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.

5 Minutes with Jeff Marks of the Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine

Before joining The Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine, (E2Tech), Jeff was Deputy Director of the Maine Governor’s Energy Office where he advised the Governor, Legislature and State agencies on energy policy options, development and implementation; participated in Legislative hearings and work sessions, on boards and committees and before constituents, businesses, non-profits and federal and local government officials; managed the State Energy Program; and provided policy, financing and technical support for businesses, non-profits and government entities.

Prior to his state service, Jeff was Director, Energy & Environmental, Health and Safety Policy and managed government relations’ activities for United Technologies Corporation (UTC) in Washington, DC. He served as the political and policy liaison for Carrier (heating, air conditioning, refrigeration); Hamilton Sundstrand (aerospace, industrial products); Otis (elevators); Pratt & Whitney (aircraft engines, power systems); Sikorsky (helicopters); UTC Fire& Security (fire protection, security systems); UTC Power (fuel cells, renewable energy); and UTRC (research and development). Jeff served on the Alliance to Save Energy, Business Roundtable, International Climate Change Partnership, National Energy Resources Organization, Pew Center on Global Climate Change and U.S. Chamber of Commerce while in DC.

Read Jeff’s Full bio here

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5 Minutes with Pete Dufour
In the spirit of TAX SEASON we sat down with longtime MCED friend and supporter, Pete    Dufour of Dufour Tax Group.
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5 Minutes with Rachel Green
Rachel Green is an attorney at Preti Flaherty who practices with the firm's Business Law Group in its Portland office. She is passionate about helping locally owned businesses of all sizes succeed. Through Preti’s Launch Pad program, Rachel helps startups and early stage companies with some of the key legal acts of business formation and provides Launch Pad participants with expertise across a diverse spectrum of legal matters, including general corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, real estate and other transactions. 
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5 Minutes with Kristine Schuman

Kristine Schuman has worked with both large and small Maine businesses to help connect   them to the resources they need to become successful.  Her expertise lie in site location, access to capital, marketing, start-up planning and growth strategies, workforce development, complying with state regulations, utilizing state programs, and working with local and regional partners.  

Ms. Schuman is the Business Development Manager and TechPlace Director for the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority.  In this role, Kristine has created TechPlace, a manufacturing business incubator, where she works with start-up and early stage companies and supports them in their desire to grow.  Ms. Schuman provides TechPlace businesses with access to in-house business resources by coordinating workshops, seminars, courses, and networking events on topics relevant to business growth and development.

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Shop Local Holiday Guide
MCED's suggestions for keeping your holidays local and unique!
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5 Minutes with Jack Frost

We chilled with Jack while he discussed how Intellectual Property laws have helped his business, Jack Frost Industries, grow.

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5 Minutes with Josh Corbeau of Cloudport


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Co-working spaces in Maine
A list of some found co-working spaces in Maine...Do you know any we missed? Add them to the comments!
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5 Minutes with Kenneth Greenleaf

Before joining MaineStream Finance, Ken was a sales and marketing manager where he worked with businesses ranging from the small operations to large chains. He has also managed an Internet development firm creating enterprise web sites for a wide variety of clients. He started and ran a small, high-end renovation company in New York City. Besides his background in sales and business, his work experience includes building musical instruments and commercial fishing.  Greenleaf is also an artist and writer, and has written regular columns in the past for MaineBiz magazine, the Portland Newspapers and the Portland Phoenix. One of his clients called him the Swiss Army knife of small business

1. What is the MaineStream Finance's mission? Where does their funding come from?

MaineStream Finance is a CDFI, a Community Development Financial Institution, or non-profit bank. It was formed to support local economic growth by providing financial and consultation services to those who might otherwise not have access to them. MaineStream is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Penquis CAP, a large community action program based in Bangor. My office is in Rockland.  MaineStream is largely funded through grants from federal agencies and private foundations. We have loan pools that are supported by banks, and have a relatively small but growing loan portfolio.

2. I understand MaineStream Finance is a source for small business loans. What kinds of businesses apply for and successfully receive those loans? What kind of assistance do you offer these businesses in applying for those loans?

We generally do microenterprise loans, starting from around $10,000 and up to $50,000 or so. We are an SBA and FAME lender, and often work in partnerships with commercial banks to help create a much larger package the will meet, for example, SBA requirements.

Much of my own work is developing business plans with entrepreneurs, helping them get ready for bank or other financing. I get referrals, for instance, from banks who have been approached by someone with a business idea, to help assemble a plan. This work, by the way, is always free to the client.

Our loan acceptability window is somewhat larger than a commercial bank. We can sometimes find ways to make a loan that regular banks cannot, perhaps because of credit or background issues. We help articulate the plan narrative and the profit and loss and cash flow projections that are necessary not only for a loan, but for good business management.

3. What kinds of educational programs does MaineStream Finance provide for entrepreneurs? How would an entrepreneur get involved with those programs?

