Open for Business
New group for entrepreneurial students provides education, training, and money.
Often known for its proximity to Maine’s ski trails, Colby College is now blazing trails of a different kind—in the business world. This fall the Career Center launched the Colby Entrepreneurial Alliance. A partnership between Colby students, alumni, and the newly formed Kennebec Valley Entrepreneurship Network, it will provide a support system for Colby students who want to start businesses. According to Roger Woolsey, director of the Career Center, the Entrepreneurial Alliance is the first of its kind in the nation.
The Entrepreneurial Alliance will put students through a yearlong curriculum to learn about topics from funding to legal issues. With other activities ranging from dinners with members of local chambers of commerce to workshops with investors, the Entrepreneurial Alliance will provide a learning laboratory for students. In the spring students will have a chance to compete for up to $20,000 in start-up capital in a business plan competition.
Colby students are uniquely positioned to be entrepreneurs, says Woolsey. “Regardless of their major, they have certain skill sets. They can utilize a lot of background and problem-solving skills.”
Participant and student organizer Danny Garin ’13 plans to capitalize on those skills. “As a liberal arts student, you need to think outside the box,” he said.
Woolsey recruited Garin after the sophomore showed up in his office brainstorming about his entrepreneurial ambitions. Since then Garin has helped organize events for the 39 students already part of the alliance. “It’s been, really, figure it out as we go. We have a wonderful, flexible curriculum,” Garin said. “For instance a student wanted to know how to get funding for a specific project, and the alliance delivered in the form of a Skype conference with an angel funder.”
Angel funders provide start-up capital to businesses in exchange for owning part of the company. In organizing the alliance, Woolsey has found quite a few individuals who are interested in serving in that role for Colby students, including Mark Johnson ’96, who donated money to the business plan competition.
Part of the reason is that they see real value in the program—not only for Colby students, but for central Maine residents as well. With unemployment at around eight percent, the central Maine economy, like the national economy, is hurting in this recession. Part of the inspiration for this program, Woolsey explained at the first alliance meeting, was to create businesses that would stay in Maine and produce jobs for Maine people.
“Colby was born in central Maine,” Woolsey said. “And every student has a small part of Maine in their blood. … It’s an economic reality that the jobs are not there [and] we have to think about what we can do.”
Former students have already launched successful businesses—Brandon Pollock ’10 and Nick Friedman ’10 started Blue Reserve, a water cooler company, while they were still at Colby. Now Blue Reserve operates out of Portland, Maine.
If the number of community members at the Entrepreneurial Alliance kick-off dinner was any indication, Mainers approve of this idea. “There are three ways to grow the economy,” said Mike Duguay, the director of development for Augusta. “You can either grow old businesses or start new businesses—and this is all about starting new businesses.” Jeff Hewett, who plans economic improvement development in Skowhegan says that Colby “brings people from all over the world”—people who would contribute the innovative ideas that are essential to new businesses.
The birth of the Entrepreneurial Alliance is also challenging other economic organizations to rethink how they provide services to budding businesses in Maine. “This puts [entrepreneurs] at the center instead of them coming to us,” said Nate Rudy of the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments. “They’re a part of a circle of supportive resources.” This new model, Rudy believes, will be more effective in creating new businesses in the area. “It turns everything upside down, ” he said.
Of course, as every successful entrepreneur knows, turning things upside down can be the start of something great.