Contact Winter 2018

The winter 2018 cover of Contact magazine


An Enterprising Idea

People working in the Fitchburg ideaLab

The university’s purchase of the theater block on Main Street in downtown Fitchburg has generated a lot of buzz about the transformation and revitalization of our host city. The first phase of the multi-year renovation has begun, and promises to make an immediate impact.

In addition to the theater and seven street-level retail storefronts, the building has thousands of square feet of vacant office space on its second floor. And that’s where we are beginning our work.

What we are calling the ideaLab will have two components. A state of the art game design studio will host the capstone experience for seniors completing the university’s popular major. Built to industry standards, the studio will be the students’ full-time academic base of operations, where they will conceive, design and complete their own games. Faculty oversight will be complemented by consultations with industry professionals.

The ideaLab will also include an open, reconfigurable space that will serve as an intellectual playground for students, faculty and community members. It will be a place for people of different disciplines to meet and tackle problems together, free from the traditional boundaries of academic silos. Creativity will be unleashed.

We know the possibilities for this space are boundless, because Fitchburg State students have always been creative and enterprising. In the pages that follow, you will read about a few of them. They come from the business world as well as the arts and sciences, and include non-profit visionaries interested in social justice and public health.

Choose Freedom – Sean Devereaux ’99, Co-Founder, ZERO VFX

Sean Devereaux

That initiative and work ethic would continue to pay dividends. “The doctorate of your profession is your first four years after college,” he said.

After 12 years in visual-effects, he was ready to chart his own course. “I wanted to work in Boston, but since no one in Boston did what we do, three of us got started in my basement in Newton.”
Zero VFX was born with small jobs at first and with organic growth that brought larger and more high profile projects. He and his co-founders agreed not to incur debt as they grew the company, even if it meant some lean periods. “We didn’t pay ourselves for a long time,” he said. “We invested in technology and talent.”

Today the company is the largest effects house in New England, capitalizing on a solid reputation and a still thriving motion picture economy in the state. Recent Zero VFX credits include “American Hustle,” “The Equalizer,” “Patriots Day” and “Daddy’s Home 2.” 
Devereaux said the decision to blaze his own trail rather than sticking with his first job was crucial to his success. “I chose freedom,” he said. “If you choose money over your passion, you’re never going to have it. Now I have the freedom to live where I want and work on the projects that I want.”

Hard work and lifelong learning – Ken Berry ’00, President of Jibunu, Fitchburg

Ken Berry

That business started as a custom software designer for small businesses, but evolved into Jibunu, a market research firm that now has 20 employees. “We’re often the technology behind a (larger) market research company’s products,” he said. “Every single product you’ve ever seen had research done before it was released.”

Jibunu’s portfolio covers everything from consumer packaged goods to pharmaceuticals to disease treatments, and has worked for companies large and small across the globe. Surveys, focus groups and proprietary technology are employed for a wide range of customized data generation and analysis. “There’s no market vertical we haven’t touched in our 14 years,” he said.

Berry said starting his own business was a lot of work, but hundred-hour weeks as an undergraduate working his way through school prepared him well for that grind. “The work ethic and the understanding of technology were two things I got during my years at Fitchburg State.”

The ability to keep learning is also essential to a successful entrepreneur. “You can’t just be good at one thing,” he said. “You have to have multiple intelligences, and you can’t stop learning.”

Always Looking for Solutions – Jamie Nonni ’95, CEO, Nationwide Payment Solutions and Municipay

Jamie Nonni

“The guy who owned that little company retired and I ended up buying it while still a student,” he said. “It wasn’t a successful business, but it was a business. I financed the company on my credit cards, and I managed to get by for about a year that way.”

His business was picked up by another fledgling cell provider who put Nonni in a retail location. The business was on its last legs when his life changed: an antiques dealer was looking for a way to link her cell phone to a credit card reader, so she could have instantaneous confirmation of a card’s validity. At the time it was a novel idea, but Nonni realized there was existing technology that could be configured to do the job.

“When you see an opportunity, if you’re not going to act on it, someone else will,” Nonni said. ”I’ve always been a techie guy. I’m always looking for solutions.”

His success with the antiques dealer led to more customers, and eventually the formation of a new company – Nationwide Payment Solutions, now a $50 million enterprise with more than 50 employees. From that company he spun off a side venture, Municipay, which provides online payment solutions for 1,400 municipalities in 20 states.

