Charles Smith
Charles Smith

Community Teamwork’s Entrepreneurship Center Hires New Director





PHOTO From left to right – Lawrence Kretikos, Secretary Mike Kennealy, Evan Kretikos, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, MA State Representative Vanna Howard, and MA State Representative Tom Golden

Brothers Lawrence and Evan Kretikos connected with us at the Entrepreneurship Center in early 2020, after having completed EforAll in Lowell. Lawrence and Evan felt good about their business vision but knew they needed additional support to launch their business, including additional business technical assistance and business funding.

Lawrence and Evan wanted to build a fun, affordable restaurant and bar in downtown Lowell in order to continue to serve their community and specifically to expand their work as DJs. They had spent the past several years DJ’ing in local bars and restaurants in Lowell and the surrounding towns, however, every time the bar they DJ’d in received disciplinary action or other issues regarding alcohol, they were negatively impacted. Their goal was to take ownership of their music careers by creating their own space that they could manage with the highest level of professionalism.

As Covid-19 hit, the two brothers felt that their vision was strong enough that they wanted to continue building this business. Throughout their entire business plan process, they took advantage of every resource they could access and were great students.

The Entrepreneurship Center worked closely with Evan And Lawrence for six months, helping them further refine their vision.  They were referred to Middlesex Community College’s Launch Your Business Now program, where they participated in the Entrepreneurship In Action class, which focuses on start-up operations planning. After participating in the class, they were eligible to receive support from the Entrepreneurship Center’s STAT program, which provided funding for consultants to help them in the areas of finance, marketing, operations, and wellness. They also received technical assistance from the City of Lowell’s Economic Development and met with SCORE. In late 2021, they took advantage of the SBA debt relief program by securing an SBA Microloan from the Entrepreneurship Center.

The Entrepreneurship Center @CTI provided extensive technical assistance, which ranged from site selection, lease review, site visits, and landlord negotiates. Additional assistance was provided to help the brother’s secure and manage a silent partnership agreement. In 2021, The Entrepreneurship Center @CTI provided over 25 hours of technical assistance to Trend. They received over $17,000 in business grants across all programs.

Trend opened their doors to the public on July 15, 2021, after over two years of planning. They were visited by Lt. Governor and Secretary Kennealy, as well as the entire delegation and nearly 30 other local community members, as part of a state tour of Massachusetts down towns, coordinated by the Entrepreneurship Center.

Trend represents the best of what the Entrepreneurship Center @CTI can offer partners.  Evan and Lawrence were able to seamlessly take advantage of all of the resources available to them in the local ecosystem. The Entrepreneurship Center intends to continue to support Trend with additional technical assistance regarding food quality and restaurant operations, as well as any other resources that become available, including the MGCC digital capacities grant.



girl at farmers market
girl at farmers market

Lowell Farmers’ Market Bolsters Family Farm Success

Bob R’s family operated a dairy farm in Lowell for generations. He wanted to return to his roots, but in a challenging economy, and practical farm education usually being an informally passed-on body of knowledge, Bob expected to struggle to start up a farm. Regardless of how critical farming is to our region, without small business support, farming education, and a place to access customers, beginning a farm is unrealistic. For Bob and his family, farming became a reality, and a realistic source of income and happiness.

two woman standing together
two woman standing together

Building the Economy — Realizing a Dream

          Christina H. graduated from our Small Business Center’s Entrepreneurial Boot Camp and Financial Tune Up Boot Camp in December 2012.  She has officially started her business providing cakes, fudge, popcorn and other delicious treats as Delightful Surprise Sweets.  Christina has been making cakes and chocolates for years, but recently decided to formalize her business and came to the Merrimack Valley Small Business Center’s (MVSBC) hoping to realize her dreams.  She received MVSBC’s Credit Builder Loan—$500 that help’s individuals build their personal credit–a first step in building a business.  Christina’s creativity, resourcefulness and dedication will serve her well as she formalizes her business and brings her delicious cakes and chocolates to customers throughout the Merrimack Valley!


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!