Community Rowing creates innovation fund to promote interest in sport

Rowers at the Head of the Charles Regatta.  Jonathan Wiggs / Globe Staff.
Rowers at the Head of the Charles Regatta. Jonathan Wiggs / Globe Staff.

Interesting initiative from Brighton-based Community Rowing, the largest rowing non-profit in the county, to generate some creative ideas about getting more people involved in the sport: they’re creating a $200,000 innovation fund. And behind it are some venture capitalists and tech execs who also happen to be seasoned rowers.

The goal of the fund is to help change the perception of rowing as an elite sport, and get more people involved, whether for fun, competition, or fitness. They’re hunting for entrepreneurs or others with creative ideas about how to bring more people to rowing.

Contributors to the fund include angel investor Deb Kemper; Ernie Parizeau, an adjunct prof at Babson College and retired partner at Norwest Venture Partners; Tim Fulham of Fulham and Co.; and Marcia Hooper of HooperLewis. The fund will give out $20,000 grants three or four times a year, and the hope is that it’ll be continually replenished so it stays at that $200,000 level.

One of the internally-developed projects that led to the creation of the fund was a non-polluting electric boat. “With a small amount of seed money, we were able to produce something that may well change rowing,” says Jane Morse, a Community Rowing trustee and former BankBoston tech exec. “There are lots of bodies of water where gasoline-powered boats aren’t allowed, and this launch doesn’t create much wake, so rowers don’t get tossed around as much.” Morse says that the new fund will look for other “ideas we hope will really change rowing and open it up.”

Community Rowing executive director Bruce Smith tells me he already knows of several applicants, including a new kind of seat for paraplegic rowers; new shoe clips that would allow rowers to use mountain biking shoes in rowing shells; and a website that would share best practices for running a successful rowing club.

The initial deadline for submitting business plans is October 1st, 2014. More details here.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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