While studying Japanese language, literature, and political science at Smith College, Kushi worked with an anti-discrimination association and organizations devoted to community outreach. Her experiences with these community building organizations led to her decision to pursue her interest in community development. In 2011, she obtained her master’s degree in Regional and Economic Social Development from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Around the same time she joined the Merrimack Valley Sandbox (now known as Entrepreneurship for All, or EforAll), a non-profit startup that accelerates economic and social impact through entrepreneurship in Gateway Cities in Massachusetts. After serving in positions at Family ID, Inc. and the Institute for Nonprofit Practice, she returned to Entrepreneurship For All. She now serves as the organization’s Executive Director of the Lowell-Lawrence region.
Founded in Lowell, Massachusetts in 2010 with locations throughout Massachusetts and Colorado, EForAll’s goal is to champion local entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups. The organization runs an intensive accelerator program, pitch contests, virtual workshops, and offers networking opportunities. As of 2019, EForAll has helped get 502 startups off the ground and has raised $34.9 million in capital. Of those businesses, 74 percent are owned by female entrepreneurs and 58 percent are owned by people of color.
Unlike most traditional accelerators, EForAll is a nonprofit. A large part of their mission is to work with a diverse group of entrepreneurs who typically struggle to obtain funding. “We are interested in big bold startup ideas, for sure, but they probably represent less than 10 percent of the entrepreneurs we work with,” Kushi said. “We want to take people starting businesses with all types of ideas.”
For now, EForAll serves entrepreneurs in Massachusetts and Colorado, but they are working to expand throughout the United States. “There are a lot of communities that are not as connected to these awesome entrepreneurial ecosystems,” Kushi said. “And that’s what we want to do. We want to connect as many under-connected communities to entrepreneurship as possible. We believe that entrepreneurship is an agent for change and can really uplift people’s lives and can help close the wealth gap for communities.”
EForAll has collaborated with a wide array of companies. They helped Juice’d Cafe, a restaurant offering healthy alternatives to Fall River and New Bedford residents founded by Stacey and Luis Gonsalves, and invisaWear, a startup company that creates panic buttons disguised as stylish jewelry, founded by Rajia Abdelaziz and Ray Hamilton.
The accelerator program, which takes place over the course of one year, typically involves 15 entrepreneurs. The program teaches the entrepreneurs how to get their businesses off the ground and provides opportunities for networking. Entrepreneurs also get access to qualified mentors that help them develop their ideas. Kushi calls these mentors “the heart and soul of our program” because they guide entrepreneurs on their journey.
Community development is critical to EForAll’s mission. Communities can request to collaborate with the organization in an effort to promote local growth through entrepreneurship.
“We are really community-focused, so where you want to start the business or where you’re located really matters,” Kushi said. “We’re focused, for example, in Lowell and Lawrence, so we’re looking for businesses that are really invested in those communities.”
In this video, Kushi shares her advice for entrepreneurs interested in applying to an accelerator, the three qualities EForAll looks for in an applicant, and why it’s so important for entrepreneurs to have a strong support system.