FORGE Graphic

A conversation with one of our EPIC prize winners, FORGE: 

Office of Technology Transitions: Congratulations on receiving $50,000 as part of OTT’s EPIC prize! First, please tell us a little more about your company and who you are.

FORGE: FORGE is a 501c3 nonprofit committed to helping manufacturers and startups stimulate the economy and solve tough problems. FORGE has made over 1,750 connections between startups and the regional supply chain, resulting in contracts and purchase orders with a known economic value of over $30 million, and supporting over 3,000 jobs in innovation and manufacturing. The 360+ startups supported by FORGE to date boast an incredible survival rate of over 90%, making for a diverse and de-risked portfolio of innovative products for local manufacturers to produce. We at FORGE believe that if you can invent it locally, you should be empowered to make it locally!

OTT: Will you give us a brief description of your winning program plan?

FORGE: FORGE’s proposal highlighted a few critical steps with the goal of attracting and accelerating a greater diversity of energy innovators, improving FORGE’s offerings as a resource to diverse local regional entrepreneurs and innovators, and further boosting the regional innovation ecosystem.

First, we sought funding to support FORGE’s Product Development Grant, an opportunity for non-dilutive funding to startups for use in solving discrete product development challenges. We awarded this Grant at our annual Showcase, and this added funding has helped our team attract, support, and connect more startups facing this key barrier to early and local production.

Additionally, FORGE’s proposal sought funding for the design and deployment of new marketing products to help raise awareness and attract new and diverse innovators that FORGE can support. This effort has been pivotal to our ability to serve an increased number of diverse and underrepresented founder led companies. FORGE is proud to report that when we applied for the EPIC grant, these companies made up less than 20% of our overall startup portfolio, and now that number is up to 38%!

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EPIC Prize Winner: FORGE
FORGE

OTT: How has this program impacted your region/local community?

FORGE: This funding has provided critical support during a difficult financial period to help FORGE achieve our impact and inclusion goals. Since we were awarded the EPIC prize in early October, FORGE has continued to accelerate our reach, onboarding nearly 90 new startups to our network, and making over 450 connections to regional supply chain, all contributing to a startup survival rate of over 90%.

As COVID-driven supply chain disruptions ripple across the globe and continue to impact overseas contracts and shipping for months to come, it is crucial for their survival that startups consider supply chain strategy and risk mitigation when moving into the design and production phases.  Support from EPIC has enabled FORGE to provide manufacturing readiness interventions and tailored, local supply chain connections to new and underserved communities. We plan to continue to build on this success, and are grateful for the OTT’s support!

OTT: When it comes to lessons learned with building out your regional innovation ecosystem, what is one thing that has worked and one thing that has not?

FORGE: One thing that has worked strongly to our advantage is FORGE’s intense focus on providing unique value by supporting manufacturing readiness and supply chain connection - we have really worked to hone our niche, and become the manufacturing resource for startups with physical innovations. With this said, it's also incredibly important to build a strong network with ecosystem partners that have complementary focus areas. We’ve been able to grow and strengthen these regional partnerships to ensure that the startups in the Massachusetts and New England ecosystem are best supported by the vast number of impactful, mission driven organizations that are here to help, all focusing on what they do best.

What does not work in FORGE’s experience is trying to become an expert at everything. That is why we value our partners working in different areas - while we can provide curated supply chain recommendations, we can leverage our partnerships to recommend support when it comes to other important startup focus areas, like pitch decks, fundraising, business development, and more.

OTT: What does it mean to be an accelerator/incubator during the coronavirus pandemic?

FORGE: Interestingly enough, it’s worth noting that FORGE actually does not consider itself an incubator, nor an accelerator. We don’t host the companies in physical space like an incubator, but rather we partner with incubators to offer their members manufacturing support. Although we do help accelerate startups to scale and commercialize, we don’t graduate them through a formal program like a traditional accelerator. Once we’ve worked with a startup, 75% continue to return to us for manufacturing support as they scale - even post commercialization. There is no service cliff.  Because we don’t fit the traditional molds, it can be harder for us to get funding under such a limited language. We are hoping to broaden the awareness in the ecosystem and ensure that other mission driven organizations can be recognized under slightly different terms!

OTT: What is one lesson learned from this virtual experience?

FORGE: The virtual experience has taught the FORGE team that we don’t need to limited by our geographic location when it comes to working with diverse startups and making an impact - the virtual world has allowed us to broaden our reach beyond our traditional, Massachusetts and New England - based startup audience to work with startups all over the country and all over the world. As the world looks towards a return to normal, we intend to keep an array of virtual engagement opportunities and continue to accelerate reach to new and diverse audiences.

OTT: How can we stay up to date on the latest news or events with your company?

FORGE: To stay updated on FORGE’s upcoming events as well as funding or event opportunities from our ecosystem partners, you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter. You can also follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn! FORGE’s website is also a great resource for anyone interested in our network: our blogs include startup success stories, supplier expertise on common manufacturing challenges, original content on relevant emerging issues and trends in innovative manufacturing from the FORGE team, and even summaries of past events you may have missed.

Thank you FORGE! Congratulations again on being an EPIC prize winner!

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