Is there a fee involved?

We offer a number of programs for the entrepreneur. An example in the Midcoast is the Hatchery series, a seven-class seminar which address the issues an entrepreneur faces while starting a business. We also offer the Incubator Without Walls program that specifically addresses how to create a business plan, and the Business 101, a single class for beginners to get a taste of what it is like to start a business.

Our classes, schedules and other services, including home ownership, family development accounts and foreclosure abatement, are listed on the website, These classes are free. At least one Hatchery member has gone on to Top Gun. They are complimentary programs.

4. Is there a specific geographic area Maine Stream Finance covers in Maine or are you a state wide organization? 

Historically MaineStream has concentrated its business development activities in Piscataquis, Penobscot, Knox, and Waldo counties, with more occasional work in Lincoln and Hancock. That said, we have state-wide lending authority, and of late have been considering development projects in Cumberland county and down east, as well. Our goal is also to work more with the new farming businesses, which may take us to Somerset and Aroostook.

5. What do you wish more people understood about doing business in the Midcoast?

That it’s a great place to live, and draws people from all over the world who come here just because of that. The population is small, which is a makes it a great place to be, but it can be difficult if you expect to make your living marketing to the local area. But if your market is the planet, as it can be for many business now, the Midcoast has everything you need. Growing bandwidth, relatively low real estate prices, plenty of financial and business assistance resources and a lot of smart, interesting people. And you get to enjoy every commute, looking at stuff that people spend a lot of money to come here and see. The quality of life is very high.

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5 Minutes with New MCED Executive Director, Tom Rainey

Q. Briefly, what is your vision and hope for Maine's entrepreneurial support community?

A. It’s no secret that Maine is an exceptional place to live. With its stunning natural beauty, and burgeoning arts and food scene, it offers many of the amenities that highly sought after graduates look for when they complete their education. The challenge is to develop a dynamic economy where millennials can live, play and work. Maine’s high quality academic institutions offer a pipeline of talent, skills and creativity that we need to keep in the state. For that reason, partnering with academic institutions to support entrepreneurial training, technology transfer and the emerging “start-up ecosystem” is a high priority. Maine’s manufacturing base, another key strength, represents opportunities for spin-offs, technology commercialization and diversification.

Assisting small businesses in expanding business development opportunities and getting to the next level is a key strategy for economic diversification. This is especially critical given uncertainty around Federal funding and defense procurement. Rural economic development is another area of importance given Maine’s demographics and size. Delivering high quality services to underserved areas will boost opportunities and connect rural communities with resources not available locally. I see this as an exciting challenge and look forward to engaging with economic development partners, community leaders and entrepreneurs around the state. Building a fertile statewide start-up culture, celebrating successes and continuing to develop a highly collaborative support community strengthens Maine’s brand nationally and internationally. I am excited to be part of it.

Q.  You have had deep experience working for entrepreneurial accelerators, and putting together programs to push innovation. What do you think Maine could learn from other states?

A. Based on my experience in several states, the key is collaboration, coordination and the careful leveraging of resources. There are some great organizations and individuals in Maine devoted to assisting start-ups and promoting economic development. We need to work closely together as partners, along with the investment community, our elected officials, and private sector and academic partners to deliver impactful services to the state’s business community. The states that are most successful develop a shared vision and a consensus, and action plans to achieve their goals. These strategies are tied to strategic industries, traditional strengths and an overall marketing effort to differentiate, highlight and reinforce the state’s unique brand.

Q. What is your favorite part about interacting with entrepreneurs?

A. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working with some visionary and driven entrepreneurs to help them pursue their dreams. These individuals are often the “unsung hero’s” who identify compelling needs and provide the innovative products and services that make our lives better. Whether it’s bringing a new medical device to the market, a better way to fund rooftop solar, or bottling a new hot sauce, these are the creative people who solve problems, makes things happen and create jobs. It’s exciting and rewarding to see an idea become a reality and to contribute in some way to making it happen. I also love to see passionate, hard-working people succeed. Entrepreneurs are an inspiration to me and the reason I’m very passionate about work.

Q. Why do you think entrepreneurs need support?

A. Start-up companies play a vital role in our economy and are a powerful driver of innovation, growth and job creation. The bulk of new job creation in the US over the past two decades is due to small business development. This innovative and entrepreneurial spirit makes America the envy of the world. Our national success story is tempered by the reality that most start-ups face significant obstacles in the early stages of development. Many never survive beyond their first five years. Failure is often attributed to the combined gaps in business knowledge and experience of entrepreneurs and the lack of seed capital required to sustain a new business. I love working with start-up teams to improve their odds of success, helping them avoid common errors, and connecting them with the people and resources they need to succeed.

