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.

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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