Nonni credits his experiences at Fitchburg State with developing the leadership abilities that have helped him succeed, from interaction with faculty members to serving as president of the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity.

He advises up and coming entrepreneurs not to be afraid to fail, but to learn from those mistakes.

“Very rarely do I meet someone who’s had success the first time out of the gate,” Nonni said.

Something to Believe In – Hope Marian Redinger ’14, ’17, Founder, MigraineHope, California

Hope Marian Redinger holding a marijuana plant

“I’ve been on 30 prescription medications and they were not working at all,” she said. “I wanted to live a fulfilled life, so I became my own advocate.”

Redinger moved to California, where she hoped the climate would be better for her condition. She also found relief through marijuana, which has been legalized for medicinal use in nearly 30 states.

Redinger’s journey led her to found MigraineHope, which helps patients like her access whole-body approaches to relief, including cannabis. She has presented at conferences across the country about the benefits of medical marijuana and is seeing growth in her client base.

She’s also continued her education, complementing her bachelor’s degree in business administration with an MBA she completed in 2017. She credits a caring faculty whose connection transcended the classroom. “Everyone went above and beyond at Fitchburg State,” she said.

Building her business – which is still in its infancy with just three employees – has been a challenging endeavor, complicated by navigating the state-to-state regulation of medical marijuana. She manages the difficulty by drawing on her personal commitment to the cause of pain relief.

“It’s important to do something that inspires you,” she said. “You need to have the drive behind something you truly believe in.”

  • Hope Marian Redinger's website

Make a Plan and Follow Your Dream – Karen Brann ’90, Co-Founder and Director of Student Services, Merrimac Heights Academy, Newburyport

Karen Brann

Karen Brann has enjoyed a rewarding career in special education, first as a teacher and then as an administrator in a public school system. But when she encountered a parent who could not find an appropriate placement for her child in her community, she realized there was a void. The area needed a school for students with complex needs, where life skills training would complement academic learning.

“My co-founder had a business plan, and I was looking for a change,” Brann said. And so Merrimac Heights Academy was born.

“The first year it was all about finding properties and applying to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,” said Brann. After an arduous two-year process, the school was ultimately approved with a cap of 13 students.

The school opened in September 2013 with one pupil; a second arrived the following spring. “The first year was pretty challenging,” Brann said. By last year, however, they had 10 students. “Parents are happy and teachers are happy,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see all of the buses lined up at the end of the day.”

Brann said Fitchburg State forged her passion for special needs, and showed her the importance of hard work and tenacity. Those qualities were critical to creating a new school from the ground up, and adapting to the assorted challenges that came along the way.

“It was challenging, but it was worth it,” she said. “If you have a dream, you’ll achieve it if you stick with it and follow your plan.”

The Perennial Student – Victoria Hall ’07, Founder and CEO, Workingurl

Victoria Hall

Hall studied English at Fitchburg State, and put her degree to work in her day job in arts administration. She found her talent with the written word would also be helpful as she developed the business plan for what would become Workingurl.

“All of the jobs I had, being able to articulate and convey an organization’s mission and work through writing was very important,” she said. “My degree served me very well.”

When she decided to embark on the business venture, she went back to school. “I would be a perennial student,” she said. “I love learning new things.”

She entered a pitch contest put on by an entrepreneurial accelerator program and took second place. “I felt validated,” she said. That led to a crowd-funding campaign that netted $20,000, enough to start building prototype bags.

“I consider myself a start-up, because I do see a pathway to scaling quickly over the next several years,” Hall said. “It’ll take some time, but I’m passionate about it.”

  • Workingurl website

A Global View—Rose Cardarelli ’81, Co-Founder and Director of Amal Alliance

Rose Cardarelli

Rose Cardarelli’s military service began even before she enrolled at Fitchburg State, where she completed a degree in human services and discovered the value of education. Returning to the U.S. Army upon graduation, she became a medical service corps officer, providing health services all around the world. She eventually commanded the Walter Reed Army Medical Center Brigade where she was responsible for 3,000 personnel, including hundreds of wounded warriors who had recently returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. After completing advanced degrees in education, she followed up her military service with senior-level roles at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, where she led strategic development forums in Jordan, Italy, Thailand and Algeria, as well as the U.S.