Q. What Maine specific adventure are you going to have first?

A. As a 17 year-old from St. Louis, my first introduction to New England was hiking the Appalachian trail in New Hampshire and Long Trail in Vermont. While Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin have long been on my bucket list, I’ll most likely stay closer to the Southern Coast during my first few months. I’ve heard great things about Rattlesnake Mountain near Casco. Coming from Arizona, it will be wonderful to hike without worrying about actual rattlesnakes for a change!

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September Featured Mentor - Ken Greenleaf

Ken Greenleaf

We looked up the coast this month to Rockland for September’s featured mentor, Ken Greenleaf. In 2015 Ken served as the first Top Gun Coordinator for the Midcoast Area helping to secure the program in the region. Currently he is a business advisor for MaineStream Finance, a community development financial institution, based in Rockland. There he works with new and existing small businesses to create business plans to help increase their revenue, refine their processes and reach their business goals.

Before joining MaineStream, Ken was a sales and marketing manager working with businesses ranging from small operations to large chains. He has also managed an internet development firm started and ran a small, high-end renovation company in New York City.

In addition to his background in sales and business, Greenleaf is also a nationally known artist and a writer, who has written regular columns for MaineBiz Magazine, the Portland newspapers and the Portland Phoenix. His varied experience includes building musical instruments and commercial fishing. One of his clients called him the Swiss Army knife of small business. We might agree!


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Don't Quit Your Day Job Yet...

I decided to start farming oysters and mussels in Maine in the 1980's because I wanted to live here and I needed to create my own job. As an environmentalist since a young age, I also realized that shellfish farms are an economic argument for clean water, where you could create jobs, protect water quality, and work on the water. 

Early pioneers like Ed Myers who got the first seafarm in Maine in the early 1970's and those encouraged by early work at the University of Maine Darling Center made up the "first generation" of shellfish farmers, and most businesses folded because they didn't have all 4 of the key elements for success:

1. Growing the right species (native to Maine, would thrive and be hardy to local conditions), and for which was a strong market demand. 

2. Growing them in the right environment (literally every bay and cove is different).

3. Using a cost-effective culture technology (the story of failed technologies is a long one)

4. Using pragmatic, down-east fishermen's ingenuity to handle equipment, harvest, process and save labor (which is the highest cost category in aquaculture). 

The "trial and error" phase of aquaculture helped us "second generation" seafarmers, but in most cases it has taken us about 15 years to figure it out and another 15  to implement it.  During that process, some things have become evident and might be useful to new start-ups. 

1. Start small and don't quit your day job.  By testing each phase of the business, like getting permits for small test sites, getting to know the areas and local characters, trying different gear, densities, grow-out strategies, and test marketing, you get a good handle on what works where and how, before you have a large scale disaster that is financially unsustainable. If the test project works well, you can build a little profit and use that to grow the business slowly. 

2. If you can, get a job working for somebody else in a similar field.  I worked for several years for another mussel farm before starting my own, and that was invaluable experience.  Become as knowledgeable as you can about your business and all the factors that contribute to success.  

3. If you have limited capital, consider what they call bootstrapping - build the business without the need for big investors and giving up equity to unknown entities.  I happened to have a few close friends that had the skill my business needed - boat building, carpentry, bookkeeping and sales - and when combined by my knowledge of diving, marine biology and being a boat captain we were able to start a subchapter S partnership of owner/operators without the need for capital to get started. We were also willing to work a year or 2 without pay to get the cash flow up and running. 

4. Consider your business partners very carefully - its kind of like a marriage and you want to be sure you're ready, and have a good agreement that spells out the basics like who makes the decisions, how to buy out a partner, and basic operations. Also consider that 2 or 3 minds are much better than one - its the "bad ideas" that need to weeded out in early start-ups so always get a second or third opinion. 

5. Focus on quality - ultimately, its your product's reputation which will yield an excellent price and reputation in the market place.  When we started selling oysters the price was $.25 each - and then somebody said hey your oysters are so good we would easily pay $.50! So we said, sure! 

6. Cooperate with others in your sector - there are many advantages to working with others to advance your industry, and people from outside of Maine want suppliers that have a steady stream of product that has the ability to grow as the demand increases. There is also a good chance that somebody has figured out a way to make your process more efficient if you share information and developments. 

7. Always have a contingency plan and either know how to fix a potential disaster or somebody who can. Identifying your risks up front and thinking about plan b (if you need it) or maybe even plan c is very important because you can count on disaster striking. 

If you make money in the shellfish aquaculture field, as an old colleague of mine Jon Bol from the Netherlands said "invest in real estate".   

Carter Newell is President and founder of Pemaquid Oyster Co., Damariscotta Maine, and founder and managing member of Pemaquid Mussel Farms, LLC.  He has a Ph.D. in Marine Biology, a M.S. in Oceanography, and a B.A. in Biology, is adjunct faculty in the Schools of Marine Sciences and Civil Engineering at the University of Maine, is a founder a  board member of the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center and chair of the MTI Aquaculture and Marine Tech Board. He has successfully commercialized 4 SBIR Phase II research projects, and is co-author of numerous research projects including an Alaskan Mariculture Initiative, the U Maine SEANET project, a satellite remote sensing project, and development of aquaculture GIS systems.

