“It’s about promoting innovative thinking to help create enterprises that have significant social and economic impact on communities that truly need some help,” he said.
The Sandbox annual pitch contest is a popular element of the program.
Professional storyteller Nicolette Nordin Heavey of Andover was the “fan favorite” at a Sandbox pitch contest in 2012 and that earned her a $1,250 grant for her “Stories in the Streets” business.
The grant allowed Heavey to bring her brand of performance story-telling as well as her colorful rolling cart of books to community gathering spots in Lawrence, including its farmers market and a playground at North Common. Heavey also gave a free picture book to every child who listened.
Sandbox has lent its financial support to a long list of projects, including helping to bring 65 Teach for America instructors to Lawrence this past school year and recruiting mentors for entrepreneurs just starting out.
The program has funded more than 600 youth entrepreneurs and 350 adult entrepreneurs. More than 100 successful entrepreneurs volunteer as mentors as well. Student entrepreneurs are especially applauded in the Sandbox Catalyst Program.
“We provide connections, support and seed grants to help students try out their ideas,” Deshpande said. “We are the cheerleaders.”
The Deshpandes, who have lived in Andover since 1992 and have two adult sons, ages 27 and 29, have taken the Sandbox model global, with branches in India and Canada.
Jaishree Deshpande is especially proud of the program’s work in her homeland of India, where a school kitchen was built to feed poor, hungry children who walk miles to get to class.
“The Sandbox concept helps many people around the world,” she said.
Mentors to success
Successful entrepreneurs, executives, investors and technical experts are needed as mentors for the Merrimack Valley Sandbox program. A three- to five-hour monthly commitment is required. Mentors will provide support/guidance to help early-stage entrepreneurs launch their ventures. To apply, visit MVSandbox.org.