November 20, 2011

Trying times

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

By J. Hemmerdinger jhemmerdinger@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 3)

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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

SMALL BUSINESS AND ENTREPRENEURIAL RESOURCES

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.

Hoping for a bumper crop of safety-minded buyers

Brunswick resident Seabren Reeves boarded a jetliner bound for the Far East in June.

It was a business trip, but Reeves wasn't there for his full-time employer, Unum Group.

The 28-year entrepreneur was searching for a manufacturer to produce Bitzy Bumper, a crib liner Reeves developed with his wife, Whitney, a teacher.

The couple started their own company, Bitzy Baby, in 2009 and incorporated it in February. They expect to take delivery of the first Bitzy Bumpers this fall.

"I stayed for a week near the manufacturing facility," said Reeves of the trip. "I worked to get samples made to the specifications we wanted."

Whitney, 29, said she and her husband created Bitzy Bumper after the birth of first son, also named Seabren. The couple couldn't find a safe and effective crib liner, which surrounds the inside of a crib and keeps infants from putting their hands and feet between the rails.

So they created their own.

Whitney started by searching for a safe, breathable material for their bumper. Seabren, a University of Southern Maine MBA student, wrote a business plan. He submitted it in the school's Student Business Plan Competition and won the first prize of $10,000 in cash and $15,000 worth of business consulting.

After Whitney broke five needles on her sewing machine, the couple sought a professional manufacturer. Unable to find a Maine company with experience making infant bedding products, they looked overseas.

Seabren found a manufacturer while in China and the couple hired a testing company to verify Bitzy Bumper has no dangerous chemicals and does not pose a suffocation risk.

The first 1,200 products will arrive stateside in November.

Seabren promoted the product at September's ABC Kids Expo in Louisville, and expects to see the product in retail stores soon.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

BITZY BABY FOUNDERS SEABREN AND WHITNEY REEVES

HOBBIES: Spending time with nephews and nieces and refinishing our home. 

WHY WE STARTED THIS BUSINESS: We realized our children deserved to have a safe sleeping environment. When we found it wasn't possible, we were determined to create it. 

WHAT WE LEARNED: Creating the safest product on the market meant finding the best experts in all areas, which were not always based locally. 

MOST CHALLENGING MOMENT: Acquiring high quality zippers set back production 20 days, but was critical in order to do what was safest.

ADVICE: Get everything in writing. It's very hard to trust that someone will do what they say they are going to do. You have to follow through and follow up; you have to be hands-on throughout the process.

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or:

jhemmerdinger@ mainetoday.com

 

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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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