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August Featured Mentor, Mike Sobol

It's not every day that Mike Sobol starts or works with a new business, but when he does, he grows it. Our August featured mentor has been with the Maine Mentor Network for only a year, but in that time has significantly contributed to the companies he has worked with, bringing his keen knowledge of how to building, launch and grow. 

Features of Sobol's business career include helping Navis Logistics grow national account sales for it's franchisees, which inspired Sobol to buy his own franchise in dog training with Bark Busters. In just 18 months, he grew the company enough to sell it for double and move into the Bark Buster’s corporate office where he became Director of Franchise Operations.

Under Sobol’s guidance, Bark Busters experienced the largest growth phase in the company’s history, earning the title of America's #1 Pet Services Franchise by Entrepreneur magazine, and receiving Franchise Business Review's Franchise 50 Award for franchise owner satisfaction.

Later, as a Partner in Passports and Visas Without the Stress, Sobol worked his magic again, expanding operations to six cities in six months by striking marketing agreements with independent businesses, setting up a virtual call center and dominating local organic search results. 

The Maine Mentor Network is happy to have Sobol included as part of a pool of expertise that is dedicated to helping Maine companies grow.

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5 Minutes with Chris Davis of the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center

Q. The Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center (MAIC) is something of a tightrope walker as it promotes innovation in the aquaculture industry while looking to lower its environmental impact. What misperceptions do you most often encounter about the industry in Maine?

A. Aquaculture as practiced in Maine is wholly sustainable whether it be salmon, oyster or kelp farming. Back in the 1970’s and 80’s during the early days of aquaculture in Maine, farmers were developing best management practices, but we’ve come a tremendous way since then. The reason farms and markets are thriving in Maine is in part due to our high water quality and farmers are the first to realize this work hard to maintain optimal water quality.

Q. How easy/difficult is it for an entrepreneur to get started in the aquaculture business? What are the primary impediments and aids to growth that they encounter?

A. I won’t say it’s easy to get into aquaculture - like any new enterprise, business and technical planning are essential for a successful operation. Similar to land-based farming, an understanding of the biology and ecology of the organism grown is essential, as is the appropriate site to locate the farm. At the MAIC, we work closely with startup farmers to help identify the best growing locations. Given the protracted time it takes to have permits issued, it makes sense to have the best site to begin with. Programs, like the Aquaculture in Shared Waters and Top Gun provide excellent training and mentor opportunities for startups. Many commercial fishermen are looking at aquaculture as a way to diversify their income. Raising capital can be challenging for a start-up which explains why many young entrepreneurs ease into the business while maintaining their “day jobs”.

Q. What changes have you seen or would you like to see in the industry to help it grow?

A. Over the past few years, there has been a surge of interest in conducting aquaculture in Maine, particularly in oysters, sea vegetables as well as in land-based operations for a variety of fish species thus creating a bottleneck with the issuance of permits. It’s essential that new entrants have the appropriate training and mentorship so that farmers are successful as well as their operations being environmentally sustainable.

Q. What are the means by which you define success?

A good question! I define success as achieving the goals one sets out for oneself which in my case includes economic, environmental and social sustainability.

Q. What's your favorite fish for dinner?

My family eats Maine-grown salmon once a week year-round. You just can’t beat a salmon steak fresh off the grill. (Try adding a little cilantro to your marinade next time you grill - it’s delicious!)

Chris Davis, PH.d , serves as Executive Director of the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, a nonprofit organization supporting research and educational efforts that advance the economic development of marine and freshwater aquaculture in Maine. Chris also serves as a director on a number of boards, including the Maine Technology Institute, Maine Innovation Economy Advisory Board, Maine Aquaculture Association, Maine Department of Marine Resources Aquaculture Advisory Council, the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association and is currently President of the National Shellfisheries Association.  He is also celebrating his 28th year of farming oysters in the Damariscotta River as a partner in the Pemaquid Oyster Company.  Chris also serves as an adjunct associate professor of Marine Sciences for the University of Maine and teaches courses in aquaculture and shellfish biology at the University's Darling Marine Center.  His research interests include new aquaculture species development, selective breeding of bivalves and developing improved husbandry methods.  Chris received his BA from Colby College and Ph.D. from the University of Maine. 

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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 (, 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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Martha Bentley on Maine Accelerates Growth

Q: What was the impetus to form MxG?

