CharlesSmith CTI x
CharlesSmith CTI x

U.S. Small Business Administration to Fund Entrepreneurship Center

The SBA has awarded Community Teamwork Inc. with $200K through the PRIME Grant

Lowell, MA – The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recently awarded Community Teamwork Inc. $200K for the sake of funding its Entrepreneurship Center. The funding will allow staff of the Entrepreneurship Center to work with entrepreneurs on developing their financial capacity to increase their business viability by hosting trainings, seminars, and peer-to-peer learning. Staff will also use the funding to offer expanded opportunities to constituents of the center to access technical assistance services in a linguistically accessible and culturally competent design.

The Entrepreneurship Center, formerly known as the Merrimack Valley Small Business Center, was founded in 1998 to provide technical assistance for low and very low-income entrepreneurs to help them create, sustain and grow micro-enterprises. Since its rebranding into the Entrepreneurship Center in 2019, its services have expanded through out Middlesex and Essex County, and refocused its program offerings and service model to better serve the diverse needs of its disadvantaged micro-enterprise clients.

The Prime Grant was created as part of the Program for Investment in Microentrepreneurs Act of 1999, also known as the PRIME Act. This act authorized the SBA to establish a program for the purposes of providing training and technical assistance to disadvantaged entrepreneurs, providing training and capacity building assistance to microenterprise development organizations (MDOs) and programs, aiding in research and development of best practices for microenterprise and technical assistance programs for disadvantaged entrepreneurs, and for other activities as determined by the SBA.

“We are thrilled to receive this SBA Prime grant. It will enable us to expand our work to help our local small businesses, especially those who are low income and disadvantaged, thrive in our community”, stated Charles Smith, Director of the Entrepreneurship Center.

The SBA was founded back in 1953 under the administration of President Eisenhower alongside the signing of the Small Business Act. It offers programs that cover federal contracting and business development, entrepreneurial development, and lending services, all for the sake of supporting small businesses across the country.


About Community Teamwork

Established in 1965, Community Teamwork is a non-profit Community Action Agency (CAA) serving more than 55,000 individuals and families in the City of Lowell and the seven surrounding towns of Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro, and Westford. Community Teamwork also serves as a Community Development Corporation and as the Regional Housing Agency for the Merrimack Valley and the rest of the Northeastern Massachusetts, including 71 cities and towns inclusive of the North Shore and Cape Ann. Community Teamwork is a catalyst for social change. We strengthen communities and reduce poverty by delivering vital services and collaborating with key stakeholders to create housing, education and economic opportunities. Our vision is a community whose institutions, systems, and people support everyone’s opportunity to thrive.

Movie Grant Flyer
Movie Grant Flyer

Announcing MGCC’s Independent Movie Theater Grant

Ends April 28th

For more info, email:


The Entrepreneur Center at Community Teamwork Announces New QuickBooks Program for Small Businesses

Charles Smith
Charles Smith

Community Teamwork’s Entrepreneurship Center Hires New Director

group of young people
group of young people

Entrepreneurship Center AWARDED $200,000 SBA PRIME grant!

Ani Vong
Ani Vong

Welcome to the Entrepreneurship Center Ani Vong

In Ani’s words…

I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand as a result of the Cambodian genocide in the late 1970s. Lowell became our new home around 1983. Since I was younger, I’ve always drempt of owning a boutique because I loved clothes, styling and meeting new people. Working in retail my whole life, I then became a manager of the cutest boutique in our area, Humanity. When the opportunity came to take it over, I thought long and hard about it. Sure, it would mean my dreams were coming true, but I had no educational background in business nor the financial backing. One thing I kept thinking about was, “in ten years, if someone asked me what is the one thing I regret – it would be not taking over Humanity. I knew that I had to take a leap of faith and just go for my dreams.”

 Any small business owner in Downtown Lowell will tell you it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. And there were so many times I thought I would have to close up for reasons outside of my control. Throughout all the challenges, I knew that if I kept thinking outside the box, bring in new exciting products, collaborate on projects and be involved in the community – that however the business turns out to be, I will have succeeded in knowing that I gave it my entire all. Humanity is now strictly online and a pop-up shop (when its safe to do again).

Now 7 years later, I am transitioning into my new role as the STAT Program Coordinator at The ECenter @CTI. From a small business owner wanting to develop and enrich my community, I am now able to give back in a different way. I have always supported other small businesses and now I get to directly help them through COVID and beyond and hopefully help make a greater impact.

Why Ani Is Our Hero

Our heroes are people who apply great business skills, who contribute something of value to their community, and invest in themselves and others.

