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Mohawk Trail Entrepreneur Challenge

Winner: Coming Soon

Challenge Goal

The Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership Entrepreneur Challenge (MTEC) will help entrepreneurs contribute to regional economic development. The Challenge will prioritize business models that 1) serve customers from within and outside of the Mohawk Trail region, 2) have high potential to create new jobs, 3) are capable of attracting grant, debt or equity financing.

Challenge participants will receive six months of no-cost business acceleration from Lever, a leading entrepreneurship center based in North Adams, Massachusetts. Acceleration programming will include technical assistance from Lever’s experienced staff, consultation from domain experts, and a variety of additional resources. Participants will also learn strategies for attracting capital investment.

One participating business will be awarded a $25,000 grant in early 2021. The grant will be awarded by a panel of independent experts who will assess businesses based on their business plans, customer validation, market traction, and a ten-minute pitch to be presented at the Challenge’s culminating event.

Meet the finalists

Adventure East
Brian Pearson
Charlemont, MA

Foolhardy Hill
Katie & Patrick Banks
Charlemont, MA

Berkshire Bike Tours
Luke Torrito
Charlemont, MA

Western Wigwam Summit
Lea King
North Adams, MA

Remote Harvest Sensors
David Eve
Conway, MA

ADVENTURE EAST: FROM SOUTH AMERICA TO BERKSHIRE COUNTY

Brian Pearson hiking in Western Massachusetts 

Brian Pearson, founder of the Berkshires-based destination management company Adventure East, is working to bring a new luxury travel experience to Western Massachusetts when it’s up and running, Adventure East will be a membership-based service that brings international tourists to the Berkshires.

Pearson calls his product “experiential travel”. “We take care of everything,” he said. “We customize the Berkshires experience for every Adventure East guest, including meals, lodging and activities.”

Pearson has been an outdoorsman since his childhood in upstate New York. “From a young age I was fishing, catching frogs, swimming in streams, and building forts in the woods,” he said. During the snowy winters, Pearson would sneak out before sunrise and start walking the two-mile trip between his house and the local ski resort.

Later, Pearson’s family moved to Colorado, where he got his first job working at a horse ranch. That job ended up leading to a career as a hospital administrator. “One of the guys who was involved at the horse ranch was a pharmacist who showed me around the local hospital,” he said. “I thought it was a cool place.”

Around 2002, Pearson decided to change his life and walked away from that career. “We sold our house, our cars, and we put everything into storage. We had no debt and we had saved enough to travel for seven months. So we backpacked the entire Andean Mountain Range from Tierra del Fuego to Quito, Ecuador.”

The trip was “life-affirming” for Pearson and his wife. The pair decided to stay in Chile and launched Upscape, a luxury destination management company. Serving visitors from all over the world, the Pearsons offered personalized experiences in Chile’s Andean mountains. Pearson and his family returned to the U.S. in 2012 so their son could get an American education. Now they’re based in Hampshire County, which to the Pearsons is an ideal staging ground for Adventure East, their U.S. version of Upscape

 BERKSHIRE BIKE TOURS: COMING TO CHARLEMONT

Luke Torrito in Wyoming

Luke Torrito is the founder of Berkshire Bike Tours, a startup mountain and road biking company that he plans to operate from Charlemont. Toritto’s company will offer biking tours for enthusiasts of all skill levels.

Torrito’s interest in biking began during his teen years in the hills of northern Massachusetts, but Toritto didn’t truly get into the sport until college. “Back in high school, I was a wide-eyed kid, riding crummy bikes and thinking ‘wow this is cool,’” While studying at UMass Amherst, Toritto joined the school’s mountain biking team. By his senior year, Toritto was organizing bike races, building trails and working as a bike instructor.

His first love, however, was skiing. A Western Massachusetts native, Toritto recollects that “Berkshire East had a family night deal that was three people for $49. That’s the way my dad, brother, and I would ski.” After graduating from UMASS Amherst, Toritto moved to Jackson, Wyoming. “skiing is better in the West,” Toritto said sheepishly. “I wanted to be in bigger mountains.” In his time there, Toritto has served as ski instructor, a raft guide, and a bike mechanic.

