2017-08-18 / Community

Businesses to compete in South Portland

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Next month, small businesses owners across South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough and Westbrook will come together to compete for the chance to gain money, investors and notoriety for their businesses.

The program, Startup South Portland, is the brainchild of a partnership between the city and Opticliff Law, a business and corporate law firm in Portland, and kicks off at 6 p.m. Sept. 13 at South Portland City Council Chambers at which six small business owners, as of Tuesday, will pitch their businesses before a panel judge, made up of business owners across different sectors of the business community. Any type of business can enter, as long as its annual revenue is less than $100,000. The competitions, which are open to the public to view and will be aired on South Portland Community Television, will continue weekly through September and possibly into October based on interest.

Adam Nyhan, a South Portland resident and lawyer at Opticliff active in local economic development initiatives, said the competition is aimed at shining a spotlight on small businesses and start-up talent in the area. The businesses that have signed up to participate thus far, he said, range from software development hardware to skin care to beer and food production.

“It’s a fun version of the ‘Shark Tank’ television show. In a very loose sense, it is that sort of format, but it’s not as snarky with as high a stake,” he said referencing the ABC show in which business owners pitch their ideas to a panel of wealthy investors. Several area businesses, including Cousins Maine Lobster – a food truck business started by cousins from Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth – and Controlled Chaos Curl Crème – produced by Portland’s Head Games Salon for Hair and Body – have competed on the show and found success as a result.

“There are resources out there to help people start small businesses. This is unique. It’s not meeting with someone and sitting at a conference table going over a business plan. It’s fun and more informal,” said South Portland Assistant City Manager and Economic Development Director Joshua Reny.

Nyhan said unlike “Shark Tank,” the competitors of Startup South Portland will not necessarily be entering the competition for the money or looking for a wealthy investor, although prize money will be awarded by Peoples United Bank during the series of pitch contests, but rather to be able to get word out about their business and build connections.

“Nationwide and here in Maine, a lot of people are doing these pitch competitions,” he said, “It is an easy way to get people out of the house and meeting each other.”

Reny agrees that building business connections is a big part of a competition like Startup South Portland.

“I think the connections and networking aspect is equally important as making the actual pitches,” Reny said.

Nyhan helped launch the Pitch York County competition last year for small businesses in that part of the state and wanted to bring a similar style competition to the greater Portland area.

“Portland has rightfully so got a lot of entrepreneurial coverage. The idea was to find the next group of communities the next level out,” he said.

As a bonus, Nyhan said Startup South Portland businesses will be able to participate free of charge in Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s Mentor Network program in which new business owners are paired with and mentored by experienced businessmen and women.

Scarborough Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Karen Martin said participating in pitch competitions help businesses earn extra revenue, but also helps the businesses “perfect the way they talk about their business,” a crucial skill to have when meeting with bankers, investors and clients.

Gorham Savings Bank’s LaunchPad competition has helped to launch two Scarborough businesses that operate in the Holly Street Business Park: Casco Bay Butter, a 2015 finalist and Flowfold, the 2015 winner. Both businesses started out small, Casco Bay Butter operating out of a church kitchen in Portland and Flowfold in a spare bedroom on Peak’s Island, but through hard work grew to the businesses they are today.

The competitions, Martin said, also build camaraderie between small business owners.

“They get excited for one another and really help each other along and support each other from the standpoint they aren’t alone in this. There are others trying to start out too,” Martin said.

Martin said Scarborough, like other communities in the region, has a number of small businesses in the health services, medical, fitness, food services and retail sectors.

Reny said it is difficult to get a pulse on small business development happening in South Portland because the businesses that come to his office are the ones looking for site location or networking help. Many others, he said, operate without needing such assistance. The small businesses that do operate in the city he said ranges from a tech-savvy resident working on apps from his or her home, someone operating a cupcake business out of their kitchen or a startup like Brant & Cochran, an ax restoration company that recently set up shop on Breakwater Annex near Bug Light Park.

“I hear of little businesses popping up all the time,” he said.

Whether they seek economic development assistance or not, Martin said small businesses play a critical role in the state’s economy.

“Small business is the back bone of every community in Maine and across the country,” she said. “Maine is particularly hospitable to business formation and has, in particular, a entrepreneurial spirit. You’ll see people start businesses while working full time. You’d be surprised how many people have multiple businesses. That’s why a competition like this is so excellent in terms of getting people excited about entrepreneurship.”

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