Ani Vong is certainly all of these things, plus more.  She is a young Cambodian American woman who is gutsy, kind, irreverent sometimes, and lighthearted, and yet she is a girl boss who takes her life obligations very, very seriously. She wants a lot for herself and she wants even more for her community. She puts her money and time where her mouth is, and she does the things that we all want to do and say we’re going to do. 

She is our local hero because:

  1. She trusted herself to take action on her dream before she “felt” ready because she knew the opportunity would not last forever.
  2. She did not let insecurity limit her impact, even when she couldn’t fully imagine herself in a position of power and business ownership, she still said “yes”
  3. She did not limit herself to someone else’s vision.  She took the vision of what existed and improved upon it, adding her own personal touch.
  4. She persevered during very challenging times as a boutique owner in a struggling downtown.  Even during the most difficult times, she kept evaluating, adjusting, and trying new ways to improve her chances of success.
  5. She prepared for the inevitable future.  Downtown retail has been difficult for decades, despite a great desire for vibrant downtowns, the reality is something else.  Ani did not continue to bang her head, instead, she developed a “pop-up” model, which allowed her to move into other businesses to sell her products, effectively building a business within a business, and reducing her reliance on foot traffic.  
  6. She helped other businesses make money.  Humanity’s online presence and marketing reach made it possible for Ani to bring new customers into the businesses in which she held pop-ups. In this way, she created opportunities and exposure for other businesses.
  7. She chose a job in service. After moving to a fully online model, she decided to go to work.  Instead of chasing the highest-paying job, she chose a job of service.  Serving others is the fastest way to integrate life lessons and she wasted no time offering her skills to others.

Small Business Resources Ani Was Able to Access

One of Ani’s skills is her willingness to seek help and willingness to learn from others.  The Entrepreneurship Center is one of many local resources for small business owners, and Ani was wise enough to gather as much assistance as possible. Ani was able to take advantage of the following resources from the Entrepreneurship Center, plus other community resources.

  • SBA Microloan – Funded Inventory and branding upgrade (Entrepreneurship Center @CTI)
  • Lowell Downtown Venture Fund loan – Funded inventory and operating expenses (Lowell Development Financial Corporation)
  • Launch Your Business Now Certicated – provided education to help her move her business online (Middlesex Community College)
  • Everyday Entrepreneur Venture Fund – provided grant funding to increase her inventory for online sales (Middlesex Community College)
  • MGCC Professional Services grant – helped her hire a professional to support her online business (Entrepreneurship Center @CTI)
  • SBA Debt Relief program – helped her manage her debt due to the impacts of COVID – (Entrepreneurship Center @CTI)
  • Business Coaching, including Operations and Finance – (Entrepreneurship Center @CTI)
jakob owens
jakob owens

Thank you, MGCC & Lowell Makes.

“We know how important this support is, but we also know that our resources are limited.”

MGCC President and CEO Larry Andrews

In partnership with Mass Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) and Lowell Makes, the Entrepreneurship Center @CTI was awarded funds to build a Digital Education / Content Studio, called Lowell Makes Entrepreneurship. The studio will include a podcast audio station, product photography setup, video production tools and technology, and a printing station to produce branding assets. Lowell Makes Entrepreneurship should up and running by mid-March. Video production carts will be available for “check out” to allow entrepreneurs to produce high-quality video in their business.There is a vast and growing digital divide, in which local entrepreneurs lag behind in terms of education and access to digital tools and equipment.

Even the most basic tools for marketing, like lighting, microphones, and video editing software are beyond reach educationally and financially for many micro-enterprises and small businesses.
The goal of the Digital Education/Content Studio is to bridge this gap by providing free access to qualified entrepreneurs, including a dedicated space to record and edit video, create podcasts, work on branding assets, and take product photography, or print out branded labels, etc.In conjunction with the other tools and education provided by Lowell Makes, (for a membership fee), the collective creative energy and access to state of the art technology will go a long way in bridging the skills and access gap as well as improve the overall quality of content development in the Greater Lowell region.

We are extremely grateful to MGCC for this funding and are honored to be working with Lowell Makes. Both have had an unprecedentedly busy year, as Lowell Makes moved into their new home at

Western Ave. and MGCC became facilitators to Massachusetts emergency small business grant funding. Despite these changes and increased obligations, both have still managed to focus on being of service to their constituents and members.

We are honored to be among Lowell Makes and MGCC partners. We are proud to share MGCC’s goal of improving economic outcomes for local entrepreneurs regardless of their personal backstory or where they are on their entrepreneurial journey.

With Gratitude,

Franky, KellyAnne & Ani

Thank you MGCC, You Are A HERO!