1 million to Northeast Arc, a Danvers-based organization that provides services to people with developmental disabilities, to launch the Changing Lives Fund. The first round of funding, up to $200,000, will be distributed to entrepreneurs who come up with the most effective new ways to provide services to people with disabilities.


Seven teams of finalists will vie for funding by pitching proposals to a panel of judges on Wednesday at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Rosenthal said he hopes this initiative can inject more innovation, and possibly even disruption, in the nonprofit sector.

“I don’t think I’m going to solve the world’s problems,” said Rosenthal, who now runs a Boston real estate investment firm called West Shore LLC. “But if I can do something that innovates and disrupts a bit and helps some [people], then I think that will be a good thing. . . . It could really have an impact to change the way this stuff is done.”

The ideas that made the final cut range from the YMCA of the North Shore’s proposal to develop a water safety program for children with autistic spectrum disorders to a Boston Medical Center team’s idea to develop training videos for health care professionals who interact with autistic patients.

Rosenthal isn’t quite sure where his concept of disrupting the world of human services will lead him. But he believes it’s worth a shot.

“I had to start somewhere,” Rosenthal said. “If you’re going to innovate, you’ve got to experiment. Not all innovations are perfect.”


One hospital exec offers support for the rail link

Many developers and builders like the North South Rail Link. That’s not surprising, even for a project viewed as a long shot. The more fixes to transportation, the more the region can accommodate new buildings.

Hospital CEOs? They’re not quite as enthusiastic. But one stood out on the latest list of people who endorse plans to connect North and South stations via an underground tunnel: David Torchiana, head of Partners HealthCare, the largest hospital group in the state.

Partners spokesman Rich Copp said Torchiana is supportive for several reasons: The project has the potential to reduce traffic congestion and improve access to Partners facilities for patients and for the group’s 73,000 employees (most notably, Mass. General is within walking distance of North Station).

Plus, Torchiana is also hopeful about the broader economic impact.

“Additionally,” Copp said, “investment in this type of infrastructure upgrade can help spur economic growth and make Boston a more attractive option for companies considering relocation or expansion in this region.”

Young California mayor makes an impression

Action for Boston Community Development’s annual “Community Heroes Celebration” regularly draws local politicians.

This time, US Senator Ed Markey and state Representative Byron Rushing were among the honorees at the antipoverty organization’s 2017 event, which was held last Thursday at the Boston Marriott Copley Place hotel.

But there was one pol who was definitely new to the scene: Stockton, Calif., Mayor Michael Tubbs was the event’s featured speaker. Tubbs became the Stockton’s first black mayor when he was elected last year at age 26.


Tubbs has since garnered national attention for launching a pilot program in which several hundred residents will be given $500 a month, no strings attached, to help with their bills. The experiment, funded by well-heeled donors, will likely make Stockton the first city in the country to test the concept, known as universal basic income.

ABCD chief executive John Drew walked away impressed by what Tubbs had to say, particularly with regards to Tubbs’s vision of an inclusive city economy. “The young mayor is the real deal,” Drew says.

Restaurant with a view is not going anywhere

The Venezia restaurant in Dorchester recently received some national attention by landing on OpenTable’s list of 100 most scenic restaurants in America.

The waterfront establishment in Dorchester was one of only three places in Massachusetts to make the list, and was the only one in Greater Boston.

The OpenTable ranking was welcome news to Carmine Bruno, whose family owns the restaurant. That’s partly because Bruno and his team have been batting off rumors that the restaurant might be up for sale or closing. He says Venezia isn’t going anywhere.

Bruno said he thinks these rumors can be traced to a Globe story in February about a project at the marina property next door. The developer, Ryan Sillery, bought that site from members of the Bruno family and has rights to buy the Venezia site. But Bruno said those rights essentially give Sillery the first crack if the family decides to sell the restaurant property some day, and also will allow his family to sell to another buyer if offered a better price. But there are no plans to sell the popular restaurant and function hall right now.


“Folks that come in for the first time are kind of surprised, when they come in and see the views,” Bruno says. “There aren’t too many places on this side of Boston where you can do that.”

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