The North Adams Arts Enterprise Challenge

Four teams compete for $25,000 cash and 4 months of incubation at Lever.

The creative economy is thriving in the Berkshires. We have world-class museums, performance venues, galleries and artist.

We seek entrepreneurs who have a business or business idea that:

  • has high growth potential;
  • connects to the arts; and
  • leverages of one or more pre-existing local assets.

Challenge Timeline

Application Phase: March 1st - April 30th

Teams that wish to participate in the Challenge will need to apply by submitting an application found here. We’re happy to help with the application process. Four finalists will be selected from among the applicants and invited to participate in the Workshop Phase.

Workshop Phase: May 14th - August 9th

Finalists will refine their ideas and optimize their funding potential. They will participate in mentoring sessions, including three weekend workshops, to help advance their business models. Workshop topics include:

  • Lean Startup
  • Customer Development
  • Growth Strategies
  • Fundraising

Finalists will pitch at Lever's annual Demo Day in August. The winning team will be selected by a panel of judges and advance to the Incubation Phase.

Incubation Phase: August 13th - December 31st

The winning team will develop their product or service while working full time in North Adams. In addition to the $25,000 equity-free cash prize, the winner of the competition will receive four months of no-cost office space at Lever, fundraising and networking support from the Lever staff, and no-cost housing for two people.


The winning team receives:

  • Cash: $25,000 equity-free. To receive the award, teams must participate in the 4 month incubation period.
  • Incubation: 4 months of office space at Lever, mentoring, fundraising support, and housing.

Runner-up teams who demonstrate progress, market potential, and coachability may also be awarded incubation resources at Lever.


Emily Best

Emily Best is the founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, an entertainment platform built to increase diversity and inclusion for filmmakers and audiences. Seed&Spark’s curated streaming platform is fed by its crowdfunding platform, which has the highest campaign success rate in the world. In 2011, she produced the feature film, Like the Water, starring Caitlin FitzGerald (Masters of Sex, UnREAL). [Since then she has served as executive producer on a host of film and virtual reality projects that have played at festivals from Sundance to SXSW to Tribeca and beyond. Most recently she co-created and co-directed the web series F*ck Yes!, which Refinery 29 called, "The sex education you wish you had in high school." ] Emily was named a 2013 Indiewire Influencer, a 2014 New York Woman of Influence, was included on the 2015 Upstart 100 list and graduated from the 2016 class of Techstars Boston. She has raised millions of dollars in traditional funding, equity crowdfunding, and rewards based crowdfunding and contributed to over 300 crowdfunding campaigns to date.

Joe Thompson

Joseph Thompson is the founding director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), having guided the museum’s development and arts programming since its inception in 1987. Opening with 200,000 square feet of renovated space in 1999, the arts complex has since grown to encompass over 500,000 square feet of galleries, stages, workshops, and tenant space.

One of the liveliest and largest centers in the world for making, showing, and enjoying the best art and music of our time, MASS MoCA is renowned for its daring program of large-scale exhibitions and performances that capitalize on the museum’s vast 28-building, 16-acre site. It is also the home of the long-term retrospective of Sol LeWitt wall drawings, which Thompson co-organized with Jock Reynolds and the Yale University Art Gallery, a long-term installation of the paintings and sculpture of Anselm Kiefer, realized in collaboration with the Hall Art Foundation, and the world’s most definitive long term public exhibition of the light and space works of James Turrell.

A 1981 graduate of Williams College, Thompson received an M.A. in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was an Annenberg Fellow, and holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, where he was named a Morgenthau Fellow for his work in public policy and management. Thompson has written widely on contemporary art, and has organized many exhibitions and performing arts events at MASS MoCA, including the first solo exhibition of the visual art of David Byrne; the Clocktower Project, a permanent sound art installation by Christina Kubisch; Robert Wilson’s 14 Stations; Tim Hawkinson’s Uberorgan; Ann Hamilton’s corpus; Cai Guo-Qiang’s Inopportune; and, most recently, Xu Bing: Phoenix.

