GORHAM — Doug and Lyndsay Sanborn are already selling their all-natural laundry detergents to 28 retailers throughout the country, but they still haven’t worked out all the kinks of their new business.

The Casco couple are hoping students from the University of Southern Maine’s College of Science, Technology and Health can help.

The Sanborns’ startup, Ruby Moon, is one of four chosen to participate in Campus Ventures, a new program created in collaboration with the Maine Center for Enterprise Development in Portland.

The center, a nonprofit business incubator, assists the entrepreneurs with the financial and marketing aspects of their companies, while the students help with technical processes, including manufacturing and quality control.

The 10 student interns in the program are paid $9.25 an hour and work on the projects for between 15 and 20 hours per week for about 10 months, said Michael Wing, director of external programs at USM.

Wing said the program’s $200,000 annual budget is paid for by the Maine Economic Improvement Fund, which was established in 1997 to support technology research at colleges in the University of Maine System. Campus Ventures is accepting proposals this summer from entrepreneurs interested in being one of the next four businesses in the program.

Last week at USM’s John Mitchell Center, the Sanborns presented the students with a shipping dilemma in search of a creative solution.

Currently, the detergent is packaged in 3-pound bags and the Sanborns ship three at a time in one medium U.S. Postal Service flat-rate box. The Sanborns would like to reduce shipping costs for their wholesale clients by fitting a dozen 3-pound containers in the same-size box.

The students also are helping set up a more efficient system for mixing and bagging the detergent. “It’s like having a dozen employees,” Doug Sanborn said.

Lyndsay Sanborn, director of USM’s Women’s Resource Center, isn’t the only university staffer to benefit from the new program.

In the same room where the students were brainstorming with the Sanborns, another group was talking with Joe Staples, a visiting associate professor in the environmental science department, about his idea for a device to better illuminate specimens on a microscope.

Staples was at a much earlier stage of product development than the Sanborns when he started working with the students this spring.

They took his idea and created 24 conceptual drawings, which they’ve narrowed down to four potential designs. Next, they’ll choose one and create a prototype. From researching the market to making a shelf-ready product, the students are doing it all. “It’s basically as real-world as you can get,” said Brady Kuech, an industrial technology major working with Staples.

For the Maine Center for Enterprise Development, the goal is to get the new businesses into the market more quickly, so they can grow and create jobs in the state, said Executive Director Don Gooding.

For the university students, it’s resume-building experience, Wing said. Beyond that, Wing and Gooding both believe the clients and students feed off of each other’s energy.

And if the undergraduates catch the entrepreneurial spirit, Gooding hopes that could lead to more new Maine companies.

“We know from the enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs and the students, we’re onto something really good here,” Wing said.

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at lbridgers@mainetoday.com