Micaelah’s Manufacturing Tour of MA: Meeting in the Middle Between Startups & Manufacturers

Last year, Greentown Labs submitted and received a grant from MassDevelopment to launch a Manufacturing Initiative aimed at more effectively preparing and connecting startup companies with Massachusetts based manufacturers.

To accomplish these goals, Manufacturing Program Director Micaelah Morrill has embarked on a Manufacturing Tour of the state, often with her program Partner, Peter Russo from MassMEP.  The determined duo has spent the last few months visiting numerous manufacturing companies and production sites, hosting tours of manufacturers at Greentown Labs, and developing workshops and programs designed to connect and build relationships between Boston-based startups and manufacturers throughout Massachusetts.  I sat down with Micaelah to learn more about what she is working on and what she has learned as she develops this program.


A: What is the primary goal of the Manufacturing Initiative?
M: The purpose of the program is to connect Boston-area startups with manufacturers in the rest of Massachusetts. And in doing so, better educate both parties about each other so startups & manufacturers can get to a workable place faster.


A: Where in the state have you visited?
M: All over! Massachusetts has a rich history of manufacturing dating back to pre-Civil War times. From textiles to shoes, razors to weaponry, from Springfield to Lowell the state economy was highly involved in the production and manufacture of goods. I have seen injection molders, plastic makers, sheet metal fabricators, crazy multi-material 3D printers, giant lasers, pick & place machines, thermo-formers & a ton more. These companies have customers from across the state, the country, and the globe because they are that skilled. It’s been very eye-opening for me.


A: What barriers have been in place inhibiting startup-manufacturer relations?
M: One of the biggest issues is that many Boston-area startups do not know the extent of manufacturing resources available in Massachusetts, 1) because they are hard to find & 2) because there isn’t really a centralized platform compiling manufacturing resources in Massachusetts.  There is no central resource or platform to connect people with manufacturers, or to connect manufacturers with small businesses and startups.


A: What do startups need to know before diving into manufacturing?
M: They need to know what’s required in the manufacturing and assembly process of whatever it is they’re designing. Understanding the manufacturing process ahead of time can mitigate inefficiencies in product design. It is also important to know what your options are, what the cost differentials are in different techniques, materials used and a whole host of other things that might seem like no-brainers but can end up stunting company growth or preventing products from getting to customers.


A: What kind of deliverables or opportunities are being developed/will be made available as a result of this program?
M: We are working on a couple of things. After spending time with manufacturers across the state and making connections with the owners and CTOs there, I’ve been able to enlist many of them to develop a set of best practices when working with manufacturers, as well as a list of common mistakes entrepreneurs can avoid based on manufacturers’ experience. Sharing these best practices and lists can help startups avoid unnecessary and time-consuming mistakes. I’m also putting together a manual with additional information on design for manufacturing, and an appendix of available resources.

One of those resources has recently launched: the Greentown Labs Group on VendOp. VendOp is an “Angie’s List” of manufacturers with reviews from various companies, which allows Greentown members to see which manufacturers other Greentown companies have worked with, and what their experiences were like. This allows the Greentown Community to benefit from each other’s similar experiences and common needs, while we continue to build out a comprehensive platform of manufacturers we are well connected with and who are familiar and willing to work with startups.

I’m also developing workshops designed around educating manufacturers and startups about each other, so that both sides are better equipped at creating mutually beneficial relationships that continue to generate and create innovative ideas in the state.


A: What successes have you had so far connecting startups with manufacturers?
M: Despite only being 5 months into this program, we have seen some great connections so far. Almost all of that is thanks to Peter Russo, Director of Innovative Growth Solutions at Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership, who has been offering his time and expertise to myself and the larger Greentown Community through office hours, one-on-one consultations, and network sharing. We are getting close to having several companies sign contracts as a result of these collaborations.


A: Together, Peter and Micaelah have been actively making introductions between startups and manufacturers, while also providing guidance in their interactions with each other. I spoke with Erik Herold, Lead Mechanical Engineer at Dynamo Micropower, about his experience with the Manufacturing Initiative.

“Micaelah introduced me to a contact at CCAT, who was offering to any Greentown companies some free 3D-printed samples of parts I needed. In addition, she and Peter [Russo] helped us connect with the point-of-contact at Algonquin Industries implementing the Innovation Grants from MassDevelopment. We were also able to submit applications for grants offered at the other manufacturing centers [that are part of the MassDevelopment grant], which I did not previously realize” said Herold of his experience. “We are a strong competitor for winning these grants, and we never would have found out about them without the connections that the Manufacturing Initiative helped us to make.”

Stay tuned for more updates on Micaelah’s site visits and stories of startup success!