Torrito’s interest in moving back east to start a bike touring company sprsprung from a conversation about Charlemont’s “awesome” new mountain bike trails with Berkshire East owner Jon Schaefer. Torrito also drew inspiration from the elaborate bike trail network in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, a New England mountain biking mecca. Torrito believes that Thunder Mountain Bike park is already one of the best in the country, and that Charlemont’s rolling hills make a perfect home base for Berkshire Bike Tours.

REMOTE HARVEST SENSORS: SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY FROM LOCAL FAMILY TREE FARM

“It’s a labor of love, more than anything else,” David Eve said of his family’s tree farm, which spreads over land in Conway and Deerfield. The Eve-Cowles Family Tree Farm is a Berkshires example of sustainable forestry in action. The family manages the woodland using techniques honed over four decades of stewardship.

Eve, an associate professor of computer science at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, is now developing technology to help others practice sustainable forestry, including a turbidity sensor for woodland streams. Turbidity is a measure of the amount of particulate matter within water. In general, higher turbidity in stream water suggests upstream land disturbance.

During tree harvesting, heavy equipment often disrupts the soil and the logging roads alter the paths of rain water. Erosion caused by timber harvesting disrupts the woodland soil ecosystem. In addition, particulates washed into the streams hurt macroinvertebrates and the animals that feed on them. Eroding soil and makes streams “muddy,” which makes them turbid.

Eve’s sensors will help foresters minimize these impacts by comparing baseline turbidity statistics to turbidity readings during logging. Eve hopes his technology will improve sustainable forestry practices, for example by restricting logging activity to days when ecological impact is minimized. In time, his turbidity monitoring technology could also be used to minimize erosion impacts in construction, agriculture, road-building, or any activity where there is soil disruption.

Eve notes that his newest project is an extension of decades of attentive forestry. “Some of the earlier harvests that took place up there, well, it was a different generation for forestry,” Eve recalled, “You’d take the best trees and leave the garbage behind. Seeing things now from the perspective of sustainable forestry, it’s a measured approach. What’s left behind becomes the stock for future generations.”

Nowadays, the work of sustainable forestry is multifaceted, including timed and selective cuts to ensure optimal forest regrowth, wood quality, and the recreational value of a land parcel. Eve also noted the tree farm’s work with habitat improvement, including a multi-year plan to create habitat for birds that prefer shrubland and field environments.

Eve says his parents never intended to develop the land when they purchased it decades ago. Rather, it was more of a lifestyle decision. To this day, the parcel is much more to Eve than just a tree farm. Every winter, his family and friends use the land’s trails for cross-country skiing adventures, and every summer, Eve hikes its logging roads. “We moved here from the Midwest, so the idea of having a chunk of space for my sister and me to run around was part of the family wiring,” he said.

FOOLHARDY HILL: CREATES NEW CAMPING EXPERIENCE AT FOOLHARDY HILL

Katie and Patrick enjoying one of the many campground amenities 

This summer, Patrick and Katie Banks will open Foolhardy Hill, a new campground in Charlemont. Set on a hilltop with panoramic views of the Berkshire mountains, five tiny cabins will provide a private place for guests to rest. Guests will also have access to a community outdoor kitchen, fire pit, and hammock grove.

Katie explains, “It is very important to us that we pay tribute to and preserve the land so that commerce does not spoil the very thing that attracts people to the area. Our campground is off grid and designed around old logging roads to mitigate disturbance of the forest floor. We wanted to create a simple and comfortable space where members of the outdoor community can unwind while surrounded by the natural beauty that drives their adventures.”

Patrick and Katie see Foolhardy Hill fitting nicely into a region becoming known for ecotourism. Whitewater rafting, mountain biking, skiing, hiking, fishing and other outdoor sports are attracting a growing number of visitors in the region, and their campground is located in the center of all the action. “With an increase of visitors trespassing to camp on private land, including our own, it is clear folks are seeking lodging in Charlemont, so we said, ‘let’s give em’ a place to stay!’” said Patrick.

The Banks are no strangers to Western Massachusetts, nor to professional outdoor activity. Patrick spent his childhood along the Deerfield River and has worked as a professional raft guide for Zoar Outdoor and has been a ski patroller at Mt. Snow for the past 16 years. Katie also worked as a raft guide for Zoar Outdoor and has experience working in sales and operations management in the Vermont ski industry.

