MCED Blog

MCED helps innovators fill in the gaps between their deep industry expertise and the strategic business skills critical to launching a scalable, sustainable venture. Maine's unique economic and geographic challenges demand more that a traditional business incubator. They demand a catalyst.

It Takes a Village of Support and Inspiration

I joke around that I am a bit of a mutt in business. My background in corporate and intellectual property law did not really have me on track to be an entrepreneur – it had me on track to sit behind a desk and bill hours of my life my entire career. Which isn’t a bad thing, and I actually love a lot of aspects of what I do with my legal clients, but it wasn’t enough for me. I have always known I was meant to do more than help others grow their businesses, but needed a catalyst or a nudge in the right direction to embrace my entrepreneurial side. I want to share my story of straddling a transitional career in law with my entrepreneurial journey, in hopes that others will consider the importance of creating a village to support and inspire entrepreneurs when they need it the most

My foray into entrepreneurship started out in the fall of 2010 when I learned of the Launch L-A young entrepreneur contest accepting applications for a business plan competition in my hometown. At first I began researching the requirements to see if I could recommend any of my legal clients to apply. Then as I began researching the requirements for applicants – I realized that they were fairly narrow – and that my age, geographic ties, and other factors placed me smack dab into criteria qualifying ME to apply.

I had often thrown around business ideas with friends and loved ones, and often found myself inspired by my clients to consider ways to fill needs and niches I saw unmet. But I had honestly never considered being involved in a start-up or small business personally. Yet I couldn’t help imagining the excitement of carving out some time to put together a business plan and see where it went. After scrapping a few ideas, I shared the concept with my sister and this started the wheels turning on teaming up to submit an application for a business plan she had been working on for years. It was time to join forces and play to both of our strengths to bring a business into fruition that she had been modeling and formulating to fill a need in the community of Lewiston-Auburn.

The deeper we got into drafting the business plan, making projections, and creating the marketing material specs for the application requirements, the more real the plan became and the more committed we became to the project – win or lose. Long story short – we did end up winning that competition, and on September 9, 2011 Revelation Massage opened as the end result of that planning process.

The reason I wanted to share this story is that this event really represents a pivot point in my career, my entrepreneurial vision, and in my life. For my involvement in this process didn’t end just in one business opening. It also helped me to open my mind to other ways of generating money and how to diversify my investment of time and money into my legal career and budding career as a businesswoman. I sought out training in the coaching sector to gain critical communications and coaching skills that I knew would serve me in the long run in all facets of my career. I started a side hustle implementing my new coaching skills by launching a private coaching practice focused on working with lawyers, law students, and professionals on intentional career planning. I launched a weekly blog and podcast, and began getting inquiries for local and national speaking engagements on the topic of work life balance and career planning. And once I was in that space, lots of other opportunities and ways of generating income in the business world were falling into my lap. I became a voracious learner of all things start-up and marketing for small business. I wanted to understand new industries, gather lots of information, and find what would best suit me.

As my role with Revelation Massage minimized once it was up and running, and I sold my online coaching brand to an existing coaching company, I began to realize that practicing law just wasn’t enough for me anymore. It didn’t feed my soul the way creating businesses and implementing a vision from scratch did. I became really clear on some of the factors I wanted in my next business venture, and luckily an opportunity that was the perfect fit for me fell into my lap, and has been my growing focus for the past 3 years.

I share my story as a snippet into the ripple effect of supporting and inspiring entrepreneurs. There is no effort in supporting entrepreneurs that falls flat. Maybe the immediate results won’t be apparent, but it doesn’t diminish the long-term value. If I had not learned about the Launch L-A contest – perhaps I would have explored my entrepreneurial penchant eventually – but it may not have been for years. I am not saying that I am the most successful business owner around, or that I have reached all of my goals. But I will be forever thankful to the Lewiston Auburn Growth Council for creating the Launch L-A contest that opened my mind to alternative ways of being in business. Huge changes have occurred in my life over the past 5 years since the end of 2012 when I took a leap of faith and became self-employed entirely to have the flexibility I need to pursue my endeavors while managing my law practice. These changes have played a role in the creation of two businesses that collectively employ about 30 talented professionals in the massage therapy, customer service, and legal industries. 

So here are a few items I hope my story might encourage you to focus on:

  1. If you have an entrepreneurial bone in your body – embrace ways to explore options. Surround yourself with inspiring people. Consider putting yourself out there and participating in a contest, a start-up weekend, or getting involved in a small-business contest. The potential worst case scenario is that you decide to stick to your day job. Best case scenario could be that you fall in love with a new method of doing business that lights up your soul and adds more to your community.
  2. If you are in economic development – don’t focus only on the immediate results of inspiring and supporting entrepreneurs. The ripple effect of your efforts will translate into life changes, new businesses, job creation, and benefits back into our communities. Your community needs more thriving business, and the budding entrepreneurs need community. It’s a win-win.
  3. It takes a village – play the role that best suits you. Maybe you are a mentor willing to give back in the form of time and expertise. Maybe you are a service provider who can offer support to entrepreneurs. Maybe you are a budding entrepreneur who needs inspiration. The role you play is unique to you, and a part of the integral fabric of weaving a vibrant entrepreneurial community.

