SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — The U.S. Small Business Administration announced that Black River Innovation Campus (BRIC), a digital business incubator in downtown Springfield, will receive $50,000 from the administration’s Small Growth Accelerator Fund Competition.
Now in its fifth year, the annual competition provides funds to accelerators and incubators that support entrepreneurship, research and STEM-related innovation. Susan Mazza, acting deputy director of the Vermont district, said the competition is a highly competitive process. Out of 195 businesses nationwide that entered the competition, only 60 received prizes.
Mazza said she was thrilled that Black River Innovation Campus was awarded, as BRIC is the first Vermont organization to receive funds from this competition.
“We’re excited to be able to work with them,” Mazza said.
Mazza said she met BRIC’s Executive Director Trevor Barlow on the Small Business Innovative Research road tour in Burlington, Vermont on Sept. 16, and later visited Springfield to learn more about the BRIC program.
BRIC is a multi-faceted non-profit organization aimed to cultivate a digital economy in Springfield by leveraging the area’s 10-gigabit internet speed, one of the fastest speeds in the country. The campus will provide business support, coding and computer education and a residential community space, to facilitate entrepreneurs and students looking to create tech-centered businesses or provide digital services.
Mazza noted being impressed by BRIC’s collaboration with community partners like the Springfield School District. By partnering with the schools to bolster coding and other computer education in the schools, BRIC can help pass specialized digital skills to younger generations, Mazza said.
“I applaud the efforts of all their partners,” Mazza said. “It’s amazing how a community can pull together toward a common purpose.”
Barlow said he is pleased whenever BRIC receives recognition from agencies like the Small Business Administration, especially through such a competitive process.
“It’s great to have that support from federal and state agencies, to know that they have your back and want to invest money into your effort to grow entrepreneurship,” Barlow said.
Barlow said he was also encouraged by how quickly the competition committee awarded BRIC the prize. Barlow was selected to be BRIC’s executive director in June, so he only applied for the fund competition two months ago, later than many applicants. Barlow said that it is uncommon for grants to be awarded so quickly. Usually one applies for multiple grants anticipating that most will not be awarded, so the number of grants that BRIC has received in only a few months feels like a significant endorsement.
Barlow expressed thanks to the multiple parties who helped BRIC receive this award: the Small Business Administration, for coming to Springfield to learn about the campus and offering their support; the Springfield Regional Development Corporation; and Matt Dunne of the Center on Rural Innovation, who provided information about funding opportunities and timelines to submit applications.
“To have multiple awards speaks volumes to the community’s buy-in to create a technology hub in Springfield,” Barlow said.
Barlow said that the $50,000 prize will help the campus further invest in resources for its growing entrepreneurial programs. Barlow is currently interviewing candidates for its position of campus and project manager, who will oversee BRIC’s entrepreneurship and remote workforce programs. Barlow hopes to have a manager in place by the end of October.
Barlow also plans to announce a date for BRIC’s official grand opening, to take place in the coming weeks.
“The campus is 99% ready as a functional working space,” Barlow said. Since August 14, when Barlow invited a number of officials, including Gov. Phil Scott, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and U.S. Rep Peter Welch, to view the campus’s building renovations, the campus has added furnishings and completed system and infrastructure upgrades.
Bob Flint, executive director of the Springfield Regional Development Corporation, said receiving an award from the Small Business Administration was “a great honor and another positive step” for Black River Innovation Campus and the community.
“The BRIC project will hopefully be an economic catalyst, not only in terms of direct jobs, but growing the workforce of the future for the companies we’re hoping to nurture along to success. BRIC is truly creating a sustainable tech ecosystem in Springfield,” said Bob Flint, SRDC executive director.