SPARK Obtains Additional $56,000 to Continue Assisting Local Entrepreneurs

The SPARK partnership has secured additional funding from the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) that will support the group’s efforts to provide intensive training and direct services to new business startups into the future.  The award was made through MGCC’s Small Business Assistance Grant Program, which is designed to complement and enhance traditional public and private small business assistance networks and facilitate small business economic viability.  This award will allow SPARK to offer more classes, provide one-on-one mentoring for entrepreneurs and support a micro-enterprise loan program for those who qualify. This funding adds to the $250,000 awarded by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston last year and $75,000 awarded by the City through a Community Development Block Grant allocation this year.

With the collaboration of over ten organizations and entrepreneurs, SPARK was launched in the spring of this year and is located at the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce on High Street. SPARK seeks to strengthen and grow the Holyoke economy from within its own residents, which are often under-represented and have untapped potential to increase business and social ventures in the City and region. The founding organizational partners are: The City of Holyoke, Greater Holyoke Chamber Centennial Foundation, Holyoke Community College, CareerPoint, Nuestras Raíces, Holyoke Works, Holyoke Innovation District Task Force and Holyoke Public Library.

SPARK just graduated its first cohort of aspiring entrepreneurs last Tuesday, September 22nd after an intense 9 week business development and growth class which began in July with a total of 16 participants.  The students were selected after an application period and represented a broad cross-section of the community with a wide variety of business ideas. Participants were able to meet and work with other aspiring entrepreneurs to learn from each other, and learn from personal experiences told by successful business owners.

Following the graduation of this first cohort, SPARK will be welcoming a second group of students today, Tuesday, September 29 for another 9-week series of business development classes. Applications for a third class will be available at and at the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce offices for the winter session.

“My idea was invisible to the naked eye until SPARK helped me organize and conceptualize my thoughts and business plan,” said SPARK graduate Alejandra Maya Sugrue, a Holyoke resident and start-up owner for a graphic and web design business.  “I love what I have been learning. I will continue to research my target client in order to open my business and be successful.”

Farid Khelfaoui, Executive Director of SPARK indicated that the classes offered aren’t merely about providing a curriculum, but a chance to connect with other local entrepreneurs. “What we’ve found from the class is that the most useful is the coworking and mentorship relationships that develop amongst the cohort itself. Start-ups face similar, frustrating challenges and hearing how they’ve each resolved them in different scenarios help them become better at their business.”

“I always had an idea of what I wanted my business to be, but SPARK helped me learn how to keep an open mind about what I want to do and how to make my business idea successful,” said participant and food entrepreneur Angel Santiago. “I plan on keeping in touch with the people I’ve met and especially the next class so I can hopefully help people the way others have helped me.”

Kathleen Anderson, President of the Greater Holyoke Chamber Centennial Foundation indicated the program spearheads local efforts to create a broad business growth ecosystem in Holyoke. “This is an unprecedented program in the City that works because of generous support from all sorts of organizations and businesses within the community. We share our heartfelt thanks to MGCC for their belief and support in us. We will be looking for and welcoming further support from others, particularly the private sector, to continue the program’s sustainability for years to come.”

“With the help and support of the Launch program and the members of SPARK,  I can say I’ve grown as an entrepreneur,” said Jennifer Venn, SPARK graduate and owner of Studio 20 beauty salon. “Honestly, if the program had been available sooner, it would have saved me time and money from the mistakes I’ve made as a new business owner. This program provides structure and a realistic approach to starting and operating a business. Having graduated from this program, I leave with knowledge and connections that will help my business grow and succeed, now and in the future.”

“This is an exciting and critical time for the City’s economic trajectory,” said Marcos Marrero, Director of Planning & Economic Development for the City of Holyoke. “The SPARK partnership has created a new mechanism to develop the home-grown talent of Holyoke residents and their skills to careers and new businesses and we look forward to seeing these seeds flourish.”

The mission of the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation is to create and preserve jobs at small businesses, women and minority owned businesses, and to promote economic development in underserved, gateway municipalities and low and moderate income communities, a series of goals that have been shared by the SPARK partnership from its inception.