November 20, 2011

Trying times

Experts say the poor economy could nudge new entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.

By J. Hemmerdinger
Staff Writer

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Emily Adams of Windham launched her ice-cream cake company Dirt on a Cake in September 2010.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Emily Adams owns and operates Dirt on a Cake from her home in Windham.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below


Blackstone Accelerates Growth: new program that will fund entrepreneurial education and tuition assistance. Contact the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development.

University of Maine's Innovation Engineering Jump Start program: hosts education programs on transforming business ideas into marketable products.

Greater Portland Council of Governments: promotes economic development in Portland, South Portland, Scarborough, Westbrook, Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth.

Maine Angels: group that invests in early-stage companies.

Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development: provides mentoring services and hosts entrepreneurial education courses.

Maine Department of Economic and Community Development: provides business support programs and resources and information for entrepreneurs.

Maine Entrepreneurs LinkedIn discussion group: search "Maine Entrepreneurs" in the Groups section.

Maine International Trade Center: provides international trade assistance.

Maine Patent Program: helps entrepreneurs understand the U.S. patent process.

Maine Small Business Development Centers: provides business management training and assistance.

Maine Technology Institute: provides grants and funding to promote technology-intensive products and services.

SCORE: nonprofit group that provides resources to entrepreneurs and small-business owners.

Sunrise County Economic Council: promotes community and business development in Washington County.

Small Enterprise Growth Fund: venture capital fund that invests in Maine companies with high-growth potential and public benefit.

U.S. Small Business Administration: provides a range of small-business and entrepreneurial services.



WHAT I LEARNED: In a year I have had to learn about the regulations of selling in the food industry, wholesale and retail sales and how to make Guinness Chocolate Ice Cream. 

MOST CHALLENGING MOMENT: The first time someone told me, "No, thank you." When you put your heart and soul into what you are doing you can't believe that someone may not immediately jump on board.  I have grown much thicker skin.   

ADVICE: It is great to have an idea and follow your passion, but you need a clear direction and plan or you will waste time floundering. Take advantage of all the programs out there that will help you get started.

The inside scoop on finding an outdoor niche

Mike St. Pierre has toured with the Eagles rock band and worked at restaurants in New York City.

But in 2009, St. Pierre embarked on the career of an entrepreneur, moving to Maine and launching Hyperlite Mountain Gear, a company selling shelters and backpacks to hard-core hikers.

Hyperlite has 10 employees and CEO St. Pierre, 33, expects to turn a profit in eight months.

A lifelong outdoorsman and hiker, St. Pierre grew up in Hazleton, Pa., but spent summers in Maine.

Earlier, he worked as an audio engineer for rock bands and at New York City restaurants.

A few years ago, St. Pierre learned about cuben fiber, a material several times lighter and stronger than nylon.

St. Pierre said the material was perfect for making hiking backpacks and shelters. He ordered a sample and made a prototype. Feedback from other hikers was positive.

He left New York and started Hyperlite in the garage of his family's Kennebunkport summer home. St. Pierre raised $100,000 in start-up money and wrote a business plan with help from his brother. He later relocated Hyperlite to the current production site at the North Dam Mill in Biddeford.

Products include backpacks (which cost $255), shelters (which start at $495) and smaller bags and accessories.

St. Pierre said cuben fiber costs $30 per yard. Most competing products are made of nylon, which costs $4 to $5 per yard.

St. Pierre said his products are lighter and stronger, and have a simple, "slimmed down" design; they aren't cluttered with unneeded pouches or pockets.

"We are streamlining everything," he said.

Hyperlite makes four to five products daily and sells them on the company's website and at a few retail stores.

St. Pierre dreams Hyperlite will become a household name in five or 10 years, and plans to expand into more retail stores.

But the challenges are many. Direct-to-consumer sales have been slow to develop, and educating consumers about Hyperlite's products has taken time.

"It's stressful as all hell, but we have a solid product with strong potential," said St. Pierre.



HOBBIES: Anything that puts me outdoors.   

WHY I STARTED THIS BUSINESS: After years of looking for lightweight gear that holds up on the trail, I read an article about cuben fiber. I knew it was what I had been looking for. I placed an order for 9 meters, sat down in my apartment in Brooklyn and made my first shelter.

WHAT I LEARNED: There was a hole in the market for suppliers of high quality, durable, lightweight gear.

ADVICE: If you believe in it, go for it. Find a way to make it happen.

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Additional Photos

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Mike St. Pierre, at his new business in Biddeford, models one of his backpacks.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Entrepreneurs Seabren and Whitney Reeves with baby Sondre, 7 months.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer


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