Her travels let her see first-hand the importance of education and how it can create opportunities for all, especially children with challenging backgrounds. “How could I make a contribution to making their world a better place?” she asked herself. “The answer is education.”

That epiphany led her in 2017 to found the Amal Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting literacy and mindfulness in child refugee populations. The organization is in its infancy but has already served refugee populations in the Middle East and Greece.

“I think in my small way I can make a small difference,” said Cardarelli, who was recognized last fall with a Fitchburg State Alumni Award. In keeping with the Alliance’s premise that we are all global citizens with a social and moral responsibility to children, she encourages others to find a way to promote a greater good through education.

“Do as much soul-searching as possible,” Cardarelli said. “Look at your life path, and do something bigger than yourself.”

Never Give Up—Tuan D. Nguyen ’91, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Asian-American National Committee

Tuan D. Nguyen and his wife

Tuan Nguyen does not believe in failure. “If you’re not successful at one time, it just might not be the right idea at the right time. You must never, never give up. With intelligent work and strong resolve, you will prevail.”

Nguyen was a teenager when his family fled war-ravaged Vietnam in the late 1970s and came to the U.S. as political refugees. They settled in Massachusetts and found a welcoming community. After high school, Nguyen wanted to give back to his adopted country and enlisted in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper. His service was followed by enrollment at Fitchburg State, where his passion for helping others was forged. The psychology major credits faculty members for inviting him to think beyond himself and to be embrace altruism. Fitchburg State recognized his contributions with an Alumni Leadership Award in 2013.

Having lived the American dream himself, Nguyen is committed to helping others achieve it. He serves on numerous national boards of directors across the U.S., and in 2000 founded the nonprofit Asian-American National Committee, where he serves as chairman and chief executive officer. The nonprofit organization provides educational, business and legal services and referrals for Asian Americans looking to grow their businesses and enterprises.

“Whatever their dreams are, we want to help them achieve them,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is what we’re all about.”

Sales is a Science – Paul Maguire ’81, Founder and CEO, IntelliSource International

Paul Maguire

“After a year of freezing temperatures and 50-foot seas I thought, ‘There’s more to life than this,’” he recalled. During his downtime on the Bering Sea, Maguire read Tom Hopkins’ seminal How to Master the Art of Selling. “This was my ticket off this rig.”

Returning to Massachusetts, Maguire was hired by a Gardner company that enrolled him in what proved to be a valuable sales training program. The company enrolled him in their sales training program and within two years he became the top ranked sales person out of 226 reps. “I started to learn more and more that sales was a science and there was a definite formula for both success and failure,” he said.

He put that formula to work when he joined his first venture capital-backed startup software company. Within nine months the venture capitalists cut their funding and let the company go into bankruptcy. Maguire and his fellow 13 employees assumed the debt and kept the operation moving, developing prototype applications to demonstrate the capabilities of their software. They broke even in three months, were profitable within six months, and ended up selling the company for $10 million within three years. “Now I get it,” he recalled thinking. “Let’s do it again.” As one of his business partners put it at the time, “It’s not how often you shoot yourself in the foot that matters, it’s how quickly you can reload,” Maguire recalled. “Those words have stuck with me throughout my career and I would encourage every entrepreneur to memorize them as well.”

Maguire had found his passion, and in the ensuing years would be part of seven more startup companies and navigate through two initial public offerings and numerous mergers and acquisitions. He saw what worked, and what didn’t.

He founded IntelliSource International in 2002, a corporate strategy and brand development firm that specializes in helping companies define and dominate their unique markets. “It is a formula,” he said. “If you define your category, you’re also defining your competitors. What is your promise of a result to customers? It’s got to be something they’ll want. My very first client said, ‘The battlefield is a poor place for preparation.’ In my world, the battlefield is the boardroom.”

Maguire enjoys helping his clients build their success, and has also enjoyed building a side business with his wife, Terry. The Maguire House Bed & Breakfast is located on 44 acres in Ashburnham, with views of Wachusett Mountain.

Part of his success has been knowing when to strike, he said.

“They’re called windows of opportunity for a reason. They open and close very quickly,” Maguire said. “Timing is not in the entrepreneur’s control. You need vision, product excellence, and timing. As an entrepreneur, you can only control the first two.”

It’s All about People – Bradd Morse ’92, Founder, Canopy Tours Inc.

