July 2, 2012

Young Maine upstarts blaze a trail

With passion and a bit of daring, Maine entrepreneurs have launched businesses in challenging economic times.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Charles Friedman, 23, is founder of FlowFold wallets and tablet cases, which he displays at Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine store in Portland. They’re made of scrap material from high-tech racing sailcloth.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Andy McDermott, 28, shapes a board at Black Point Surf Shop.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

The McDermotts, who make their own surfboards and also run a landscaping business, had been approached in the past by others with a passing whim to own a surf shop, but nothing panned out. Something set Brett Dobrovolny, 23, apart.

"He had a spark in his eye when he talked about it. There was something different about him," said Ryan McDermott.

Dobrovolny said he'd been saving for his own business since he was 16 years old, and inherited money from his grandfather last year. He declined to disclose how much it took to open Black Point.

"I could have looked for a 'big-boy pants' job with my degree, but I thought it would be more meaningful to use the money this way," Dobrovolny said.

He's been helping get Black Point off the ground while juggling a 9 p.m.-to-9 a.m. job caring for people with mental disabilities. Working around the clock doesn't faze him.

"People have to be prepared for the sacrifice. A lot of time and money has been burned on this. But some of the best businesses in the world were built on sacrifice," Dobrovolny said. "It's like jumping on a wave. You clench your teeth and go."

So far, the surf shop has grossed $17,000 in sales since it opened 2½ months ago, and it's breaking even on expenses, Dobrovolny said.

Black Point is a "full-service" surf shop where customers can watch the McDermotts making and repairing boards, as well as buy new boards and surf apparel. Local artists have painted some of the boards with unique designs.

In advising other young people looking to build their own businesses, Dobrovolny said, "You need aspirations. You need to chase those, but enjoy what you have while you're building something. Once you get into a bad vibe, you'll never get out of it."

IBEC CREATIVE PORTLAND

"I was trying to make a job for myself. I didn't necessarily think I'd be building a company," said iBec Creative President Becky McKinnell, who founded the company in 2006 when she was 22 years old. IBec now has 14 employees and is on track to reach $1 million in revenue this year, McKinnell said.

As a student at University of Southern Maine's art and entrepreneurial studies program, she wrote a business plan for a Web design firm for medical professionals named MediCreative. A year into the project, she realized it wasn't taking off, so she shifted the focus away from health care to general Web design and rebranded the company as iBec. The Portland firm specializes in Web design, branding and Internet marketing.

"If I had stayed as MediCreative, I wouldn't be in business today. I had to be willing to change," McKinnell said.

IBec's customers range from Gorham Savings Bank to the Meadowmere Resort to East End Cupcakes.

"Starting a new business is daunting for everyone. But when you're younger you really have to prove yourself," McKinnell said. "I used to dress extra professional or older to try to appear more serious. But now I realize that people look to our generation for advice on technology usage. It took a while to get comfortable in my own skin."

For young adults looking for jobs or wanting to start their own business, McKinnell strongly urges them to get some real-world experience through an internship.

"Just the experience of working in the real world, even for a short time, and learning the pace and the level of customer service demanded, is invaluable," McKinnell said. "You also have to have an undying sense of passion and determination."

FLOWFOLD PEAKS ISLAND

As a teenager, Charles Friedman, now 23, had a job sewing boat sails in Yarmouth. When his grandfather's old leather wallet fell apart, he crafted a new one from scrap sailcloth. After hundreds of prototypes and a $10,000 loan from the Island Institute in Rockland, Friedman founded FlowFold in 2010 when he was 21.

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Additional Photos

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Brett Dobrovolny, 23, Ryan McDermott, 25, and Andy McDermott, 28, are the team behind Black Point Surf Shop.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

  


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