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Lever Seeks Applicants for Mohawk Trail Entrepreneur Challenge
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:03AM / Monday, November 30, 2020
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Entrepreneurs have about two weeks to apply for a grant program that looks to support sustainable, woodland-related businesses.
 
Lever Inc. in North Adams is hosting the Mohawk Trail Entrepreneur Challenge, which offers a prize of $25,000 to the winner and guidance in developing a business plan to all who apply.
 
It is the latest in a series of challenges organized by Lever, which has helped launch 46 new companies in the Berkshire regions since its inception in 2014.
 
This time around, Lever is partnering with the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership, a collaboration of 16 municipalities in Franklin and Berkshire County's Mohawk Trail (Route 2) corridor whose core mission includes "natural resource-based economic development."
 
Lever's workforce programs manager Jade Schnauber told the Williamstown Select Board recently that unlike past challenges, this one will be completely virtual, with training sessions and judging held remotely.
 
She also said the organizers have five applicants but are hoping for at least twice that many.
 
"We're looking for entrepreneurs who meet three criteria," Schnauber said. "First, they're able to create jobs in one of the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership communities. Second, that they have a business or idea that relates to woodland natural resources in some way. … Third, we're looking for start-ups only -- companies that are less than two years old or have less than $500,000 in revenue."
 
Some examples of the kinds of businesses Lever has in mind for the challenge are Charlemont's Zoar Outdoor, which offers whitewater rafting, zipline canopy tours and kayaking, or Tennessee's Mullican Flooring, which makes flooring from fallen trees, Schnauber said.
 
At a meeting of the MTWP Board of Directors earlier this month, Lever Executive Director Jeffrey Thomas, a member of the partnership board, told his colleagues that the first five applications in the door were in the ecotourism field, but the challenge is open to all sorts of initiatives that utilize forest resources in a sustainable manner.
 
"We will work with the entrepreneurs and get them ready for the pitch competition," Thomas said.
 
Priority will be given to business ideas that have a high potential to create jobs and that can attract funding from other sources.
 
An application for the Mohawk Trail Entrepreneur Challenge can be found here.
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