A: MxG builds off of four years of work MCED, MTI and the University of Maine did together as the Blackstone Accelerates Growth initiative. BxG, funded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, was responsible for the expansion of Top Gun, the establishment of the Innovate for Maine Fellows internship program and for the development of several great event opportunities that build entrepreneurial culture and community like Big Gig, PubHub and House of Genius. BxG partners and organizations worked to create a new model for building prosperity across Maine. New collaborations arose, new lessons learned, and new talent was developed to start, expand and grow companies and talent across the state.

As the Blackstone Charitable Foundation support was coming to a close, the BxG team recognized the value of working together, for the ecosystem as a whole.  We also recognized that after four years of working together for one funder from outside of Maine, that it was time that Maine took hold of its own destiny.  Thus, Blackstone Accelerates Growth morphed into Maine Accelerates Growth. This new effort takes the lessons learned from both the success and challenges identified during the BxG years and applies that to a new and innovative model of collaboration.

Our mission is to accelerate the growth of companies, communities, and talent by funding, creating, and leveraging high impact entrepreneurship and innovation programs and events through a collaborative and complementary network of organizations and individuals propelling prosperity across Maine.

We study emerging best practices to continuously improve our approach to creating an extraordinary future for Maine. 

Q: What makes MxG different?

A: MxG is a complementary network, but it is also a funding mechanism.  The Maine Accelerates Growth Fund at the Maine Community Foundation is a vehicle for anyone who wants to contribute money to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Donations are matched by a challenge grant from Maine Technology Institute.  Organizations can raise money “to and through” the fund, with the matching challenge grant dollars going into an undesignated pool for the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Donors don’t have to choose to give to MCED or MxG – it is a donation to MCED AND MxG. 

MxG can move quickly to invest both knowledge and resources into an opportunity to grow the ecosystem. It has the freedom and flexibility to follow the rules of innovation and experiment with new products and programs and get rapid feedback without the drag of bureaucracy and historic expectations.

For donors approached about new programs and initiatives, it can provide objective due diligence and objective measures of success. And donations will always leverage a multiplier impact for the ecosystem.

MxG is open to all new ideas and "doers". If your idea is new or you're not an organization, that's okay – we want to find the best ideas and we'll work with you to make those happen.

Q: What organizations are involved? Can more join MxG? 

A: Since launching MxG in August 2015, we have steadily added organizational partners to the MxG network. The original three statewide organizations from Blackstone Accelerates Growth - MCED, UMaine and MTI have stayed actively involved, as have the BxG Innovation Hub hosts, Midcoast Magnet, Engine and Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council.  Maine Venture Fund, Our Katahdin, Thomas College, Greenlight Maine, Bangor Target Technology Center, Maine Startup and Create Week, and our newest partners, SCORE and University of Maine Business Competition have all joined as part of the transition from BxG to MxG and the growth of the network. 

Together we have developed an organizational partner pledge that any organization who wants to collaborate can sign. The pledge includes a willingness to collaborate to achieve the MxG vision; to provide up to 10 hours of pro-bono work per month to support the MxG network and initiatives; to collect and contribute data for MxG's annual measurements of the ecosystem's strength; to substantially publicize and publicly acknowledge the MxG initiative and the collaborative community efforts of other members; to publicly celebrate entrepreneurs and innovators whenever possible; and finally, if the organization actively cultivates donors, commit a portion of their fundraising efforts through the MxG fund so that matching grants can be triggered for broader investment into the ecosystem. 

Q. How does MxG interact with the Maine entrepreneurial ecosystem?

A: Part of MxG’s magic is the way its partners interact and support each other’s efforts within the ecosystem. The use of the term “ecosystem” is deliberate – an ecosystem is a wild and uncontrollable system, it is hard to tell what is a desirable plant and what is a weed, and just like in a real ecosystem, different elements compete and cooperate in various ways. MxG thrives on the value of “co-opetition” – an insistence on excellence, but the recognition that excellence may come from unexpected place and ideas. MxG does not control the entrepreneurial ecosystem, but it does celebrate it and functions as a deliberate network to improve communication, alignment and joint programming.

Q: What kind of projects can MxG funding be used for?

A: MxG has been working to establish guidelines for making fund distributions that reflect our principles and values.  We have a draft version on our website to get feedback before we put a final version out. We think funds will be best used for projects, events and programs that focus on the growth of entrepreneurial and innovative companies, communities and talent (people). Initially funding will be awarded in two areas: (1) Programs and events that support increasing Maine companies’ access to talent, capital and markets; (2) Programs and events that build the community of entrepreneurs and culture of innovation in Maine.

We encourage people to take a look at the guidelines and complete our survey for feedback, or attend one of our “blue sky sessions” immediately prior to the Top Gun Regional Showcases in Portland and Bangor on May 18th. We want to make sure we are focused on the right areas and also have very clear guidelines that are accessible to all who have good ideas.

Q: In your wildest blue sky dreams, what are your aspirations for MxG?