I hope that my story may spark someone’s assessment of what their role is in the village of entrepreneurship in their community. There are so many amazing resources in Maine for small businesses, and I appreciate the role each organization, mentor, grant program, and contest plays in supporting and inspiring entrepreneurs. I look forward to partnering with the LAEGC and with MCED in the expansion of the Top Gun program into a new market. I am intentionally carving out multiple roles in local and statewide support for entrepreneurs and economic development, and am thrilled to meet others of like mind to team up with.

 

Chelsea Fournier is a lawyer, a serial entrepreneur, and a professional network marketer. She bases her work and her community out of Lewiston-Auburn after 11 years of living and being part of the vibrant start-up community in Portland. She will be working with the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council to expand the Top Gun program into the Greater Lewiston-Auburn market, and is also a board member of the Libra Future Fund grant program for young entrepreneurs. She is passionate about travel as a way to gain perspective and appreciation for one’s community, and is constantly looking to connect with like-minded people to add value to one another’s networks.

 

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5 Minutes with John Holden Of Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council

Q. You are helping to bring Top Gun to Lewiston for 2017. What are your hopes for the program in your area? 

A. In November, 2015, I challenged my group and the community to become a “creative community.” LAEGC has established an Entrepreneur Development Committee to help facilitate, coordinate, and collaborate with others inside and outside LA Maine to inspire others to work together around entrepreneurship. That committee, with a few board members will be inclusive of many others in and around LA. Top Gun LA is one concrete example of how we can inspire and act as a catalyst in one of LAEGC’s primary segments—entrepreneurship. 

Q. What led you to a career in economic development?

A. I joke that when asked in second grade, “what do you want to be when you grow up…”  But in reality it was an evolution of my interest in environmental and ecosystem management and a desire to live and work in Maine. I worked in Baxter State Park one summer and when I had an opportunity to attend the University of Maine later, I jumped at the chance to make a life in Maine. I had a short stint back in Ohio, but was encouraged to return where I truly found my niche working with various groups, building coalitions, and helping build community and business.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about the work that the Lewiston and Auburn Economic Growth Council does?

A. LAEGC has been working in collaboration with the City of Lewiston and Auburn for over 35 years. LAEGC adds value to each city’s economic development program by focusing on marketing and building coalitions to get projects done.  I had the opportunity to help re-design the focus of LAEGC and craft a community-wide economic development strategy when I came to LA 18 months ago and am so proud of the work our team, partners, and Board has done. Today, we have honed our focus on marketing for business development—entrepreneurship, existing business, and attracting new business and investment.  At the same time, we have collaborated to implement our community’s economic growth strategy, LA Maine: Forward.

Q. What excites you the most about Lewiston and Auburn's entrepreneurial scene?

A. It is just getting organized. I like to remind everyone that “entrepreneurism is not just for start-ups.”  LA Maine has a long history of entrepreneurism to become the manufacturing or “maker” community it is today. I am excited about using that heritage and the examples of creative, innovative entrepreneurial companies and facilitating collaboration to help build that an awareness of our own entrepreneurial environment.

Q. Why do you think Maine is a great state to start a business?

A. Just like my own story—Maine is a great place to live and raise a family. It is a small state and has a population and “community” that supports one another—and in particular supports entrepreneurs. The new MxG initiative is so natural in Maine, I am proud to be a small part of that.

 

 
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June Featured Mentor: Tony Perkins

Tony Perkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tony Perkins has been a Top Gun mentor since the program's inception in 2009. He was honored last month at the Top Gun Showcase with the Compass award for outstanding mentorship.  Tony helps companies with development, commercialization, licensing of advanced technologies and intellectual property based products and services; as well as related legal and business advice. He has experience in equity and debt financings, alliance and distribution agreements and entity formations, sales, merger and acquisition transactions. He is an attorney at Bernstein Shur Sawyer & Nelson, and a member of the MCED Board. Thank you Tony for all that you do!

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Don Gooding on Challenging the Impossible

There’s nothing like hearing “that’s not possible” from someone in a position of authority to stir the motivation of a determined entrepreneur. I’ll show them! I remember my father telling me that getting a technology analyst position straight out of college wasn’t possible. He was rooting for me to be an economist at the New York Federal Reserve Bank; his first big job was being an economist at the Boston Federal Reserve. But I got my perfect job as a telecom analyst at The Yankee Group, which paved the way for my years in venture capital.

My satisfaction was an inner gloat, never voiced to Dad (I showed him!), who soon enough became quite the proud father. Moving to Maine 20 years ago this week, to build a global a cappella business, elicited some shaking heads from my VC peers. They thought I was “retiring.” Yeah, right, starting a business is retirement? A cappella is an obscure niche? Twenty years and two Pitch Perfect movies later I feel vindicated. I showed them!

After exiting a cappella in 2008 – yep, four years before the boom – I spent the summer of 2010 making the rounds to see if a statewide business plan competition was feasible in Maine. I ended up meeting a bunch of people I’ve worked with in some capacity since then. But I remember a number of negative responses to my idea, from people in some position of authority to know more than I did at the time. In particular I remember that the organization running the Maine Investment eXchange, a periodic investment pitch event, was very negative due to the perceived poor quality of Maine entrepreneurs seeking funding through MiX.

