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Interise: Changing the game for small business

Boston's Interise helps employers achieve scale

Interise: Changing the game for small business
Scott Baker (right) is the founder and managing owner of Skycom Courier. After completing the Interise StreetWise ‘MBA,’ Skycom Courier has increased annual revenues by 265 percent.

Eighty percent of small businesses do not make it past the startup phase — and yet, almost all the small business technical assistance and support is focused on early stage or start-up businesses. According to, Jean Horstman, CEO of Interise, “the businesses that survive start-up and want to grow significantly have not historically had affordable business development resources tailored to their needs and phase of development,” a statement she made to the Banner in 2010. Their mission of economic revitalization of lower-income communities is a much-needed resource, so we posed some questions to get up to date with their story.

Q: Can you give our readers a brief history of the start of Interise?

A: Interise is rooted in Boston. We’ve supported the growth of more than 300 Boston companies by enabling them to develop the organizational capacity that existing small employers need to achieve scale. To do this, we created the trademarked StreetWise ‘MBA’™.

In 2008, the Smaller Business Association of New England (SBANE) gave us its Innovation Award in recognition of our game-changing approach to small business growth. In that year we launched our innovative licensing model, adopting it to work for the Small Business Administration’s Emerging Leaders Initiative. Since 2008, Interise has worked with 17 licensed partners in 85 cities to reach over 4,000 established small businesses nationwide. Over 1,000 more business owners join our alumni network annually.

We are smart, but we would never have been smart enough to work in that many communities and not shoot ourselves in the foot. Instead we identify partners who align with our mission of economic revitalization of lower income communities and license our StreetWise ‘MBA’™ to them to deliver through their own locally branded programs. Partners have the knowledge and understanding of their communities and their needs which we complement with our curriculum, training, quality assurance and evaluation, enabling our partners to effectively and efficiently launch their programs. Our innovative approach to spreading our mission is based on trust and shared values.

Trusting our partners has enabled Interise to scale rapidly. Since 2014, Interise has doubled the number of communities that we serve.

Q: Can you describe the program that you offer business owners called Street Wise MBA and what criteria you use in your selection process for acceptance into the program?

A: Interise created the StreetWise ‘MBA’™ to build the capacity that existing small employers need for further growth. The StreetWise ‘MBA’™ brings together a cohort of 15 to 20 small business owners for a nine-month facilitated learning experience. Over this time, business owners gain the business knowledge, management know-how and expanded networks they need for effective growth. They support each other as they apply what they learn and create three-year growth plans.

Interise works exclusively with established small businesses. These businesses typically are three to five years old and average between $250,000 and $10 million in annual revenue. In 2014, 78 percent of StreetWise ‘MBA’™ participants were minority, women, immigrants or operated a business in a lower-income community.

Q: Tell us about your success stories — at least two businesses that really gained from going through the program.

A: Scott Baker is the founder and managing owner of Skycom Courier, a privately owned and operated logistics company incorporated in Massachusetts. Skycom is the sole provider of courier service to the nation’s third largest hospital, and holds contracts with corporate and government agencies.

Since taking the StreetWise ‘MBA’™ in 2006, Skycom Courier has increased annual revenues by 265 percent. Much of this growth was spurred by contracting opportunities with universities and hospitals. The StreetWise ‘MBA’™ educates participants on the opportunities that exist with both government and anchor institutions, and prepares them for doing business with these types of entities.

Todd Snopkowski (2007 StreetWise ‘MBA’™ alum) is the owner and CEO of Snapchef, a Boston-based culinary workers employment firm that last year trained and placed more than 1,200 workers, predominantly residents of lower-income communities. Today, Snapchef has become the largest culinary training and staffing agency in New England, with five locations (two in Boston and one each in Holden, Mass., Worcester and Rhode Island) and 450 customers, including Gillette Stadium.

Todd says that the biggest thing he gained from the StreetWise ‘MBA’™ was the network — to meet other business owners who were experiencing the same problems that he was. Talking to other business owners gave Todd confidence. He stays in touch with StreetWise ‘MBA’™ alumni, at times using their business expertise to help keep his business on course. Todd predicts that his business will continue to grow at the same rate that he’s grown his business for the past two years: 30 to 35 percent annually.

Q: Interise has grown well beyond Boston and is in many other cities now. What are some of the ways that you think a city can be helpful or harmful to small business owners?

A: What we have learned through our city partners is the importance of a city approaching small businesses with a thorough understanding of the different stages of a business’s development, and the dangers and opportunities faced at each stage.

Where our partners have taken this approach and applied it with an investment mindset, giving new business strategies time to gain traction and impact, they get significant business growth for both early and mid-stage small businesses. The temptation is to speed things up for political reasons which can lead to all kinds of unintended negative consequences.

Much can be learned from the strategies developed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — strategies that had their roots in the work done by Boston’s own Parthenon Group.

Q: What are your goals for the next five years?

A: We build a brand by building a network — a network of proven results. Our goals for the next five years will ensure that we effectively deepen and widen this network: from building our network’s capacity to serve additional small business owners, to deepening community networks that connect Interise businesses even more with institutional and government contracting opportunities.

We will grow our network while ensuring quality of mission impact: from whom we serve, to the economic and social impact achieved at the individual, business and community levels.

By 2020, we aim to achieve a network that includes:

  • 15,000 total StreetWise ‘MBA’™ alumni, with 5,000 StreetWise ‘MBA’™ participants completing the program annually;
  • 20 percent increase in the percent of Interise businesses that are contracting with anchor institutions;
  • 90 percent or more of annual participants identifying as a minority business owner or operating a business in a lower income community.

We will accomplish all of this by 2020, while maintaining the current rate of job creation of Interise small businesses. On average, Interise businesses create jobs at five to eight times the rate of the private sector as a whole.