MCE 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 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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