Startup Spotlight: Roxbury Innovation Center

January 3, 2015

This week as part of our Startup Spotlight we speak to Alesandra Brown, Program Manager, Roxbury Innovation Center

 

What does RIC do?
We are a program of the Venture Café Foundation, a nonprofit focused on connecting Boston’s innovation economy. We work on connecting entrepreneurs and small business owners to resources and networks so they can grow their businesses and ideas.
In what ways? 
We provide event and meeting space, and we host and produce lots of programs for entrepreneurs . For example: In the last few months, we’ve hosted business planning classes from the  Center for Women & Enterprise, and workshops for the entrepreneurs in the AccelerateBOS program. We’ve kicked off our LearnLab Workshops series, a partnership with our sponsors at Microsoft, with free  classes on Excel, website design, building your first app–any technology skills that helps a small   business get started and grow. In 2016, we will continue our Café Nights series, which provide a space  for conversations and scheduled programs to inspire a wide range of attendees from different  backgrounds and industries to connect, share ideas, and grow their ventures. We also host a range of
different business experts that hold office hours to provide free advice to entrepreneurs. And we just launched our Impact Studio program, which is a brand new Fab Lab right here in Roxbury!
Why in Roxbury?
There are so many resources and so many startups and entrepreneurs here in Roxbury, and most people don’t realize that. There are new businesses popping up in tech, sustainability,  food and nutrition, creative industries; there are programs to support startups, like SkyLab, Smarter in the  City and Future Boston-it’s amazing. We want to connect all the entrepreneurs already here to  resources in the same way that the Seaport and Cambridge are connected and full of resources and  programs for startups. It’s interesting to see people come here from other parts of the city that don’t  realize how much there is going on in Roxbury – we have a long standing culture of innovation. I’ve grown  up around here so I am dedicated to this neighborhood. I always knew what was here, and I was always  sad that not many people understood how rich in talent this area is.

What was an obstacle you had to overcome? I wouldn’t say obstacles, but one of the key challenges and opportunities for this program is to get the word out to the local community about all the resources we  have available. We’ve worked hard to have the local community in Roxbury look at us as something that  will be here for the long term, and that is dedicated to the long-term economic growth of entrepreneurship

in the neighborhood.
What did you learn from your first visitors? 
We have lots of people stopping by: program participants, business experts,  and we’ve learned lots from them since we opened. There is really an intense passion around getting new   businesses started. I’ve continued to learn that Roxbury has always been its own innovation hub – people  here are tightly connected, they hang out, have conversations and are dedicated to their neighborhood. They’ve formed deep bonds with each other because they have often been overlooked. We have a lot of  people coming by and brainstorming about what more we can do for students, entrepreneurs, small  business owners. We’re all working together to expand everyone’s definition of innovation and   entrepreneurship.
What has the Boston ecosystem provided you?
We are getting a lot of support on social media / word of mouth, and tons of groups have proposedprograms and events that will provide resources and connections for entrepreneurs in Dudley Square. We  would love to have more people come visit us! I’m here, and my door is always open – send me an email  – I’ll always make the time.
What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
The best advice I’ve been given is what I was told originally when starting this journey: I was encouraged to learn about everything. I have a background in the Arts and I’ve worked for the Boston Public School System – so I have a varied background and I get really excited about learning anything new. I love
learning about new businesses, and I feel honored and excited that people would share that with me.  Having a small business is such an achievement! I get really excited for them.
What does the future hold for your RIC?
Good things, not just for us, but for anyone who stops by and get involved with us. The more people we  get to meet, the more information and network connections we get to give out. And that benefit goes  beyond our own community.

 

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