When her elderly mother began losing her sight, Tammy Rousell searched for a way to keep her happy.
“She was depressed, and felt isolated,” Roussell said. “She struggled to reengage with her family and friends.”
With her mother’s love of stitching in mind, Roussell, of Lowell, created a tactile-based method with a burlap ribbon sewn onto pre-cut fabric. Her mother was able to feel her way around the borders and sew the quilt without help.
“She began making presents for her grandkids,” Roussell said. “It really improved her quality of life. So I decided to develop a kit to help others, and began marketing it to senior centers and blind centers.”
As Roussell’s small nonprofit began receiving more and more requests to provide kits, she found that even with a history in business, she was not prepared to be an entrepreneur.
“I knew I was at a junction,” she said. “It was sink or swim. The demand was getting so high, and I couldn’t meet it with purely donated materials.”
Michael Trombly and his wife Annie, of Georgetown, have a similar story with Fun Face Express . As they began turning Annie’s face painting into a business in 2012, Trombly knew they needed guidance.
Both Roussell and the Tromblys got help from E for All , a Lowell-based nonprofit that coaches and mentors entrepreneurs in the region.
Roussell took E for All’s free accelerator course in the winter of 2016, and her year-old quilting company, Mitsy Kit Inc. (named after her mother, Mitsy Fowler), recently partnered with Lowell’s UnWrapped Inc. to sew and cut over 10,000 pieces in their first production run.
“The first year has been awesome,” Roussell said.
“[Before E for All], we didn’t even have a website,” Michael Trombly said. Now, “If you gave me 1,000 face painters in the Greater Boston area, I could keep them busy. We have a strategy put together.”
E for All boasts many success stories like the Tromblys and Roussell. Participants in the yearlong accelerator program get 12 weeks of intensive training followed by nine months of continued support from three assigned mentors. The mentors tend to come back every year and include lawyers, industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and other local professionals.
Trombly, who completed the 12-week accelerator in the summer of 2015, is still in contact with his team of mentors. “They’re my friends,” he said. “We’re always in contact with them. I spoke with them today, actually.”
Mentors are helpful, but a business won’t get very far without enough money. At the end of each accelerator program, E for All awards prizes to the top participants. Roussell took top prize at the Lowell-Lawrence 2016 winter accelerator and was granted $5,000 to help her business.
“[E for All] is like no other entity,” said John Conley, the chief operating officer. “There is no other organization like it.”
“It’s not just creating jobs,” added Franky Descoteaux, executive director of the Lowell-Lawrence site. “[The entrepreneurs’] families often think they’re crazy, that the idea won’t make money. They need people to believe in them. I’m here to support you, to be a shoulder to lean on — or cry on, as needed.”
Founded in 2010, E for All expanded its program in 2013 to include a Spanish-speaking branch called EparaTodos , the first of its kind nationwide. The director of the program, Lawrence resident Janin Duran, said many new businesses close within five years of opening, and EmparaTodos works to keep the doors open.
“We focus on networking and increasing self-confidence,” Duran added. “We work with the community.”
If you’ve had a million-dollar-idea buzzing around your mind but didn’t know where to start, you can apply for the accelerator program at lowell-lawrence.eforall.org.
“If you question whether you can be an entrepreneur, do E for All,” Roussell said. “It’s a time investment, but what I got out of it positioned me faster than I could have on my own. It shaved six months off my calendar. They’re amazing.”
Christina Bagni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.