Portland was a hub of creative energy this past week as hundreds of entrepreneurs – many of whom flew in from out of state – attended Maine Startup and Create Week, aka MSCW.
“This is about highlighting what Maine is already doing,” said steering committee member Abbie McGilvery. “It’s kind of a Maine thing to do. We boot strap, we duct tape it, we make it work, we call our friends. We’re very collaborative people.”
“We can do it in Maine,” Don Gooding of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development told the crowd at the “Think Big” kickoff party at Port City Music Hall. “That’s a lot of what this program is all about.”
In fact, MSCW itself exemplifies the swift, enthusiastic collaborative efforts possible when talented people come together around a good idea. More than 40 events featuring 158 speakers from all over the country took place at 15 venues across Portland this week, celebrating entrepreneurs and startups. And yet six months ago MSCW was little more than a glimmer in the eye of Jess Knox, president of Olympico Strategies.
“We’re trying to engineer serendipitous collisions between people, ideas and resources,” Knox said. “In 152 days, we’ve been able to put this week together. … So it’s time to shake off that negative mojo and say we can do it here.”
“I’m excited for the mix of people who might not always be together for this atmosphere of possibility,” said MSCW core team member Sara Hines of design firm Shines & Jecker Laboratories.
Adam Burk, director of TEDxDirigo, opened his presentation by telling the crowd that his father had a vasectomy – a few years before Adam was born. “The impossible is possible. I know that; that’s who I am.”
“I was a professional at finding an excuse not to be an entrepreneur,” admitted Frank Nouyrigat, the French co-founder of Startup Weekend, which is now in more countries than Starbucks. But then his brother died of a brain aneurism quite unexpectedly, and all excuses fell away.
The average amount spent starting a business is $25,000, Nouryigat said. So, if you think you don’t have the funding to start a business, “Don’t buy a car. Just get a company and a co-founder.”
“I used to dream small dreams. And I used to set goals for myself that were easy to achieve,” said Rich Brooks, president of Flyte New Media.
And then he organized an Agents of Change conference, which took him completely out of his comfort zone. He has run it year after year, as it continues to grow – and continues to overwhelm him.
“Dream bigger dreams,” Brooks said. “Have more audacious goals, ones that scare you and wake you up in the night.”
“For me, thinking big is a national championship for the state of Maine,” said Red Gendron, head men’s hockey coach for the University of Maine. But that, he said, has been done before. Dreaming up a unique concept and successfully bringing it to fruition has completely different creative challenges. And then there’s the stress of making payroll for the people depending on their checks.
“Half the people who work in this country either work for or own small businesses,” said Karen Mills, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. “When small businesses succeed, Maine will succeed and the country will succeed.”
Mills, who lives in Brunswick, talked about the three things entrepreneurs need: capital, skilled workers, and support networks. The focus of MSCW is heavy on building support networks.
Immediately before the “Think Big” party, more than 70 entrepreneur types wrapped up a Startup Weekend at Peloton Labs, a 54-hour frenzy of business model creation. Participants worked in teams to more fully develop the most promising initial pitches, culminating in a presentation at the Portland Public Library early Sunday evening.
“So this is our after-party, I guess,” said Startup Weekend volunteer Maryann Aresti.
The first-place award went to the team pitch for Rwanda Bean Co., which ended the weekend with leads with local coffee companies Coffee by Design and Tandem.
The second-place award went to the team scheming up an indoor, year-round tropical-garden gathering space in a building currently for lease in Portland.
Alice Ruvane led a team for Feedanthropy, “a way to eat out and feel good about feeding hungry people right in our community.”
Imagine a nonprofit where participating restaurants can donate a portion of their profits to feed the hungry, explained team member Suzette Bergeron, CEO of BulletinBag.com.
“Alice is incredibly passionate,” Bergeron said. “I’m so happy for her!”
Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at: