Is doing business in Maine really as bad as the national media leads us to believe?

posted on July 8th, 2014 in Category:

The most surprising thing that I have learned in my year and a half working with the Maine Venture Fund is that Maine has a far more robust community of funders, business assistance agencies, and funding organizations than I ever thought.

For example, let me tell you about a startup company in the Portland area that was founded by two young men from Kentucky. Jacob Roberson and Ryan Hamilton were childhood friends and went into business together with their own lawn care company in their late teens. Jacob later married a woman whose family was from the Boston area. Her family decided to move to Portland to be closer to her family and because of the opportunity the Portland area offered. Ryan visited them in Maine from Indianapolis a number of times. When the recession hit his company in 2008- 2009 he lost his job as an engineer. Ryan then did two things to change his life. He got married and the next day he and his new wife jumped in their truck and moved lock stock and barrel to Portland to look for work. Six months later they had both found jobs that kept food on the table and they began to fall in love with Maine. Through business contacts that Jacob had made, and by networking, Ryan changed jobs and began to work at a renewable energy company called Re-Vision Heat. While there, he saw the need for alternative residential energy systems, something other than oil or gas burning furnaces. They found a manufacturer in Denmark called NBE that was producing a state of the art pellet boiler called Kedel.

Ryan and Jacob decided together that the time was right to start a new company based, initially, on a relationship with this Danish manufacturer. They were able to acquire exclusive rights to distribute the product for all of North America and in July of 2012 formed Interphase Energy LLC.

 

What’s important to me about this story, and it really has yet to be fully written, is what Ryan and Jacob tell me about what people outside of Maine are saying about doing business here. They say that what they had heard about Maine as a place to do business does not square with what they have found here. They had heard that Maine’s business environment was not conducive to success or supportive of startups. Very little opportunity. Very little in the way of public or private assistance. Coming from the Midwest, as they have, they have found the opposite to be true. Ryan said to me recently that it may be true that Midwest states and other parts of the country offer bigger and better incentives to big companies to move to that state or grow there, but what he experiences here in Maine, is that the state has numerous ways to enhance small business. “Overwhelming support for start-ups,” he stated. The list of services goes on and on. He named just a few that he and Jacob have tapped. The resources are here he said, you just have to take the time to find them and get into the mix.

Interphase is on a roll. Their stated company mission is not a shy one: “To provide sustainable energy for everyone.” Jacob and Ryan seem to have found a great core product to begin their company. They have out performed even their most optimistic projections. Interphase has also benefited from the presence of the new Icelandic shipping company, Eimskip, whose only port of call in the US is Portland. Their shipping route between the US, Canada, and Northern Europe has been a perfect fit for Interphase.

 Below are just a few of the many organizations that Ryan and Jacob have made use of and that I’ve come across. This is by no means a complete list and if you want a more complete list please go to the MVF web site.

Written by Des Fitzgerald, MVF’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence

Des joined the Maine Venture Fund in December 2012. He has had a long running interest in the role of leadership in successful enterprises and has been involved in many start ups as both a partner, founder, employee and consultant.

Des moved to Maine in 1978 and founded Ducktrap River Fish Farm the following year. In 1999 Des sold a portion of his company to Continental Grain and a year later was named CEO of ContiSea, a holding company made up of Ducktrap River Fish Farm and Atlantic Salmon of Maine. ContiSea had 200 +/- employees with over 50 million in annual sales. Des sold his remaining shares in ContiSea and left the company in 2002. He worked as a management consultant with Brimstone Consulting for 2 years and co-taught a class on “Leadership for the 21st Century” at the University of Maine, Orono Business School through 2007. In 2006 he co-founded Dirigo Wind, a regional land based wind development company, along with 4 other partners and was also the co-founder and CEO of BlueMarvel Inc., an HD video company. In December of 2008, Des became the VP of Business Development for Principle Power Inc. a deep-water wind technology company based in Seattle, Washington.

 

For Funding:

1)   Maine Technology Institute http://www.mainetechnology.org/

2)   Coastal Enterprises Inc.  http://www.ceimaine.org/

3)   Maine Venture Fund http://maineventurefund.com/

4)   Maine Angels http://www.maineangels.org/

5)   Finance Authority of Maine http://www.famemaine.com/

6)   Libra Future Fund http://librafoundation.org/libra-future-fund

7)   North Atlantic Capital http://www.northatlanticcapital.com/

8)   Spinnaker Trust http://www.spinnakertrust.com/

9)   Bangor Savings Bank https://www.bangor.com/

For Business assistance:

1)   Maine Department of Economic and Community Development http://www.maine.gov/decd/

2)   Blackstone Accelerates Growth program http://blackstonegrowth.com/

3)   Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development and their many initiatives including The Top Gun Program http://www.mced.biz/

4)   Maine International Trade Center http://www.mitc.com/

5)   Service Corps of Retired Executives / SCORE http://www.scoremaine.org/

6)   Maine Aquaculture Center http://www.maineaquaculture.org/

7)   Maine & Company http://www.maineco.org

8)   Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership http://www.mainemep.org/

9)   E-2Tech http://www.e2tech.org/

I should say also that this University with its Land Grant genetics also provides a number of resources that every business person in Maine should take advantage of. They are diverse and multi dimensional: Among them are:

1) Cooperative Extension http://extension.umaine.edu/

2) Maine Business School, http://umaine.edu/business/

3) Foster Center for Student Innovation, http://foster.target.maine.edu/

4) UMaine’s Economics Department, https://umaine.edu/soe/

5) Adanced Manufacturing Center, http://umaine.edu/amc/

6) Innovative Media Research and Commercialization Center, http://www.imrccenter.com/

7) Advanced Structures and Composites Center, http://composites.umaine.edu/

8) The Target Technology Incubator, http://www.targetincubator.umaine.edu/

9) Process Development Center, http://umaine.edu/pdc/

10) Forest Bioproducts Research Institute, https://forestbioproducts.umaine.edu/