Creating all-natural perfumes and fragrances was something that Rayne Hoke did on the side, a passion more than a business. But after she was laid off from her job at a farm last year, she decided it was time to think bigger.

Without much business experience, the Hollis resident knew she needed help. She turned to the New Ventures Entrepreneurship program.

“They’ve given me immense amounts of knowledge,” Hoke said. “I wouldn’t have known of all the resources available out there.”

Today in South Portland, New Ventures Entrepreneurship will graduate a new class of prospective small-business owners like Hoke, some of whom are making a transition from layoffs or other work changes.

The program, part of the Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community, provides training and technical assistance to men and women who want to start their own businesses.

Fourteen people will graduate from the program with business plans to put in place. Gigi Guyton, the New Ventures coordinator in southern Maine, said more than 30 people applied for the workshops.

“We’re finding that more and more folks, recently unemployed, are turning to our program to say maybe self-employment is a viable option,” Guyton said.

The program consists of regular workshops over 12 weeks that cover everything from taxes, financing and legal matters to market research and advertising. Participants are selected through an interview process, and the classes are free. New Ventures follows up with the graduates over three months to check the progress of their plans.

Guyton said most people who come through New Ventures have business or startup plans that need to be refined.

The Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community holds similar workshops in other parts of the state, Guyton said. Created to promote the growth of female entrepreneurs, the program now is open to men, too.

“If someone has a business idea and wants to hammer out a business plan, measure the feasibility and desirability, we encourage them to take the program,” she said.

Hoke had a business that she wanted to expand. Under the name Kittywitch Perfumery, she has sold all-natural scents at farmers markets and select stores around southern Maine.

Hoke said the New Ventures program has given her an understanding of how to budget resources, how tax deductions work for businesses and how to better analyze costs.

John Entwistle, a business counselor at the Maine Small Business Development Center in Portland, said the single biggest question from people who want to start new businesses is, “Is there a market for what I want to do?”

Entwistle, a lecturer in the New Ventures program, said people with ideas for new businesses want to know the market before they make large investments of time or money.

During an economic downturn, it’s typical to see people looking to start businesses after being laid off, he said. Though finding a new job may be easier than starting a new business, some would rather strike out on their own.

“You kind of have to love what you are doing with that self-employment opportunity to make those sacrifices,” he said.

Kerry Corthell of Scarborough, another participant in the program, worked for more than 20 years in the financial services industry. After being laid off in 2008, she came back to Maine. She now wants to operate an online business.

Her site, the Maine Consumer Network, would create a community of consumer reviews of businesses, as well as service providers such as doctors.

Corthell credits New Ventures with helping her to create a plan to build her site and expand membership in phases.

“It never occurred to me that I’d be in a situation where nobody would hire me and I’d be overqualified for everything,” Corthell said, but she’s ready for new opportunities.

“I’m not looking for the same type of jobs. My lifestyle has dramatically changed,” she said.

 

Staff Writer Justin Ellis can be contacted at 791-6380 or at: [email protected]