Although the Banks’ property sits on an old mountainside, the name Foolhardy Hill is a new moniker. They know that uprooting their lives to begin their campground has been a risky choice. But to Katie, the name encapsulates a lot of what their community is about. “Isn’t everything we do kind of foolhardy?” Katie asked. “When you are paddling whitewater or mountain biking, you’re always making these calculated, yet risky decisions. I feel like everybody in the outdoor world, they’re all a little foolhardy.”

Perhaps we should all aspire to be more foolhardy.

WESTERN WIGWAM SUMMIT: NEW THINGS COMING

Lea King and Wayne Gelinas at the Summit

Lea King bought the Wigwam Western Summit in 2018, and she and her partner Wayne Gelinas wasted no time turning it back into the destination it once was during the heyday of auto tourism in the 1920s and 30s.

The couple completely renovated the building just up from the Hairpin Turn on Route 2 in North Adams, plus four small cabins, creating an overnight destination with an incredible view as well as a store that offers coffee, baked goods, lunch and dinner options, a bar, local crafts, unique gifts, and Wigwam branded products.

King and Gelinas are also passionate about investing in the North Adams community; though their business, and tourism overall, was impacted by the pandemic, they started distributing free hot meals on Sundays to anyone who came up the mountain, ending the service in June to focus on their busiest season.

Over the summer, the Wigwam’s cabins were booked solid, and King and Gelinas now plan to expand their lodging options. They recently purchased a five-acre parcel adjacent to the property, and hope to curate a “Wigwam Woodland Experience” for tourists, with new accommodations, woodland art installations begging to be posted on Instagram, workshops that explore skills like woodworking, guided hikes, and the option to add on iconic Berkshire experiences like a tour of the Clark Art Museum in Williamstown or whitewater rafting at Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont.

Gelinas, who grew up in North Adams, grew up watching the property fall into disrepair. “I wish I had a nickel for how many times I heard people say, ‘it’s such a shame about the Wigwam,’” he said. On a trip to Vermont, he mentioned to King, a longtime tech executive, that the property was for sale, and inspiration struck.

King had previously purchased and renovated a historic site in California, which took several years to complete; she said her motivation to bring the property back to its natural splendor mirrors the original intent of the property’s owners a century ago. “Their intention was to create a single point of enjoyment where people can come and see the beauty, rest their feet, lay their head, and have a meal,” she said.

Mohawk Trail Entrepreneur Challenge

Winner: Coming Soon

Challenge Goal

The Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership Entrepreneur Challenge (MTEC) will help entrepreneurs contribute to regional economic development. The Challenge will prioritize business models that 1) serve customers from within and outside of the Mohawk Trail region, 2) have high potential to create new jobs, 3) are capable of attracting grant, debt or equity financing.

Challenge participants will receive six months of no-cost business acceleration from Lever, a leading entrepreneurship center based in North Adams, Massachusetts. Acceleration programming will include technical assistance from Lever’s experienced staff, consultation from domain experts, and a variety of additional resources. Participants will also learn strategies for attracting capital investment.

One participating business will be awarded a $25,000 grant in early 2021. The grant will be awarded by a panel of independent experts who will assess businesses based on their business plans, customer validation, market traction, and a ten-minute pitch to be presented at the Challenge’s culminating event.

Meet the finalists

Adventure East
Brian Pearson
Charlemont, MA

VacationLand
Katie & Patrick Banks
Charlemont, MA

Berkshire Bike Tours
Luke Torrito
Charlemont, MA

Western Wigwam Summit
Lea King
North Adams, MA

Remote Harvest Sensors
David Eve
Conway, MA

ADVENTURE EAST: FROM SOUTH AMERICA TO BERKSHIRE COUNTY

Brian Pearson, founder of the Berkshires-based destination management company Adventure East, is working to bring a new luxury travel experience to Western Massachusetts when it’s up and running, Adventure East will be a membership-based service that brings international tourists to the Berkshires.

Pearson calls his product “experiential travel”: e take care of everything,” he said. “We customize the Berkshires experience for every Adventure East guest, including meals, lodging and activities.”

Pearson has been an outdoorsman since his childhood in upstate New York. “From a young age I was fishing, catching frogs, swimming in streams, and building forts in the woods,” he said. During the snowy winters, Pearson would sneak out before sunrise and start walking the two-mile trip between his house and the local ski resort.

