26 Jul Free and low-cost resources that help Maine companies grow
Many of our firm’s clients are early-stage businesses. After we help them with their startup legal needs — forming their company, applying to trademark their product, drafting their standard customer contracts, and so on — their next step is to focus on growing their business. And there are plenty of organizations who can help them. Below is a list of excellent free and low-cost organizations in Maine that will help your business with everything from preparing a business plan, to marketing, to securing financing, to navigating a technical zoning rule.
Depending on your business, some of these groups may be a better match for you than others. Treat this as a checklist for your due diligence in growing your company, call them all, and see who can be most helpful. They’re here for you. If you’re a fan of a group that we’ve missed, please let us know in the comments.
Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI) is a powerful player in Maine economic development. It has venture-capital divisions that invest in projects both in Maine and nationwide. It also funds affordable housing, commercial real estate projects and other property projects. And it has several arms that provide free business counseling to Maine companies.
The Women’s Business Center supports women-owned firms from the earliest planning stages through later growth. Meet with the WBC staff and you will be paired with a long-term business advisor. You can also find more targeted help with writing a business plan, developing specific business skills, securing financing, and understanding how your business interests intersect with your personal and family obligations. Opticliff attorneys have been proud to host legal workshops for The Women’s Business Center’s clients.
Start Smart is CEI’s free program for immigrants who are starting businesses or seeking help growing them. Start Smart staff will meet with immigrant entrepreneurs to vet business ideas, prepare business plans, review possible business locations, finance the business, navigate legal and regulatory issues, and more.
Through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), below, CEI offers free business assistance to all entrepreneurs.
SBDC is a joint project of the Maine Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD), the U.S. Small Business Administration and the University of Southern Maine. They can help you with everything about launching your first new business or growing your existing business, from understanding your finances to selling to government agencies to exporting abroad. SBDC also has excellent online downloadable templates for business plans, marketing plans and other documents. Finally, they offer many online webinars. All at no cost.
MCED is another key force in Maine’s entrepreneurship & startup community. It is the organizer of Top Gun, the annual three-month boot camp for emerging businesses that has helped more than 140 companies grow in Maine (nearly all of which remain in business many years after participating in Top Gun, a testament to its effectiveness). MCED also provides various educational opportunities to members in a less structured format, from “lunch and learn” events to online and in-person resources that help companies grow and thrive. Opticliff Law’s attorneys have been proud to serve as business mentors to Top Gun.
DECD, a state agency, offers free resources including help writing business plans, marketing and preparing financial projections and other documents, and assistance with securing the required business permits for your company. They also publish useful deep-dive reports on Maine’s economy and how it affects businesses.
SCORE is a national network of mentors that provide free consultation to growing businesses. SCORE Maine has more than 100 mentors throughout the state with expertise in every industry from software to aquaculture to health care to food. They will assign you to a knowledgeable mentor who will meet with you periodically, set goals for you in areas from writing a business plan to preparing financial statements, and keep you on track. Opticliff’s attorneys have been proud to deliver workshops on legal issues for SCORE members.
Maine PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center)
PTAC is a national network of nonprofits. Maine PTAC is our state’s local branch, and they have offices in multiple locations. They have one mission: to help companies sell goods and services to government agencies, whether federal, state, county or municipal. They’ll interview you to learn about what you sell and enter you into a database that matches you with thousands of agencies that might be interested in buying from you. They’ll periodically email you alerts of new bid opportunities for which you might be a match. If you submit a bid, they’ll walk you the process. All for no charge to you. They work with folks in nearly every industry, from construction contractors to aquaculture to business consultants.
New Ventures, an arm of the University of Maine System, provides free assistance to businesses statewide. They work primarily with earlier-stage companies, including people still in planning stages as well as incorporated firms that have done business for years and are looking to grow. New Ventures offers in-person and online courses, but their staff also meet one-on-one with businesses to guide them through formation and growth issues. New Ventures is a good “first call” for new businesses, and they will refer you to other organizations such as SBDC and CEI for more specialized issues or for financing. Opticliff attorneys have been pleased to host legal workshops for New Ventures Maine’s workshops for small business owners.
For those in Maine’s booming food, agriculture and aquaculture sectors, Slow Money Maine can be a very useful resource. The group operates a Technical Assistance Program (TAP) through which companies in these sectors can find mentors to help them (on either a free or compensated basis) with the challenging work of marketing, production and management. Through its Fair Food Consulting Corps, Slow Money Maine also offers heavily-discounted business assistance to eligible companies in the areas of food-safety compliance, operations. Finally, the group regularly hosts networking events to introduce companies to investors.
Venture Hall, a non-profit, launched a new accelerator program for high-growth-minded startups in 2017. Each year, Venture Hall will put a number of approved startups through the paces of its rigorous curriculum and training program. The inaugural class, in progress as of summer 2017, is a cohort of eight companies from Maine and nationwide that focus on problems faced by professionals in health care. Unlike most tech accelerator programs, Venture Hall does not take any equity in participating companies. Companies that are selected for participation do so at no cost, receive free or subsidized lodging during the summer program, compete for $25,000 in equity-free funding, participate in a Demo Day, and have access to top-notch mentors.
In addition to the accelerator, Venture Hall operates a new Coding School in partnership with Code Fellows, Thomas College and Project Login.
Many of our clients know Maine Technology Institute (MTI) as a funder of tech startups. And financing is certainly much of what MTI does, through its popular TechStart Grants, Seed Grants and other funding options. But this nonprofit also provides free targeted consulting services to select companies through its Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) program. To see if your company is eligible to meet with one of the EIRs, call MTI for an appointment.
Opticliff Law has helped many of its tech clients (hardward and software) submit applications for MTI grants. Don’t hesitate to reach out if we can help your company too.
International trade is an increasingly important part of business for many Maine companies. They are increasingly selling Maine-made products abroad just as many of them are importing more and more products. The Maine International Trade Center can help. For a modest annual membership fee, members get access to unlimited research on trade-related issues including customs compliance, sourcing, and research on potential new foreign markets for members’ products.
MITC also helps secure grants to qualifying Maine companies. In addition, members have access to a number of workshops and other trade-related educational and networking events each year.