Female entrepreneurs with ideas for software or software-enabled startups may now enroll in the 2021 cohort of Propeller, a free, six-week online course operated by the CEI Women’s Business Center. The course is designed to guide women from all backgrounds as they build their businesses while overcoming barriers that disproportionately affect female business owners, particularly in the tech field.

Tracy O’Clair of content management firm MyContentTeam. Contributed photo via CEI

Launched in 2020, Propeller generated six software or software-enabled startups this year, ranging from content management firm MyContentTeam to The Good Crust, a pizza dough company based in Skowhegan.

According to CEI, although she was not making a tech product, The Good Crust founder Heather Kerner enrolled in Propeller because she knew technology would be an important aspect of growing her business and she wanted to gain the skills to launch her startup.

The Good Crust founder Heather Kerner. Contributed photo via CEI

“Having no formal background in entrepreneurship, the Propeller class helped me to put structure to my idea of starting a pizza dough company sourcing only freshly milled grains from Maine,” Kerner said in a CEI news release. “Because I learned how to identify customers and how to talk to them, I was positioned to begin earning income and paying my team as soon as dough production began. Within the first two months of business, The Good Crust has secured several wholesale accounts and is poised to consider a distribution partnership.”

Skills in identifying consumer demand for a potential product and operating on a lean budget are critical to the success of any venture, according to the release, but Propeller focuses specifically on software or software-enabled startups.

“Software is a medium that can scale – it can benefit Mainers wherever they are, whether an urban city or a rural small town, and help them reach a national or global audience. Propeller shows entrepreneurs how to identify a customer, learn what a customer wants, and help a customer accomplish something they couldn’t do before. Once entrepreneurs make something that their customers want, we work together to help them scale their product,” said Nick Rimsa, product designer at Tortoise Labs and Propeller course instructor.

In its release, CEI states that “Technology and innovation are pillars of Maine’s economic future, yet it is extremely difficult for women to enter and succeed in these fields. With only a quarter of computer science-related jobs held by women, the lack of mentors, influential networks, and access to funding can seriously hamper women’s ability to launch a successful tech-based company; even the knowledge of these barriers yields a confidence gap that discourages women from acting on their business ideas.”

“Entrepreneurship is a path to self-reliance. We created Propeller to provide the structure necessary to help women test their ideas, find their first customers, and become business owners,” said Anna Ackerman, program developer at the CEI Women’s Business Center and Propeller instructor. “It has been humbling to support women from all over the state turn their ideas into flourishing businesses, and we look forward to working with the next group of startup founders in January.”

Women interested in enrolling in Propeller may visit the CEI Women’s Business Center events webpage to sign up or learn more. Two cohorts are available: Tuesdays from 5-7 p.m. starting on Jan. 11 and ending on Feb. 15 (sign up at https://www.ceimaine.org/news-and-events/news/events/propeller-3/) or Wednesdays from 5-7 p.m. starting on Jan. 12 and ending on Feb. 16 (sign up at https://www.ceimaine.org/news-and-events/news/events/propeller-wednesday-cohort/).

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