Five Questions With: Jessica Silva

JESSICA SILVA, communications director with the New Bedford Economic Development Council, says New Bedford SourceLink will produce valuable data on business relationships, jobs created, and impacts made with minority- and women-owned businesses. / COURTESY NEW BEDFORD ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL

With more than 30 resource partners participating so far, New Bedford Economic Development Council has a new central search engine to help businesses access services.

New Bedford SourceLink allows businesses at any stage to access resources such as legal counsel, business planning services, licensing, permitting, financing and more, creating valuable data at the same time. Jessica Silva is the council’s director of communications.

PBN: New Bedford SourceLink says the goal of this platform is to identify, connect, empower and measure entrepreneurial ecosystems. Will other technology be used to accomplish the “connect” piece?

SILVA: At the most basic level, New Bedford SourceLink allows entrepreneurs of all stages to access a central hub of vetted and trusted resources known as Resource Partners via the Resource Navigator to rapidly build connections and support new business growth.

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Resource Partners listed in the Navigator are typically nonprofits, government, or educational organizations that offer a service to help start or grow a business. These organizations provide value for all different kinds of entrepreneurs, typically for low or no cost. Businesses and entrepreneurs can quickly drill down to the type of help they’re looking for and get connected to the right contact faster, essentially ending the need for endless hours of research and dead-end answers.

New Bedford SourceLink also features a community calendar, highlighting workshops, trainings and events specifically for entrepreneurs hosted by our Resource Partners – the partners love the opportunity to promote their events to a targeted audience, and entrepreneurs are given an opportunity to connect with others like them at events, which we envision will evolve to more in-person over time.

Our team at the New Bedford Economic Development Council, which manages the initiative, also plans on developing large networking events beginning later next year to further support the connectivity in the network. We love how the project has equal parts technology and a human aspect.

PBN: Regarding the platform’s ability to measure the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the community, when would that be done and what specifically would be measured?

SILVA: As impressive as the front-end impact of New Bedford SourceLink is, the back-end operations are equally powerful. Historically, the NBEDC has tracked the economic impact and interactions with entrepreneurs and local businesses. The launch of New Bedford SourceLink will allow us to tap into a sophisticated CRM [customer relationship management] that can track relationships, developments, investments, jobs created and saved, impacts made with minority and women-owned establishments – and so many more layers of valuable data.

We’re also very impressed with the comprehensive reporting capabilities of SourceLink and look forward to collaborating with our partners to monitor trends and come up with strategic solutions to minimize obstacles for entrepreneurs and maximize economic impact. We’re very excited about how the technology and new insights will allow us to better respond to the needs of our entrepreneurial ecosystem.

PBN: NBEDC says Resource Partners will be vetted by administrators. How so?

SILVA: When we receive an application for a new Resource Partner, we begin by looking to confirm that the established organization is located directly or has a satellite location in the New Bedford or south coast region. Their services or programs should also be designed to help entrepreneurs from the area.

We’re also looking to confirm that the information submitted is accurate. Another tip we recommend to applicants: Think critically about the services or offerings you specialize in versus [what you] have available. One of our main goals with the initiative is to match entrepreneurs quickly and effectively with the right resource, in the time that they need it. Applications that will be returned most commonly have noted that they specialize in every service available – if applicants ever have questions though, we’re happy to meet and guide them.

PBN: The platform is said to connect entrepreneurs with resources that can help foster innovation. What are some examples of what this could look like?
While many entrepreneurs leverage New Bedford SourceLink as a kicking-off point for their businesses – whether that’s finding resources for developing a business plan, building initial capital, or finding office space – we have others who are ready to take their business to the next level.

New Bedford SourceLink offers connections to technology business incubators, advanced entrepreneur support organizations, credible think tanks and research organizations, and other industry-specific resources – such as offshore wind and aquaculture – designed to encourage innovation. Through our matchmaking functionality, we strongly believe that these enterprises and entrepreneurs are more likely to interact at the opportune moment, and in turn drive innovation. Connecting businesses and creating opportunities is the name of the game!

PBN: What industries do you hope will benefit most from this now-centralized resource?

SILVA: The New Bedford entrepreneurial ecosystem began to take shape about six years ago. We have added program partners such as Groundwork, EforAll, the Co-Creative Center, the NB Creative Consortium, the New Bedford Ocean Cluster, and [University of Massachusetts Dartmouth] to help us lead the charge in the effort to support the ecosystem. With those partners came new investments, facilities, programs, events and, of course, more entrepreneurs – lots more entrepreneurs!

We now have something we have never had before in New Bedford: the beginnings of a community of hundreds of entrepreneurs centered on maritime innovation, arts and culture, and Main Street businesses.

The strong creative economy has been building momentum for years, with artists contributing to a vibrant downtown. We have long enjoyed an active, working waterfront with America’s No. 1 fishing port, and now we are seeing exciting new developments in offshore wind and the blue economy at large. There is also a new entrepreneurial community emerging, and a growing number of remote workers are choosing to settle in New Bedford. Our Main Street shops have remained a major player in local tourism, culture and community.

These three sectors are the main pillars of our entrepreneurial ecosystem and are positioned to see exponential growth from this new resource. On their own, they were building great momentum, but with this strategic structure in place, we’re anticipating an unstoppable force.

Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.

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