Boston Foundation donor Gail Goodman first heard about Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll) from another Boston Foundation donor, Desh Deshpande, who provided initial funding to the nonprofit in 2003 when it was launched in Lowell, Mass. Today Goodman chairs the board of EforAll, serves as a mentor to some of its entrepreneurs and is helping the Massachusetts-based nonprofit expand from mid-sized cities in the Commonwealth to a larger city-based program in Boston and to other states across the country.
“Desh has a core set of beliefs that all of us at EforAll share,” says Goodman during an interview at the EforAll space in Lowell, including “that one of the ways to close the income inequality gap and create employment in cities that are economically challenged is to change from the inside. The people who live here know what kinds of businesses will work here. And it turns out that in every community, there are would-be entrepreneurs.”
Goodman is an entrepreneur herself. She launched the email marketing company Constant Contact, and served as its CEO for 17 years before the company was sold. Recently, she co-founded another business called Pepperlane, which helps mothers use their own talents and skills to become entrepreneurs themselves.
Since launching in Lowell, EforAll has expanded to other mid-sized cities in need of an economic boost. “In every community, we start by asking people if they have a business idea,” explains Goodman. “Many hands always go up. Then we ask them if they have done something about it. Almost all of the hands go down. The reason is that they have no idea where to start.”
It’s an overwhelming challenge, particularly if you didn’t grow up in the United States, English isn’t your primary language, you haven’t attended college—or don’t know how to navigate the system. EforAll asks the question: ‘How can we build a program to help these folks create businesses?’” The answer has led to the development of a remarkably successful, repeatable model that has expanded to nine mid-sized cities and now their first urban site, in Roxbury.
EforAll works with a class of some 15 entrepreneurs over the course of a year. All the EforAll programs are offered at no cost. It starts with a three-month intensive period that gets participants from idea to launch. Goodman points out that all sessions are scheduled to allow entrepreneurs to keep their day jobs because they simply don’t have the economic wherewithal to take time off. Another element of the model’s success is that every entrepreneur gets a team of mentors. Goodman, who has served as a mentor to several EforAll entrepreneurs, believes that it’s extremely helpful for budding entrepreneurs to hear multiple perspectives from different people. It sends the message that there are no right answers. “Our job as mentors is not to give them the answers. It’s to ask them probing questions.”
Mentoring sessions are always closely coordinated with the topics covered in classes. For instance, when one week’s class is about developing a value proposition for a business, entrepreneurs meet with their mentors that same week to apply what they’ve learned.
Goodman tells the story of a woman named Danaris Mazara, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. She and her husband have four children and have struggled financially. She decided to try entrepreneurship when both of them were laid off from their jobs. Her mother gave Mazara her own food stamps, saying, “You need them more than I do.” But because Mazara didn’t want to be dependent on anyone any longer, instead of buying food for her family, she took the food stamps and bought the ingredients for her mother’s flan recipe. She sold the flan throughout her neighborhood and doubled her money. As Goodman says, “An entrepreneur is born!”
After selling her flan at local bodegas, Mazara came to EforAll to find out how to get licensed as a vendor and move the business forward. Today, thanks to EforAll and her tenacity, she runs her business, Sweet Grace Heavenly Cakes, out of a building in Lawrence. She employs 13 people, including her husband, and has added a catering business.
EforAll emphasizes the importance of participants’ bootstrapping their businesses. “They’re not going to get venture capital because typically they are small, local, consumer-based businesses,” says Goodman. “They can’t get bank loans because they have no operating history. And most have low or no credit or collateral.” Entrepreneurs can, however, get some help from family and friends.
Since 2013, EforAll alumni have created 349 new businesses, 687 jobs and seen annual revenues of close to $20 million. While 50 percent of new businesses fail nationally, 83 percent of businesses created by EforAll teams are still active.
One of the reasons for this high degree of success is that EforAll assembles an entrepreneurial ecosystem that surrounds and supports the entrepreneurs. Classes are taught by local experts, including accountants, lawyers, digital marketers, real estate agents, local bankers and others. These local experts are called upon to serve as judges for the award and to provide an ongoing support system.
Last year, EforAll expanded to two new sites; this year another four will be added, including two outside of Massachusetts and the first in Boston at the Roxbury Innovation Center.
“We’re in the midst of proving our ability to scale this year,” says Goodman. “Our overarching goal is to transform lives and communities through inclusive entrepreneurship.” It’s a highly ambitious goal, but one that is being reached by EforAll in a number of communities throughout Massachusetts and soon in communities all across America.