March 7, 2022
By Staasi Heropoulos | Special to The Republican
Some entrepreneurs come into Kevin Moforte’s office with an idea sketched on a napkin.
Others bring more sophisticated plans and prototypes.
Either way, Moforte — FORGE’S director in Western Massachusetts — is boosting the regional economy by brokering relationships between entrepreneurs and businesses.
FORGE is based in Somerville, with its Western Massachusetts office in the Springfield Technical Community College Technology Park. It is a nonprofit affiliated with Greentown Labs.
Since 2016, the regional office has introduced 150 start-up businesses to more than 100 manufacturers. These introductions have resulted in $11 million worth of business and an untold number of jobs.
“We springboard entrepreneurs on to their next stage. Western Massachusetts has a really strong manufacturing base, so our mission is connecting startups across the state with the manufacturing base here,” says Moforte.
While there are hundreds of manufacturers across the region in a sector that is a powerful economic engine, it is nearly invisible, he says.
“Manufacturing is the invisible economy, and it has to come out of that shroud. We have to do more to showcase the manufacturing capacity we have,” he says. “If I can do that and attract innovators and entrepreneurs to mass produce their products here, it’s a huge win for the region.”
It’s not so easy for innovators to find or convince manufacturers to work with them, according to Moforte. That’s when FORGE uses its connections with manufacturers to give entrepreneurs clout and credibility.
“Manufacturers hear startup, and they assume they’re talking to someone tinkering in their garage who doesn’t have any funding,” says Laura Teicher, executive director of FORGE. “They may not reply to cold contacts from entrepreneurs they don’t know. But manufacturers do know if they’re getting a referral through FORGE, that innovator is ready and has an appropriate budget, volume and all of that to work with them.”
Across the state, Moforte, Teicher and their teams have forged relationships with 460 innovators and nearly as many manufacturers. This has resulted in $31 million in contracts and 4,000 jobs at startup companies and the manufacturers with which they work.
Very often entrepreneurs have an idea but aren’t quite ready to have it produced. They may not have a prototype or a business plan. They could be short on cash or need design help. FORGE connects them with resources they need to take on these challenges.
Making products locally is having a beneficial impact on the environment. Many of the products made overseas are produced at plants that are polluting the air. Thus, shifting that production to cleaner, local manufacturers helps to literally clear the air, according to Moforte. Producing products locally also reduces transportation-related pollution.
“These things are produced far, far away, and they get on ships and travel halfway around the world. Then, they get on trucks and travel across the country,” he says. “After that, the entrepreneur has to ship them back out to their customers. All of this creates a ton of pollution.”
Before the pandemic, FORGE was serving 35 to 40 entrepreneurs a year. In 2021 that number skyrocketed, onboarding 225 startups. One of the reasons may well have been that having products made locally meant avoiding international supply chain issues. The pandemic has also pushed entrepreneurs into pursuing their dreams, Moforte adds.
“The pandemic made people look and learn and see what they didn’t like about their life,” he says. “A lot of people have had an idea in the back of their head and they are jumping into it. The pandemic created an upheaval in our work lives and made a lot of people pursue other ways of making a living. Some decided to launch the business they’ve had in their head for the last ten years.”
FORGE charges entrepreneurs nothing for its services. The agency is funded through federal, state, and private grants. To learn more, call 413-224-8062 or go online to FORGEmass.org.