Bradd Morse ziplining

Bradd Morse found his niche early in life and has built upon it to create a rewarding career. Even before he enrolled at Fitchburg State, Morse was working for a company that installed outdoor ropes courses for corporate team-building exercises.

“It’s all about people,” Morse said, describing how the shared navigating ropes courses can boost community. “It has to do with interaction between individuals, good communication and respect for each other.”

He kept up with the work while he was studying economics at Fitchburg State, and was hired to teach a course on team development at MIT.

“My frat brothers at Fitchburg State thought that was pretty amazing,” Morse said with a self-deprecating chuckle. “I wasn’t an A student.”

What he lacked in classroom skills, however, Morse made up for in passion. After a disappointing detour into corporate work, Morse focused on Canopy Tours Inc., designing zipline courses, treetop walkways and other adventure attractions all over the world, from Bora Bora to Atlantic City. His focus is on quality ecotourism installations that take the ecological and social footprints of their host areas into account.

For his work, this October he received his second consecutive Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements Award at the 2017 Global Forum on Human Settlements & Sustainable Cities at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

“I love my job,” he said. “My job has evolved and I’ve had to evolve with it. I’m a team-building specialist, and I’ve learned that by making a lot of mistakes. My advice is, you need to go for it. Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s about believing in what you’re doing.”

It’s a Rollercoaster – Jason Kimball ’95, Owner and Founder, The Angler Fish Market & Chowder Co., Westminster

Jason Kimball holding a lobster

Jason Kimball tried to go the traditional route, but it didn’t take. Right after graduating from Fitchburg State with a degree in psychology (and a minor in business), Kimball was hired as a quality control manager for a fiber-optic component company. He worked there for 11 years.

“I didn’t care for the 9 to 5 monotony,” he said. “My family took me aside and said, ‘If you’re not enjoying your work, do something else.’ This was something else.”

“This” was The Angler Fish Market & Chowder Co. in Westminster, which he opened in 2007.

Entrepreneurship was in his blood. His parents owned the former Kimball’s Clothing on Main Street in Fitchburg, and his father also owned a fishing boat. Kimball had experience scalloping and clam digging in his youth, and wanted to parlay his appreciation for good seafood into a new venture. “I didn’t go to culinary school,” he said. “I just cook the way I do at home.”

He knew he’d need to hit the books to run his own business, however. “I started to research the business for two years before we opened,” he said. “I went to the local authorities and asked questions. I had a lot to figure out.”

From the design of the restaurant’s interior to building relationships with responsible vendors and finding good staff, there was a lot for Kimball to learn. “The cost of doing business was three times as much as I expected,” he said. “It was six or seven years before we felt like we were going to make it.”

But Kimball saw no alternative, and with the support of his wife, Christina, persevered.

“It’s easy to say, ‘I give up,’” Kimball said. “We just kept fighting. It’s a rollercoaster.”

The business is thriving now, with a solid base of loyal customers. Kimball has even been able to cut back on the 100-hour weeks that he put in to get the business going (though 50-hour weeks are typical).

“I learn something new every day,” he said. “I compare running this business to having another child, and you want it to succeed.”

Yesterday is Obsolete – Christopher Lord ’88, Founder and CEO, Latch Mobile

Black and white portrait of Christopher Lord

Computer Science major Christopher Lord was only a Fitchburg State junior when he broke into the rising computer industry working part-time at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in Maynard. That stint began his 25-year career in technology, including most recently executive positions in cybersecurity companies Bit9 and Carbon Black.

“One of the things I love about cybersecurity is it’s the only industry where we work against an external adversary,” he said, referring to the developers of malware and other digital threats. “They’re the ones who are forcing you to change tactics, and it makes what you did yesterday obsolete.”

A different type of cyber-threat inspired Lord to explore a new career path. The father of two young sons wanted a way to be vigilant about his children’s online experiences, especially as they reached the age of getting smartphones. “My wife and I wanted some way to keep track of what’s going on, but we didn’t want to spy on them,” he said.

Lord and his business partner developed a new product – now known as Latch Mobile – that would let parents keep track of the content of their child’s web experiences through image and text analysis. Latch Mobile alerts parents if their child is viewing sexual content, for example, or if children’s online conversations indicate they’re being bullied or are feeling depressed.

“Our goal is to help parents have conversations with their kids before there are consequences,” he said.

