In Roxbury, an effort to grow businesses

Greg Valentino Ball has passion, vision, and a deep bench of backers who’ve helped him emerge with contagious confidence from the entrepreneurial incubator that nurtured him for six months in a small, smart office above Dudley Square.

He also has an 86-year-old great aunt, a sharp woman named Elsie who, God bless her, has implored him to cut through all the high-tech gobbledygook and venture capital jargon and tell her exactly what the heck it is that he’s trying to do with his life.

“I’ve learned to boil it down to this: We’re a digital magazine. And now she gets that,’’ he told me the other day as he packed up his second-floor office on Warren Street.


You would get it, too, if you could see the image hanging above Ball’s desk, a large framed X-ray image of two turntables and a mixer. It’s a portrait of his business plan’s heart and soul.

“Our goal is to look underneath the surface,’’ he said. “I want ‘Killer’ to be an enterprise that looks into the core of what the music is all about.’’

Killer is shorthand for KillerBoomBox, a multimedia company that Ball and his partners are trying to breathe life into.

They envision it as sort of a cross between Rolling Stone and MTV for urban music, hip-hop, and R&B. It’s a startup like so many others taking root throughout this resurgent city, but this hopeful little green sprout is planted not in Kendall Square, but in Roxbury.

And that’s just the way Gilad Rosenzweig, the man who helped place the 44-year-old Ball and his partners in his Dudley Square incubator, designed it.

“When you go to an incubator or an accelerator, the overwhelming majority of the participants are male and white or Asian,’’ said Rosenzweig, an MIT graduate and urban planner. “What if in Dudley Square we had an accelerator for people with great ideas who many think are not part of the startup culture?’’


Rozenzweig’s answer to his own question is a nonprofit venture he’s founded called Smarter in the City. Ball’s KillerBoomBox was one of the five applicants accepted last summer into the inaugural program that serves as economic and strategic fertilizer.

Besides providing free rent, modern office space, and technical guidance, Smarter in the City builds bridges from Roxbury to other neighborhoods. That’s how Greg Ball of Dorchester, in need of legal assistance, met Jon Atwater of Weymouth, a Boston College law student in need of real-world experience.

“It taught me that when someone has passion for a business — and boy, does Greg have passion — you can accomplish a lot,’’ said Atwater, now a third-year law student at BC. “Greg thinks mainstream media puts people in boxes. Whites in one corner, blacks in another. He wants one place where people can come together and talk about music.’’

Ball and Atwater talked a lot about music. And sports. And the law. Atwater helped Ball navigate the legal shoals of intellectual property and helped the firm hammer out a formal partnership.

It’s the kind of advice that usually costs $350 an hour, advice that BC provided for free to all five Smarter in the City entrepreneurs. “Before we were flying by the seat of our pants,’’ Ball explained. “They gave us real information. Part of KillerBoomBox is forging relationships outside of the ones we already have. That’s what we did.’’


Ball and his partners, Darius McCroey and Brandon Matthews, have moved into new quarters in the Seaport District, where they will take with them the lessons learned and the relationships forged in Dudley Square.

They will debut a podcast this summer and are at work on a documentary. They want to be the one indispensable destination for those who live and breathe hip-hop, relying on ad sales to support the venture.

“Oh, this is going to get done,’’ said Ball, whose fondest dream is to return to Roxbury a smashing success. He’d better. Aunt Elsie has been talking him up big time at her senior center in Roslindale. Like him, she’s a true believer.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.