Thompson is a co-organizer of the annual Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, and, with the rock band, Wilco, he co-produces the Solid Sound Festival of Music and Art at MASS MoCA. With Manitou Media, he co-produces FreshGrass, a festival of American roots and new bluegrass music that takes place at MASS MoCA every September. Thompson has served on many public agencies and boards, including 1Berkshire, the county’s leading economic and tourism development organization, and is advisor to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. He serves on the board of directors of MountainOne Bank, and Berkshire Health Systems. For his work in the arts and regional economic development, he has been awarded the Commonwealth Award, the highest award granted to private citizens by the state of Massachusetts, and the Williams College Bicentennial Medal for outstanding achievement by a Williams College alumnus.

Under Thompson’s tenure, MASS MoCA’s visitation has grown from 80,000 in 1999 to over 200,000 in 2017, about fifteen times the population of its home city, North Adams, Massachusetts. The arts center has become a major catalyst for economic revitalization, fueling over 800 jobs and $50 million per year in economic activity to the region.

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Rick Morgenthal

Richard Morgenthal founded Morgenthal Frederics Opticians in 1986. With degrees in both optics and fine arts, Rick saw the potential for a creative, more whimsical way to enjoy the eyewear buying experience. Morgenthal Frederics eyewear has been an incredible success, appearing in numerous fashion publications and attracting a premium clientele. In 2006, Rick sold Morgenthal Frederics to the private enterprise group Credit Suisse. Since then, Morgenthal Frederics has expanded to Beverly Hills, Chicago, Aspen and Palm Beach. Rick and his wife Leslie have lived in Pownal since 2006. Both are artists. Rick paints at his studio in the Beaver Mill in Clarksburg.

Chris Wadsworth

Photo by Caroline Bonnivier/The Berkshire Eagle, used with permission

Chris is the publisher of No Depression and the CEO of FreshGrass LLC and the FreshGrass Foundation. He started his music career as a bluegrass singer and guitarist. He worked as a picker at Rounder Records in 1991 before dropping out of the New England Conservatory to follow his accountant instinct into 20 years of financial sector work. All that led him full circle back into rootsy music via No Depression and FreshGrass. He lives in San Francisco, CA, with his kids.

Ben Lamb

Ben Lamb is the Economic Development Projects Manager at 1Berkshire, the regional economic development organization of the Berkshires. A graduate of MCLA and The College of Saint Rose, Ben is also a PhD student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, focused on the interlinkage between educational institutions and community economic ecosystems.

His previous position as the Assistant Director for Student Organizations and Involvement at Williams College included significant work with 160 student organizations and several student businesses where he assisted them in the development and growth of their operations through both direct advisement and partnerships. As a former small business owner, Ben has extensive connections with both local and broader organizations and individuals focuses on economic development and business growth.

His role as a North Adams City Councilor has also exposed him to a breadth of knowledge and awareness that has served him well in his capacity as a board member for both the North Adams Partnership and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. He spends is "free time" being involved with the NAMAzing Initiative, TEDxNorthAdams, gardening, and spending time with his partner Emily, son Otto, and dog Penny.

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Company Stage

Companies at any stage of development will be considered, from “just an idea” to enterprises already generating revenue. Only companies with less than $500,000 in annual revenue are eligible.

Local Asset Leverage

Ideas must leverage an existing asset in North Adams within their model. Although entrepreneurs must specify asset(s) based in North Adams, “asset” will be broadly interpreted. The asset could be a space, a program, a natural resource, a production, a work of art, etc. A list of some of the arts-related assets in North Adams can be found here.

Growth Potential

To receive award funding, companies must be scalable with high growth potential and can generate a 10-fold return to investors. While we love small, owner-operated "lifestyle businesses,” these will not be eligible for the NAAEC.

Creative Economy

Proposed or current businesses must relate to the arts and creative economy. They might:

  • leverage the creative output of an artist, or artists, to generate value for their customers
  • sell products or services to artists within the creative, performance, or musical arts arenas


Teams must work full time at Lever during the Incubation Phase.

Key 2018 Dates

  • March 1st: Applications open
  • March 21st, 5:00 PM EST: Information session 1
  • April 19th, 5:00 PM EST: Information session 2
  • April 30th: Application deadline
  • May 9th: Finalists announced
  • June 2nd: Workshop 1
  • June 30th: Workshop 2
  • July 28th: Workshop 3
  • August 9th: Challenge Finals/Award Announced
  • August 13th - Decemeber 31st: Incubation Phase

Application Instructions

Applications are now closed.


For questions or information, please contact Brent Filson at