Latch Mobile took form through MassChallenge, an entrepreneurial accelerator program that accepted Lord’s pitch and is helping him operationalize and expand. “I love that I’m still learning. You develop a whole new appreciation for areas of expertise that aren’t yours,” he said. “Starting out, you need to take as many risks as you possibly can. It’s easy to scare yourself back into some safe position. But in the grand scheme of things, if it all goes south, it’s all recoverable.”

Putting Everything on the Line – Don Irving ’72, ’79 – Founder and President (retired), Data Guide Cable, Gardner

Don Irving

Don Irving began his working life as an industrial arts teacher, but found himself exploring alternatives after having children. “I couldn’t afford to raise a family, so I went into the tech industry,” he said.

He went to work for a wire and cable manufacturer that was soon purchased by a venture capitalist and found his company folded into a larger corporate portfolio. Irving saw that his classroom skills were transferable helping him move up the ladder. “The biggest skill you need is communication, the ability to get ideas across to people. Whether it’s pupils or stock analysts, it’s the same skill.”

He also had an engineering mindset -- inventing products and analyzing processes and procedures – and a desire to create long-term economic and social value. “A conglomerate’s short-term capitalist ethos had no appeal to me.”

So he took a gamble, with his wife Karen’s (Lindroth ‘90) support. “We mortgaged the house, the kids, and the dog. We put everything on the line,” he quipped. “I had the right tools, and I had a great preparation at Fitchburg State.”

Data Guide Cable was born in 1984, manufacturing specialty electronic and electrical cable products. “I wanted to create a place where people could work and be comfortable and make a career. And I did,” he said.

It wasn’t always easy. The company reinvented itself several times over the years, Irving said, and when times were tight after the recession of 2008, Irving and his senior leadership team agreed to pay cuts to keep their employees on the payroll. As the business regained its footing, everyone who had taken a cut was paid back.

After 30 years in business, Irving was ready to move on. He found a buyer for Data Guide Cable, one that would preserve its culture and keep its 60 employees. He remains proud the team he built is intact, even after his departure.

“Learn everything you possibly can about the business or industry you’re going into,” he said. “Then you can hire the best people who will stay committed.”

Irving remains involved in real estate development and philanthropy. With his wife he endowed the Donald R. Irving ’72, ’79 and Karen A. Irving ’90 “Pay It Forward” Scholarship that helps deserving students with the understanding they will want to give back later in their professional lives.

­A Family Business – Nicholas DiNinno ’75, Founder, DiNinno Family Dental

Nicholas DiNinno working on a patient with his wife, Donna DiNinno

Nicholas DiNinno knew his professional calling from a young age. “I remember in seventh grade teachers would ask what I wanted to do, and I’d always tell them, ‘I want to be a dentist.’ And they’d always laugh.”

But he wasn’t kidding. He’d always enjoyed visiting his dentist’s office in downtown Fitchburg as a child, and could imagine it as a rewarding career. To help save money for dental school, he enrolled at Fitchburg State. He worked three off-campus jobs while a student, and spent too much time playing basketball and ping pong on campus. He had a 2.7 grade point average.

“My advisor Neil Anderson looked me at and said, ‘You want to go to dental school? You’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell,’” DiNinno recalled. “From then on I studied and got good grades.”

The wakeup call worked. DiNinno scored in the 90th percentile on his dental school admissions exam, and continued his high performance in Tufts University’s dental program.

After graduating from dental school, DiNinno took out a $25,000 loan and found office space in downtown Fitchburg from a retiring dentist. “For $1,400, I bought her old chair and she gave me a list of 150 patients,” he recalled. “I wrote handwritten notes to 150 people.”

With his mother’s help, he painted the new office and His mother helped him paint the space, and later helped run the office.

“There were two dentists in Fitchburg that went bankrupt that year. I want to their auction and it scared the hell out of me,” DiNinno said. “I was petrified every day going in that first year.”

But he was persistent and leaned on others for expertise, and learned new skills of his own. With the support of his wife, Donna, whom he met at Fitchburg State, the practice grew and thrived for nearly three decades downtown.

“I was thinking of retiring a few years ago,” he said. “Then my son Nicholas said, ‘I think I want to go to dental school.’ That was the best thing that ever happened.”

He purchased property on South Street in Fitchburg and built his dream practice, DiNinno Family Dental. Donna works in the office, and the two dentists treat patients in updated examination rooms. “This is everything I’ve ever wanted.”