A: I love MxG – it is the most exciting work I have been involved with. When I think about why – it is really the culture we are trying to build within our network – it is a culture of assuming positive intent and that all have something to contribute and something to learn; it is an insistence on excellence, but also supporting and pushing each other to get there; it is respect and honesty; it is a willingness to be uncomfortable and sit with the unfamiliar and unanswered; it is inviting, a recognition that we don’t have all the answers and that planning for MxG’s future needs more participation; and finally, it is shared ownership – I care whether our partners succeed or not and am committed to supporting them.

I have aspirations for MxG on several fronts – first, that we have a strong impact on Maine’s culture and community surrounding entrepreneurs that leads to more successes and in turn, makes Maine more prosperous for all her citizens; second is that MxG’s model of co-opetition and complementary network becomes the culture of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Maine with organizations working together to be as effective as possible; and third, that our structure breaks down the silos between all the various types of organizations and people who work to make Maine a better place – philanthropists, investors, non-profits, private interests, economic development professionals, educators and just plain old citizens.  We often tend to “stay in our own lane” and can’t always see how thinking more expansively and creatively, taking more chances, can help connect the dots.

Of course, I also hope that MxG does an excellent job in its execution, enough that we bring in many new donors and investors into our entrepreneurial ecosystem and that we are able to fully develop our evaluation system to prove out what are the most important elements we need to support within the ecosystem to helpentrepreneurs make the difference in our economy.


Martha Bentley has been Program and Operations Manager of Blackstone Accelerates Growth, and then Maine Accelerates Growth since March 2013. She has worked with the Maine Technology Institute in a variety of capacities since 2002, currently also managing the Cluster Initiative Program and the Maine Technology Asset Fund. In addition to her work with MTI, Martha manages the Big White Barn, LLC.

Martha received her B.A. from Davidson College cum laude with honors in history, and her M.A. from the University of South Carolina. She has held a variety of positions relating to non-profit management and philanthropy, including grants manager for the Public Welfare Foundation in Washington, DC, and director of programs at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


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May Featured Mentor: Brian Rahill

Brian Rahill

May's featured mentor is Brian Rahill, owner and CEO of RainStorm Consulting. Rahill founded RainStorm as a search marketing firm in 1999 and quickly grew the company to provide web design, hosting, and software services. The company has grown consistently each year in  client base and revenue and today serves more than 400 hosting and development clients in the educational, nonprofit, and small business sectors. Rahill is also the co-founder of CourseStorm, a simple course registration software for educational enrichment programs across the US. 

Along with being a mentor with the Top Gun Program, he is a graduate of Top Gun 2012. Brian brings a valuable viewpoint both to the entrepreneurs he interacts with and the Top Gun mentor team. 

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Why Prince Is a Beacon to Us Entrepreneurs

Why Prince Is a Beacon to Us Entrepreneurs

by Kerem Durdag

I loved Prince; went to college near Minneapolis in the late 80’s and always wanted to get into the dance clubs where he played. His live shows were legendary. The music… man… the music. The energy. The sweep of raw emotion. The funk. The audacity of originality. The sexiness. The pure joy of musicality. The honesty… the dripping honesty. Listen to Purple Rain in all its glory. He was the man who made doves cry.

Never was able to get tickets, or bust my way in. So started the journey to see him. Which I did in 2004 with my wife in Boston. And the man rocked the roof off… there was no roof left. And when he danced and sang, you went with him.

So… what does this have to do with being a start-up entrepreneur? For me… a lot. You know how it is… days are long, there is always the sense of being alone, the pressures come from all directions… for me, in those quiet times of every day (every day) I listen to music (my plethora of playlists is yours, if you want it…). It helps.

The other thing is that if you want something bad enough, you chase it and never forget it. Took me almost two decades to get to see him, but I did in the end. Stick with the dream as long as you can.

But I digress a bit… this ephemeral pontification is about Prince and how he guides you and me. Below is what he said and its context to me, you, us.

We work because we create. Incessantly: "I can't wait four years between records. What am I going to do for four years? I'd just fill up the vault with more songs."

The team is the family: “When Jon Bon Jovi asked me if he could do a song with my band, I went, 'What? No!' It was like he wanted to make love to my woman." Our team is our family. Inviolate.

Entrepreneurs ride the rapids after we succeed (or fail): "Making hits is the easiest thing I could do. But it's like taking a ribbon for a race someone else won. I can't do that. I can't repeat myself." There is this river in us with Class 5 rapids. We ride it.

We do what we do because we have to:  “(Graffiti Bridge) one of the purest, most spiritual, uplifting things I've ever done. It was non-violent, positive and had no blatant sex scenes. Maybe it will take people 30 years to get it. They trashed The Wizard of Oz at first, too." We have a vision, we stick with it as long as it makes sense.

Self-confidence and support for the entire community can co-exist: "I always see myself described as arrogant or pretentious. I just do what I want. I don't consider that arrogance. We should stop arguing and stop attacking each other. The first time I heard Yoko Ono sing, I went, 'Hey, you got to quit that — today!' But I had to stop myself. How can I say she shouldn't sing? Maybe she feels a strong need to express herself."

