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Small businesses in Holyoke get a needed SPARK

Date: 4/3/2015

HOLYOKE – If you are six months away from starting a business or six months into your small business, you may need SPARK.

The new program – the acronym stands for “Stimulating Potential, Accessing Resource Knowledge” – designed to help entrepreneurs in the Paper City was official launched at an event on March 30.

More than 100 area business people and elected officials gathered at the Volleyball Hall of Fame to meet the new executive director, Farid Khelfaoui, and each other.

Kathleen Anderson, president of the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce said, “Tons of people come through the doors looking to start a business.” SPARK provides “ a more systematic approach to starting a business.”

The program came to Holyoke thanks to a $250,000 three-year implementation award through a Working Cities Challenge grant, Anderson explained.  She added that Mayor Alex Morse strongly advocated for the program to help grow the business base in Holyoke.

The program is housed through the chamber, Anderson said.

Khelfaoui said there are “many, many barriers” to entrepreneurship and that SPARK uses a “live, learn, launch” approach overcome obstacles.

Under the “Live” banner, SPARK sponsors a series of community events and talks about business. The next one is at 6 p.m. on April 9 at the Holyoke Public Library when crowd funding is being discussed.

Seminars and classes are presented under the “Learn” classification. The next class, “Social Media for Job Seekers,” is April 20 from 9 to 10 a.m. at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center.

Khelfaoui called the “launch” part of SPARK “the meat of the program.” SPARK offers a nine-week accelerator program for people who wish to start a business.

He added that some of the programs would be free, while others will have a small charge.

Khelfaoui added the goal for the end of the year is to have established a micro businesses fund that could assist businesses and started a co-working space where entrepreneurs have a place other than their residence to work on their businesses.

State Rep Aaron Vega, a small business owner himself, praised the program and said the future for a city such as Holyoke is in small business.

“The days that a company hiring 300 employees is unlikely,” Vega said. He added it’s more realistic to see 10 small business hiring five employees each.

He also said many small businesses are actually “micro-businesses” with just one or two employees. Unlike small businesses that have 30 to 50 employees, micro-businesses do not quality for much state aid.

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