Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
May 4, 2021
Tessa Murphy-Romboletti | Entrepreneurship for All – Holyoke
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Tessa Murphy-Romboletti and I’m the Executive Director of EforAll/EparaTodos in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Our mission is to accelerate economic and social impact in communities nationwide through inclusive entrepreneurship. EforAll currently has nine sites throughout the state of Massachusetts, and one site in Longmont, Colorado. We are in the process of expanding to northwest Arkansas and Buffalo, New York, with the hopes of continuing to grow across the country in the next few years.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I grew up in Holyoke and I moved back home after college to work in the Mayor’s Office for the newly elected 22-year-old Mayor. We were both so young and had a lot to learn but let me tell you, I learned a lot. I met a lot of great small business owners and community members who had dreams to start businesses but I noticed that there weren’t a lot of resources available for people who wanted to get started. After that, I worked in the Office of Planning and Economic Development for a few years until I was hired to run an initiative called SPARK that was being housed at the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce. Similar to EforAll, SPARK was aimed to provide opportunities for underrepresented individuals who wanted to start businesses. In 2018, in an effort to sustain and grow our program, we became an EforAll program site.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Entrepreneurship can be one of the most empowering forms of social service because it empowers individuals to create additional sources of revenue for themselves and their families on their own terms. Working and living in a city like Holyoke with a population of 41,000 people and about 51% of our residents identifying as Latino/a, I have been surrounded by innovative and dedicated entrepreneurs who, many times, either lack the self-awareness or professional networks to realize how entrepreneurial they are actually being. In a post-industrial community like Holyoke that has experienced decades of economic stagnation, the people of our community remain resilient and continue to defy the odds. This work is important to me not only because I am able to see our entrepreneurs create job opportunities for local residents, or transform neighborhoods into vibrant spaces, but because I see the transformation that occurs in them as individuals who want to make an impact in their communities.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
It’s amazing to see how entrepreneurship can transform lives. Especially now after a year into this pandemic, so many people are turning to entrepreneurship as a way to generate income for themselves and their families. Our program doesn’t just encourage people to become entrepreneurs, but it also provides the tools needed to thrive in their workplace and become leaders in their communities. And, people may not realize it, but if we can help someone come to the realization that they actually don’t want to be an entrepreneur, we also consider that a success because we really don’t want to see people lose money or time chasing after something that isn’t a good fit.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I’ve grown up, lived, and worked in Holyoke for most of my life. Holyoke’s a small city of about 40,000 people and we have a really diverse population but we’ve seen a lot of socio-economic challenges over the last few decades. There are a lot of people who think Holyoke’s best days are behind us but I genuinely believe in the potential of our community and our residents to rebuild our economy and create economic opportunities for the people who live here. My entrepreneurs often have the odds stacked against them but they find a way to persevere and that’s what inspires me. Whenever I need to feel brave, I think of their bravery and it keeps me going.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
I genuinely believe that a rising tide lifts all ships and that when we support others it can have a ripple effect on our entire community. I want to be able to inspire people to go after their dreams, no matter how big or small, and empower them to not only thrive but help lift others as they go. Our community is diverse and our business community should be just as diverse. There should not only be room for everyone at the table but they should also feel empowered enough to make their voices heard.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
When COVID first hit, I was worried that we’d see a decrease in the number of people applying for our programs. My first thought was, “Will anyone actually want to start a business right now?” I’m happy to say, I couldn’t have been more wrong. We’ve seen such an increase in the need for our services – so many people are turning to entrepreneurship now that their employment and other circumstances have changed. What’s been challenging though is getting enough volunteers to help support our efforts. We expanded to Spanish-language programming in the summer of 2020 and normally we’d have the opportunity to be out in the community, networking and talking to members of the business community about our efforts, on a very grassroots level. Now we need to rely on our existing networks and opportunities like this for marketing to try to get the word out. We’re making it work, but it’s been quite a struggle to adapt to the virtual world.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
Many times you can find accelerator programs that cover topics similar to ours in larger cities and thriving communities that have start-ups with the potential to be the next Uber or Stitch Fix. I think what makes EforAll different is that if your dream is to start a laundromat downtown and that helps you pay the bills and build some generational wealth for your family, that is fantastic. We want to find communities similar to Holyoke that lack these resources but still have incredible residents who have the potential to turn their dream into a business. We believe that everyone should be able to start a business, no matter where you come from, what language you speak, or how much money you have, and that it’s important to provide inclusive entrepreneurship opportunities for everyone. Small business is what changes communities and that’s why we are here to help.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.” – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberian president, economist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner). We have this quote on the wall at our office, and I feel like it captures both the excitement and sheer terror that co-exists for our amazing entrepreneurs. It reminds me that we have to keep growing and improving the way we do our work.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Everything that we offer is free. The way that we’re able to do that is through the generosity of corporations, foundations, state/local grants, and individual donors. If you are someone interested in contributing to our efforts, I encourage you to visit our website. We rely on anywhere between 150 and 200 volunteers every year and we could not do what we do without this village of volunteers. These days, a lot of our opportunities are remote, so we’d love to have folks support us in those ways!
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