When the 47-year-old Sandra Rubio from Easthampton turned the key in the lock of her café and took the first step into her new business, she was overwhelmed with pride and a sense of achievement.
“It was surreal,” said Rubio. “I immediately took photos and sent them to my family members and said, ‘Look what I have!'”
Rubio’s Bakery and Cafe Totally Baked 413 is the culmination of passion, hard work, and the dedicated support of EforAll (Entrepreneurship for All), a non-profit entrepreneur support program.
Rubio, a first-time business owner, said EforAll played a vital role in their journey from early childhood education to starting their family-run bakery, which they believe will open its doors at 206 Maple St. in Holyoke in March.
Rubio said she started baking and selling cakes from home, but needed help turning that sideline into a profitable, sustainable business.
“I wasn’t an enterprising person and I had no idea where to start,” she said. “I learned so much from EforAll and that would definitely not have been possible without them.”
Totally Baked 413 offers bespoke cakes, pastries, sandwiches, salads, hot and cold drinks, a selection of hot items and a quick take away section.
“The best part about finding my location was when I first brought my mom in,” Rubio said. “It got emotional because we had been working towards it for a long time and she and my father always wanted to have their own company.”
A family affair, her husband Angel Rubio and daughter Ashlynn Morales, 17, are set to help, while their parents, Ana and Felix Morales of Holyoke, cheer them on.
The EforAll office, based in Lowell and nine locations across the state, opened in Holyoke in 2018, replacing a similar three-year scholarship program called SPARK.
“I headed SPARK at the Chamber of Commerce for about two years and then led the transition to the Eforall model,” said Tessa Murphy-Romboletti, Managing Director of EforAll.
Funded by the Boston Federal Reserve Bank’s Working Grant Cities Challenge Grant, SPARK was an initiative designed to demonstrate the need for inclusive programming for business support.
As the scholarship ended, Murphy-Romboletti said she wanted to replace it with a program that builds on the SPARK model, continues to help people who normally don’t get support in economic development, and provides long-term sustainability.
“Our mission at EforAll is to deliver inclusive entrepreneurship,” she said. “We work with many women, many minority-owned companies and only with people who do not always have access to traditional forms of capital and education.”
EforAll offers a “Business Accelerator” program and a “Pitch” program. These programs are free and anyone looking to start or grow a business or nonprofit is encouraged to apply.
The Business Accelerator is a year-long program that is offered twice a year. It offers extensive corporate training, mentoring, access to professional networks, and the opportunity for individual entrepreneurs to raise seed capital throughout the program.
Courses are offered in English or Spanish and each class or “cohort” can accommodate up to 15 people.
“We bring in a variety of different volunteers who cover topics related to starting a business like customer discovery, marketing, websites and legal issues, all of these different things that go into starting a business,” said Murphy-Romboletti . “We also have a very strong mentoring program.”
Participants are assigned a team of three hand-picked mentors who meet with them for 90 minutes each week while they take the accelerator courses.
“When you’re an entrepreneur it’s difficult and you sometimes struggle with all of the work and wonder if it’s even worth it,” said Rubio. “Just having your mentors there gives you new motivation and the kick to keep going.”
After three months of teaching, mentors continue to meet with entrepreneurs once a month while they work on their businesses. Cohort teams also meet quarterly to share ideas and get feedback and support.
“Even though our businesses were not the same, we still struggled with similar things. To be able to support and encourage each other and just to know that we are all together was really very, very valuable, ”said Rubio.
Many people first hear about the Accelerator program through EforAll’s pitch program.
The Pitch Program is a free community event where budding entrepreneurs can present their ideas to a jury of EforAll judges, local business owners, potential customers and community members.
Entrepreneurs are selected to give a two and a half minute presentation of their business idea and the EforAll judges then award three cash prizes – $ 1,000 for first place, $ 750 for second place and $ 500 for third place. A fourth “fan favorite” cash prize of US $ 500 will also be awarded through an audience vote.
Nicole Ortiz, owner of Crave Food Truck, was inducted into Holyoke Community College’s culinary program when she first heard about EforAll on flyers posted on campus. The pitch program gave her the first opportunity to serve her food and present her food truck idea to the public.
“I signed up in 2019 and won first place for my pitch,” she said. “The $ 1,000 covered the cost of a pop-up food truck I made at HCC last February.”
She then signed up for the accelerator program and graduated in May 2020.
During the program, she won a $ 500 progress talk that earned her LLC, and upon graduation, she won a $ 2,500 award that she used to package her truck and purchase a fire extinguishing system.
“When I entered the program, I just had one idea, I didn’t know how to get the money or do anything,” Ortiz said. “You helped me put everything together to start my business and figure out the numbers so I knew exactly what to expect.”
Crave Food Truck sells Latin American groceries and is now opening a take-out store called Crave in Holyoke.
“Holyoke Hummus Company are also graduates from EforAll and they reached out to us and provided the opportunity to team up with them and share the kitchen,” said Ortiz. “So we pounced on it and decided to prepare our food there and also to open it to take away.
In autumn 2020, Damaris Aponte from Holyoke presented their idea of a cannabis delivery service. To her surprise, she walked away for $ 1,500 and won both first place and the fan favorite.
“Winning the money was very helpful, but the biggest boost was the support from the judges and the community,” Aponte said. “This community support meant everything and made me believe that I would be successful.”
Aponte said she used her prize money as a down payment for her business location on Cabot Street in Holyoke. She is currently waiting for her cannabis delivery license to be issued this summer.
“The pitch competitions are great for people like Damaris who have something to work on and want to get the word out,” said Murphy-Romboletti. “It gives them the confidence they need and helps them talk about their business in comfort.”
EforAll is funded from a mix of sources including community development block grants and fundraising.
“We rely heavily on grants and have foundations to support us like the Mass Mutual Foundation, the Davis Foundation, and a mix of corporate and individual sponsors,” said Murphy-Romboletti.
EforAll was in a common room at 193 High St. in Holyoke and switched to a distance learning model during COVID-19. Murphy-Romboletti said the transition went very smoothly but she looks forward to getting back on the high street next year.
Murphy-Romboletti said the previous SPARK program graduated approximately 100 people and the EforAll program now has 65 graduates. She said that approximately 55% of those who went through the two programs are still actively pursuing and running their businesses.
“I get emotional when I see my entrepreneurs’ products on the shelves somewhere and I have to stop and take a picture,” she said. “It’s just so rewarding because you’re not only helping people start businesses, you’re helping them become better leaders and you are seeing how much they grow as individuals.”
The EforAll office is run by a team of three made up of Murphy-Romboletti and two program managers, one for English and one for Spanish.
“We’re a small but fierce group,” she said.
The program works with around 150 volunteers who are passionate about helping small business owners in Pioneer Valley.
“It takes a village to grow and become an entrepreneur, and we have an amazing village,” said Murphy-Romboletti.