We are original and we have to do something valuable with it: "Nobody's learning how to make music, how to read and write it, and how to play. I worry that we're raising a whole generation that's going to turn out nothing but samples and rehashes." There are some massive human problems that need solutions from us… we need to get off the social media app “I am going flip this company over to make a couple of bucks” train and do something that has merit for the next generation that is going to inherit this earth from us.

There is a craft and business depth to what we do: "You can't bring a prerecorded event to the stage. You have to be able to vibe off the audience and let a song marinate. Keep it alive! Where can you see a real band anymore? You can't get a machine to play like my drummer."

You have to monetize your value…no matter what: "YouTube is the hippest network, and they abuse copyright right and left. You see a song like Purple Rain turned into Pure Cocaine; what should my response be? I chase the money to find out who's behind it. It's a matter of principle. I don't want my music bastardized."

Know how to assert: On being asked to hear his new album in his entirety by an interviewer in 1999, he said, "Did you bring money?"

Know your market: "I don't really take a stance on piracy. If I was only getting a few pennies off every album, I'd be worried. But I get $7 a pop for every album that sells for $10. That's enough."

It is OK to evolve as a person, a professional, a leader: "I have an older, more sophisticated audience now. And the 13-year-olds hear enough depraved culture. They don't need to hear me do Sexy M.F. or Erotic City. I choose not to do those songs. That's not where my head is now."

The world is big enough for all to play in: "Jay Z didn't want to get the same wages (as everyone else). God's not broke, why should we be? I'm not mad at anybody for being successful." Prince, except for Tidal, does not have his music on any online platform… it is instructive to see how his value system aligns with his business decisions.

We have to have reason to stick around: "Not to sound cosmic, but I've made plans for the next 3,000 years. Before, it was only three days at a time.” This is strategy. What we do, has to last. Mic drop!

And you see… I think Bruce Springsteen is a messenger of God. So when the Boss sings Purple Rain, you know it is all true. It is all true. You can do what you want. Be honest. Surround yourself with love and smartness. Listen to your heart and to your mentors. Monetize every drip of value you are bringing forth to the world. Be pure. Be hungry. Don’t be incremental. Go for it.


Kerem Durdag, as executive leader of people and companies bringing out the best of their talents and aspirations, has over 22 years of experience directing world-class teams in the manufacturing and technology sectors. Currently he is serving as the Entrepreneur-In-Residence for the Maine Technology Institute. He was the CEO of a start-up (in the sensors market) leading it to growth and eventual acquisition by a public company. His second one (medical device and advanced materials) is up for sale and currently under due diligence. He has also been the CTO of a large US subsidiary of a public German semiconductor and optical media company and prior was the leader of the engineering department of an electronics company which went public (twice). With an inherent strong bias towards action, Kerem also serves on several Boards and is a member of the Maine angel investing community. 

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5 Minutes with Don Gooding

Don Gooding, MCED's outgoing Executive Director shares on where-to-from-here for the start-up scene in Maine

Q. First of all, tell us what it is that inspires you to do what you do with entrepreneurs? Early influences?  

A. I’m a third generation entrepreneur, and a second generation entrepreneur helper. My grandfather founded an industrial roofing company in Lancaster Pennsylvania still run by my cousins. Before my dad did his startups, he was helping minority business owners through loan preparation and business training, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. But my own inspiration comes from a strong belief that in the 21st century, the US (and Maine) economy has to rely on innovative entrepreneurship to sustain our standard of living. The collapse of communism paired with globalization means the US has to compete as never before. For my two daughters and their future kids to flourish, the US needs to be really good at helping innovative entrepreneurs. So I’m doing my part to help figure out what that means. 

Q. Maine is becoming known for its startup community ecosystem. What factors do you think have contributed to this?

A. First, Maine has an extraordinary quality of life that is attracting and retaining great people who want both to start a business and to raise a family, especially during prime startup ages of 30-40. Second, to pat ourselves on the backs, MCED through Top Gun and our other programs has built a community of high potential entrepreneurs and mentors who collectively have the “yes we can” attitude, and they are making it happen. Third, Sandra Stone and I led a revitalization of the Maine Angels that has helped fuel the “yes we can do it here” attitude. And finally, there are a number of other players who have contributed enormously, especially Jess Knox through Blackstone Accelerates Growth (and its absolutely critical $3 million of funding) and Maine Startup and Create Week, Maine Technology Institute, and the Portland chapter of SCORE led by Nancy Strojny. 

Q. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Maine's startup community?