Later, Pearson’s family moved to Colorado, where he got his first job working at a horse ranch. That job ended up leading to a career as a hospital administrator. “One of the guys who was involved at the horse ranch was a pharmacist who showed me around the local hospital,” he said. “I thought it was a cool place.”

Around 2002, Pearson decided to change his life and walked away from that career. “We sold our house, our cars, and we put everything into storage. We had no debt and we had saved enough to travel for seven months. So we backpacked the entire Andean Mountain Range from Tierra del Fuego to Quito, Ecuador.”

The trip was “life-affirming” for Pearson and his wife. The pair decided to stay in Chile and launched Upscape, a luxury destination management company. Serving visitors from all over the world, the Pearsons offered personalized experiences in Chile’s Andean mountains. Pearson and his family returned to the U.S. in 2012 so their son could get an American education. Now they’re based in Hampshire County, which to the Pearsons is an ideal staging ground for Adventure East, their U.S. version of Upscape

BIKE TOURS COMING TO CHARLEMONT

Luke Torrito in Wyoming

Luke Torrito is the founder of Berkshire Bike Tours, a startup mountain and road biking company that he plans to operate from Charlemont. Toritto’s company will offer biking tours for enthusiasts of all skill levels.

Torrito’s interest in biking began during his teen years in the hills of northern Massachusetts, but Toritto didn’t truly get into the sport until college. “Back in high school, I was a wide-eyed kid, riding crummy bikes and thinking ‘wow this is cool,’” While studying at UMass Amherst, Toritto joined the school’s mountain biking team. By his senior year, Toritto was organizing bike races, building trails and working as a bike instructor.

His first love, however, was skiing. A Western Massachusetts native, Toritto recollects that “Berkshire East had a family night deal that was three people for $49. That’s the way my dad, brother, and I would ski.” After graduating from UMASS Amherst, Toritto moved to Jackson, Wyoming. “skiing is better in the West,” Toritto said sheepishly. “I wanted to be in bigger mountains.” In his time there, Toritto has served as ski instructor, a raft guide, and a bike mechanic.

MTorrito’s interest in moving back east to start a bike touring company sprung from a conversation about Charlemont’s “awesome” new mountain bike trails with Berkshire East owner Jon Schaefer. Torrito also drew inspiration from the elaborate bike trail network in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, a New England mountain biking mecca. Torrito believes that Thunder Mountain Bike park is already one of the best in the country, and that Charlemont’s rolling hills make a perfect home base for Berkshire Bike Tours.

REMOTE HARVEST SENSORS: SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY FROM LOCAL FAMILY FARM

“It’s a labor of love, more than anything else,” David Eve said of his family’s tree farm, which spreads over land in Conway and Deerfield. The Eve-Cowles Family Tree Farm is a Berkshires example of sustainable forestry in action. The family manages the woodland using techniques honed over four decades of stewardship.

Eve, an associate professor of computer science at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, is now developing technology to help others practice sustainable forestry, including a turbidity sensor for woodland streams. Turbidity is a measure of the amount of particulate matter within water. In general, higher turbidity in stream water suggests upstream land disturbance.

During tree harvesting, heavy equipment often disrupts the soil and the logging roads alter the paths of rain water. Erosion caused by timber harvesting disrupts the woodland soil ecosystem. In addition, particulates washed into the streams hurt macroinvertebrates and the animals that feed on them. Eroding soil and makes streams “muddy,” which makes them turbid.

Eve’s sensors will help foresters minimize these impacts by comparing baseline turbidity statistics to turbidity readings during logging. Eve hopes his technology will improve sustainable forestry practices, for example by restricting logging activity to days when ecological impact is minimized. In time, his turbidity monitoring technology could also be used to minimize erosion impacts in construction, agriculture, road-building, or any activity where there is soil disruption.

Eve notes that his newest project is an extension of decades of attentive forestry. “Some of the earlier harvests that took place up there, well, it was a different generation for forestry,” Eve recalled, “You’d take the best trees and leave the garbage behind. Seeing things now from the perspective of sustainable forestry, it’s a measured approach. What’s left behind becomes the stock for future generations.”

Nowadays, the work of sustainable forestry is multifaceted, including timed and selective cuts to ensure optimal forest regrowth, wood quality, and the recreational value of a land parcel. Eve also noted the tree farm’s work with habitat improvement, including a multi-year plan to create habitat for birds that prefer shrubland and field environments.