So when I was recruited for the position I have just left at MCED, I took that as my big challenge: could I overcome this negative view of Maine entrepreneurs? With lots of help, and experimentation, and learning, and a lot of hard work by the MCED community and especially by Maine entrepreneurs, I think it’s safe to say this negative view is starting to turn. Top Gun has tripled in size, and the annual Showcase stirs pride of place for young Maine companies. Entrepreneur competitions are spreading across Maine campuses and communities. Maine Angels is nationally recognized for its active support of Maine (and other New England) start-ups. Gorham Savings Bank Launchpad is in year four with an increased prize. Maine Startup and Create Week is an amazing celebration of the positive proliferation of Maine entrepreneurs. And then there’s Greenlight Maine. I didn’t have to start this televised statewide $100K entrepreneur competition – thank you Con Fullam! – I get to host it (and, do some work behind the curtain).From what I can tell through unscientific, person-on-the-street unsolicited feedback (“Love your show!), it’s having a positive impact on people’s attitude toward young Maine companies. So as I make yet another transition – not retirement, mind you – I hope you don’t mind if I smile with another inner gloat. I showed them!

 


- Don Gooding is the outgoing Executive Director of MCED. He served the organization for 5 years overseeing a the growth of the Top Gun Entrepreneurship Training Program to 3 locations, launching Top Gun Prep and MCED OnlineU. Prior to MCED he was a telecommunications market analyst and venture capitalist for fifteen years, founded and ran a global specialty music business for sixteen years, and has invested as an angel since the late 1990s. As Research Partner for Accel Partners (1986-1996), he investigated new telecom and networking markets, finding and evaluating new investment opportunities.

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5 Minutes with Becky McKinnell of IBec Creative

Becky McKinnell of IBec has come full circle as an one of the first clients of MCED who now gives back by sitting on the MCED Board.  As an entrepreneur she believes in loving what she does and that building a company should be fun.

McKinnell started her first company, iBec Creative in 2006 the day after graduating from University of Southern Maine. She taught herself web development, design and digital marketing and was able to grow her company to over $1mm in revenue in 6 years by bootstrapping. She currently has 14 full time employees and 200 happy clients around the country who are growing their businesses. 

In 2010 McKinnell combined forces with Mark Girr to start her second company, iKNO Intranet (iknointranet.com), a social intranet software designed for companies between 50 and 500 employees that need an easy and intuitive way to communicate online.

She has been honored to be featured in Business Week's Top 25 Entrepreneurs 25 and Under, awarded Small Business Administration's Young Entrepreneur of the year, and is a recipient of the Stevie Women in Business Award.

Here she talks about what entrepreneurs need to know about getting started in business, the benefits of locating her business in Maine and her most satisfying moment in business.

Q. You have the distinction of having been an MCED client company while starting your business, seeing that business flourish into a lasting enterprise, and now have come full circle to sit on the MCED Board.

A. When I first started my business in 2006, I was a part of of MCED’s business incubator at Southern Maine Community College. At that time, I had just graduated from USM and it gave me a space that I could go to ‘work’ each day and focus on growing my business. Being with other entrepreneurs who were also trying to launch their companies was invaluable. The initial friends I made at MCED gave me confidence that I could be successful and were the best sounding boards. Many of them became my first clients and we still work with them today.

Q. Given that overview, what changes have you seen or would you like to see implemented to help entrepreneurs flourish in our state?

A. I think we need to continue to facilitate building relationships with other entrepreneurs in similar industries or lifecycle stages. When you’re starting out (or even if you’ve been in business for decades) it’s the network of like-minded entrepreneurs and mentors that is there for you when times are tough or you feel stuck and need advice.

Q. You decided right of college that you wanted to be a business owner and you've been very successful at making that happen. What three pieces of advice would you give to entrepreneur wanna-be's?

A. Thank you :) There are a couple of mantras that I used to say to myself starting out and still do today:

Everything you do counts
Every email you write, every first impression you make, it all contributes to your personal brand and reputation so give it your best.

Successful people do the things that unsuccessful people are unwilling to do.
Get yourself into those uncomfortable situations! Eventually they become easier, but you have to take the first step.

Be a nice person
Caring about people and being honest goes a long way.

Q. You have a spectacular office right on the waterfront and Portland has become a hot property. With the city now being on what seems like everyone's top ten list of places to live and work, what is the impact on your business? Has the attention brought more competition, more qualified employees, or other challenges?

A. We are finding a rising number of applicants are coming from out of state. It’s not intentional, but right now 11/12 of our team members did not grow up in Maine. Everyone has great things to say about Portland and the quality of life Maine has to offer. Overall it’s been a positive for us and I feel lucky that I moved to Maine too!

Q. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

A. I remember the first time one of my employees purchased their first house-- it made me realize how closely tied the business I created was to helping my employees achieve milestones in their life. I feel like I have created a place for people to not only get a paycheck, but be engaged and have fun at work and I’m proud of that.

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