By Doug Harlow
Morning Sentinel, Waterville, Maine.
A Smithfield woman who is moving her dog treat business from her home to a storefront in downtown Skowhegan was named Monday night as the winner of the first Entrepreneur Challenge sponsored by Main Street Skowhegan and Skowhegan Savings Bank.
Amanda Clark, 21, owner of The Maine Barkery, will expand her business to 134 Water St. in the coming weeks.
The Maine Barkery makes all natural dog treats from locally sourced ingredients and sells them wholesale to more than a dozen businesses across the state.
“Moving to a larger location will enable her to increase production and add retail space to sell treats and other locally made, healthy dog products,” said Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan.
Clark will receive a $20,000 incentive package, which includes a $10,000 forgivable loan from Skowhegan Savings Bank, commercial storefront space, Internet access and phone lines from Bee Line Cable, bookkeeping services from Tax Pro, website design and development from Your Designs Unlimited, carpentry services from Dionne & Son Builders and other free legal, accounting, banking, marketing and insurance services, according to Cannon.
“I’m thrilled, and I can’t wait to get started,” said Clark, who has been baking dog treats in the kitchen of her home for a little more than a year. “I’m excited to purchase my first commercial-grade convection oven. With the additional production capacity and space I’ll be able to increase my wholesale accounts and website sales. I’m also looking forward to having a storefront.”
Clark will receive legal consulting from attorneys at Perkins, Townsend, Shay & Talbot, three months of Internet access and up to two phone lines from Bee Line Cable, a one-hour photo session with Knight Vision Photography, reduced rent at the 134 Water St. storefront offered by B&J Properties, four hours of marketing and public relations consultation from Nuf Sed Communications, and various other promotional services from Main Street Skowhegan.
After welcoming comments from Cannon Monday night during the award ceremony in the bank lobby and words about the program from Vicki Alward, senior vice president and chief risk officer at the bank, bank President and CEO John Witherspoon praised all the work it took to get to that moment.
“My job is to sign the check,” Witherspoon joked. “This is the first time I have ever knowingly signed a loan that’s forgivable.”
The challenge started out with 10 contestants and was whittled down to four finalists.
To be eligible for the challenge, the contestant had to start a new business or expand or move an existing business to downtown Skowhegan as part of the Main Street program.
The forgivable loan is for a five-year fixed term with the principal forgiven in stages over that period. The money is strictly for fixed assets and business equipment, not for working capital.
Clark has declined website and insurance services as she already has both, Cannon said.
“Those services will be going to a runner up,” she said. “All of our runners up will be getting something, too.”
Skowhegan Savings Bank representatives, town officials, Cannon and members of the Main Street Business Enhancement Committee made up the selection committee. Committee members were Christine Almand, town manager; Darla Pickett, selectwoman; Jeff Hewett, Skowhegan Economic Development director; and Matt Dubois, owner of The Bankery and a member of the Main Street board.
The Entrepreneur Challenge was designed to spur economic development in the region, spanned six months and included several educational seminars.
Business owners were given an overview of what it takes to start a business during phase one of the program and guidance for developing their business plans in phase two, according to Sam Hight, owner of Hight Ford and chairman of Main Street’s Business Enhancement Committee.
Hight named all four of the contestants and announced Clark as the winner.
“I’m a believer in Skowhegan,” Hight said.
The three runners up in the challenge were:
Justin Richard is preparing to launch DowntownDelivery.ME, an affordable restaurant delivery service with a secure web-based ordering platform and built-in marketing tool. Richard will present his delivery service and marketing capabilities to Skowhegan restaurant owners to build future partnerships. As a runner up, he will receive legal consulting from Perkins, Townsend, Shay & Talbot and business consulting from Sam Hight.
–Ginny’s Natural Corner (*Female Business Ownership)
Virgina Jewell is planning to expand her health foods store, Ginny’s Natural Corner. Concerned about Somerset County health statistics, she plans to offer services to the community, including cooking courses to show families how to prepare healthy foods and other educational, informational and networking opportunities. Jewell intends to expand sales to include healthy soups, sandwiches and wraps. Jewell will receive a new laptop from Computer Improvements as a runner up along with two hours of consulting from H&R Block of Skowhegan, five hours of consulting from Kyes-Carpenter Insurance, an on-site review of profit margin an other recommendations from selection committee consultants.
–MeshEarth (*Women In Business)
Nancy Blaisdell Baxter has started MeshEarth, an independent film company that celebrates rural Maine living and community connections through video portraits of people teaching life skills and lost arts. Baxter is passionate about promoting Maine and wants to use her films to engage local people and attract visitors to the Skowhegan region. Her first film, “Sox and the Country,” is scheduled for release this summer. As a runner up, Baxter will receive website design and development from Your Designs Unlimited.