Ry Russell knew that his idea for leasing and operating the Saco Drive-In was solid, so he didn’t need someone to tell him that he should go ahead and do it.

What he needed was what he got at last year’s Calling All Entrepreneurs event at Southern Maine Community College: skeptics to encourage him to consider the challenges he might encounter.

“They really helped me think about the hard decisions,” said Russell, 22.

That’s the idea behind the event, which will be held today for the second time, with eight entrepreneurs meeting with coaches who can offer pointed questions — and point them in the right direction.

The event is part of Maine Entrepreneurship Week.

Michelle Neujahr, director of the Entrepreneurial Center at SMCC, said she expects people to come to the sessions with good ideas for businesses. But often, an entrepreneur can’t see beyond an idea to the steps it will take to create a successful business.

“Sometimes we hang on too tightly and don’t let others give us feedback,” Neujahr said. “People can get stuck and develop tunnel vision.”

The coaches, including two local business people, Mandy Shumaker and Dante Vespignani, will probe and encourage entrepreneurs to plug any gaps in their business plans. They aren’t expected to answer every question an entrepreneur might have, Neujahr said, but they can usually steer them toward the people who can provide answers.

The sessions are short — only 20 to 25 minutes — by design, Neujahr said. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to boil their ideas down to two or three sentences. That leaves time for give-and-take to help shape that idea and identify the areas that need more thought.

Russell said he worked last year with Shumaker, who asked him about the likely demographic for drive-in movies. Russell concluded that it was probably older people who had watched movies under the stars while they were growing up. His challenge was to market the idea of a drive-in to a younger audience that was more likely to be made up of regular movie-goers.

He said the drive-in was profitable, and that success led him to start a marketing company. The drive-in will operate this summer under the umbrella of that company, VR Marketing Consultants, which offers social media, mobile and web marketing consulting.

Perhaps the best lesson of his coaching session was to create a mindset that a good idea, in itself, isn’t enough, Russell said, and that looking at potential downsides is prudent business practice, not just negativity.

“I think there’s lots of entrepreneurs who don’t understand the risks,” he said, but the coaching session helped him identify and deal with his.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]


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