A. First, the progress made towards breaking down provincial silos needs to continue. We have too few resources to hoard potential successes, and “it takes a village to raise a successful startup.” Second, we need to ensure the current enthusiasm for entrepreneurship in Maine doesn’t lead to political meddling or proliferation of half-baked “me-too” efforts.  This stuff is hard, with unobvious subtleties, and the mile-wide inch-deep approach will lead to failures as well as lost opportunities.  Third, there is a continuing global battle for top talent and Maine needs a more coherent approach to growing, attracting and retaining talent. “People people people” is the entrepreneurship equivalent to real estate’s “location location location.”

Q. If you could create a road map that would take Maine to the next level, what would be the stops be along the way?

A. We are now achieving one of those milestones I’ve been waiting for: big exits.
We need Maine’s most successful entrepreneurs to figure out thoughtful approaches to investing sustainably in both new companies and entrepreneur support infrastructure, to reduce dependence on state funding.  We also need big global companies to take notice of Maine, replicating our recent success with Microsoft and Top Gun a hundred-fold.  We need Maine to be a regular stop for a few Massachusetts venture capital firms. And we need smaller communities such as Lewiston-Auburn, Bangor, Rockland, Waterville, Brunswick, Saco-Biddeford and Farmington to stop the unproductive jealousy of Portland and instead create their own successes – something I’m calling an Entreplex. Fortunately great progress is being made on this last step. 
If you could have one wish granted, what would it be? (No fair saying two more wishes.) 
I would wish that all of the dreams of the many hundreds of great people I’ve had the pleasure of working with at MCED over the last five and a half years would come true.  (I hope that’s not cheating!)  

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Vision to Reality - Fork Food Lab

Fork Food Lab is a collaborative food maker space opening late summer in West Bayside. The project will mark the first food incubator in Maine, and the first incubator with an attached tasting room in the world. There are lots of stories that tie into how this came to be, but for now I will tell the “Cliff Notes” version.

When I was managing the Urban Farm Fermentory we had taken on an extra warehouse in our building that was used to rent out kitchen space to food entrepreneurs. I noticed that there was always a waiting list and that the potential to create a community around these food experiments was an untapped market.

First, I researched the hell out of shared kitchen space and what I know now to be the food incubator model. I met the founders of Union Kitchen in Washington DC thanks to Caroline Paras at GPCOG, and they turned into my consultants. Their wildly successful project provided proof of concept. There was still the question of whether it would be viable in Portland. I sat down with Jess Knox in December 2014 to tell him I seriously wanted to pursue this idea. He was evangelist #1.

At this point, I was still by myself, but I had written an impressive business plan and was starting to generate some buzz in the underground food scene. I recruited 12 board of advisor members that helped bring legitimacy to the project along with some great advice and connections  I also started working with an awesome mentor, SCORE chapter chair Nancy Strojny, who guided me through the process of leaving Urban Farm Fermentory to move into full-time fundraise mode for Fork.

A potential future member of the food lab that reached out to me was Eric Holstein who ran the Marshmallow Cart. He was looking for kitchen space for his food cart and wanted to meet. In preparing for the meeting, I looked at his extensive food and beverage consulting background on LinkedIn and knew the meeting would turn into the first of several co-founder interviews. He passed.

Next came the hardest test for Fork Food Lab, whether investors would buy into the plan, growing team, and vision. We pitched organizations such as the Maine Angels, Slow Money Maine, MTI, Maine Venture Fund, CEI. Plus I had about 100 coffees with individual angel investors. I had become a true hunter for the first time in my life.

We picked up steam on the fundraising front slowly and surely. The early investments were from people close to the project such as Eric, myself, and some members of the board. We were awarded a $100k grant from the USDA, which went a long way.  

Building out a kitchen is expensive, so although we had a decent chunk of equity and access to traditional bank financing, we still needed a big investor that glued together the whole package. One angel in particular, who I had been keeping in the loop since the beginning, finally engaged in a serious way and we were able to close out a round with him running lead.

Without a doubt, the key was to surround myself with other supportive entrepreneurs that dream big. I’m excited to be a part of all the startup success stories that will emerge out of Fork Food Lab in the coming years.

Neil Spillane
Fork Food Lab


Neil Spillane, is founder of Forq Food Labs, and former CEO of Urban Farm Fermentory (UFF), a manufacturer of hard cider, kombucha, and mead in Portland. While helping to form the Bay 1 food hub where foodtrepreneurs could rent one of three kitchens monthly - he realized the strong need for a collaborative commercial kitchen space in Portland. Thus he created Fork Food Lab with the idea of having Portland build stronger community ties around food with a goal toward having the city recognized as a national leader in progressive local sustenance.

Neil's understanding of the food and beverage world started at 15 while washing dishes and cooking in Mid Coast Hospital's kitchen. He later worked summers for Pine State Trading, Maine's largest food and beverage distributor focusing on beer and wine merchandising. He  has a B.S. in Business Finance from the University of Maine Orono, an MBA from Quinnipiac University, and has passed level 1 of the Chartered Financial Analyst exam.


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