Eve says his parents never intended to develop the land when they purchased it decades ago. Rather, it was more of a lifestyle decision. To this day, the parcel is much more to Eve than just a tree farm. Every winter, his family and friends use the land’s trails for cross-country skiing adventures, and every summer, Eve hikes its logging roads. “We moved here from the Midwest, so the idea of having a chunk of space for my sister and me to run around was part of the family wiring,” he said.

VACATIONLAND: CREATES NEW CAMPING EXPERIENCE AT FOOLHARDY HILL

This summer, Patrick and Katie Banks will open Foolhardy Hill, a new campground in Charlemont. Set on a hilltop with panoramic views of the Berkshire mountains, five tiny cabins will provide a private place for guests to rest. Guests will also have access to a community outdoor kitchen, fire pit, and hammock grove.

Katie explains, “It is very important to us that we pay tribute to and preserve the land so that commerce does not spoil the very thing that attracts people to the area. Our campground is off grid and designed around old logging roads to mitigate disturbance of the forest floor. We wanted to create a simple and comfortable space where members of the outdoor community can unwind while surrounded by the natural beauty that drives their adventures.”

Patrick and Katie see Foolhardy Hill fitting nicely into a region becoming known for ecotourism. Whitewater rafting, mountain biking, skiing, hiking, fishing and other outdoor sports are attracting a growing number of visitors in the region, and their campground is located in the center of all the action. “With an increase of visitors trespassing to camp on private land, including our own, it is clear folks are seeking lodging in Charlemont, so we said, ‘let’s give em’ a place to stay!’” said Patrick.

The Banks are no strangers to Western Massachusetts, nor to professional outdoor activity. Patrick spent his childhood along the Deerfield River and has worked as a professional raft guide for Zoar Outdoor and has been a ski patroller at Mt. Snow for the past 16 years. Katie also worked as a raft guide for Zoar Outdoor and has experience working in sales and operations management in the Vermont ski industry.

Although the Banks’ property sits on an old mountainside, the name Foolhardy Hill is a new moniker. They know that uprooting their lives to begin their campground has been a risky choice. But to Katie, the name encapsulates a lot of what their community is about. “Isn’t everything we do kind of foolhardy?” Katie asked. “When you are paddling whitewater or mountain biking, you’re always making these calculated, yet risky decisions. I feel like everybody in the outdoor world, they’re all a little foolhardy.”

Perhaps we should all aspire to be more foolhardy.

WESTERN WIGWAM SUMMIT: NEW THINGS COMING

Lea king and Wayne Gelinas at the Summit

Lea King bought the Wigwam Western Summit in 2018, and she and her partner Wayne Gelinas wasted no time turning it back into the destination it once was during the heyday of auto tourism in the 1920s and 30s.

The couple completely renovated the building just up from the Hairpin Turn on Route 2 in North Adams, plus four small cabins, creating an overnight destination with an incredible view as well as a store that offers coffee, baked goods, lunch and dinner options, a bar, local crafts, unique gifts, and Wigwam branded products.

King and Gelinas are also passionate about investing in the North Adams community; though their business, and tourism overall, was impacted by the pandemic, they started distributing free hot meals on Sundays to anyone who came up the mountain, ending the service in June to focus on their busiest season.

Over the summer, the Wigwam’s cabins were booked solid, and King and Gelinas now plan to expand their lodging options. They recently purchased a five-acre parcel adjacent to the property, and hope to curate a “Wigwam Woodland Experience” for tourists, with new accommodations, woodland art installations begging to be posted on Instagram, workshops that explore skills like woodworking, guided hikes, and the option to add on iconic Berkshire experiences like a tour of the Clark Art Museum in Williamstown or whitewater rafting at Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont.

Gelinas, who grew up in North Adams, grew up watching the property fall into disrepair. “I wish I had a nickel for how many times I heard people say, ‘it’s such a shame about the Wigwam,’” he said. On a trip to Vermont, he mentioned to King, a longtime tech executive, that the property was for sale, and inspiration struck.

King had previously purchased and renovated a historic site in California, which took several years to complete; she said her motivation to bring the property back to its natural splendor mirrors the original intent of the property’s owners a century ago. “Their intention was to create a single point of enjoyment where people can come and see the beauty, rest their feet, lay their head, and have a meal,” she said.

 

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