PRESQUE ISLE — Three finalists have been selected for the 2013 Aroostook Entrepreneur of the Year contest sponsored by LEADers Encouraging Aroostook Development, Momentum Aroostook, University of Maine at Fort Kent, Northern Maine Community College, University of Maine at Presque Isle and Husson University.
“We started with eight very good nominees and whittled it down to the top three,” said LEAD Executive Director Ryan Pelletier. “The finalists represent southern Aroostook and the St. John Valley and show the entrepreneurial spirit is alive in The County.”
The finalists, in alphabetical order, are Bison Pumps in Houlton, owned by David Harbison; Fiddlehead Focus in Fort Kent, owner/publisher Andrew Birden; and Northern Maine Media WHOU in Houlton, owner Fred Grant.
“Innovation was the theme to this year’s contest and the three finalists have all used innovation to grow their market and reach out to the world beyond the Aroostook County lines,” said LEAD President Jon McLaughlin.
Bison Pumps was established in 1999 after the “Great Ice Storm” of 1998, which was the genesis of an idea. Harbison and his crew at Harbison Plumbing and Heating developed a hand pump for wells that can be used when power goes out. The product — and eventually other models — were developed and are now sold around the world. Harbison currently employs 12 people and sells more than 800 pumps a year and his business has been growing by 20 to 30 percent annually for the past several years.
Birden at Fiddlehead Focus, with only $500 and an idea, started a community newspaper and news website at a time when traditional newspapers were struggling. The first issue, June 23, 2010, was only 11 by 17, one-page black and white, but the web presence is where the venture found it voice. Page views of the web version, 2,000 a month in the early days, have risen to more than 2 million per month now. Print distribution is now more than 2,000 a week and a portion of the newsstand price goes to charity. From a one-man operation with some family volunteers, Fiddlehead Focus now employs four full- and two part-time workers.
Another media success story is Northern Maine Media, Inc. in Houlton. In 2011, Grant formed the company and purchased WHOU 101.1 FM. Knowing the radio station faced multiple competitors from multiple fronts including television, print media and other radio stations, Grant looked to technology and innovation in his strategic plan. In 2011, shortly after purchasing WHOU, the company began video streaming of high school basketball games. This past winter WHOU streamed the Eastern Maine Quarterfinal games and reached more than 80,000 viewers in all 50 states and more than 25 countries. WHOU also streamed the Maine State Instrumental Jazz Festival, with great success, as well. Northern Maine Media, Inc. employs nine people.
Other nominees included Michael and Emily Carpenter, owners of Carriages of Acadia, Inc. based in Houlton; William Tasker, director of the Caribou Chamber of Commerce; Dale and Mark Chamberland, Aroostook Woodsmiths and R.F. Chamberland Inc. St. Agatha; Cathy Duffy Collins, owner Progressive Realty in Caribou; and Shawn Pelletier owner C.S. Management, Pelletier Property Services, Salar Storage North and Washburn Street Storage.
A panel of six judges, one representing each of the sponsors, selected the 2013 finalists.
The nominees, finalists and winner will be celebrated May 23 at Reed Commons at the Northern Maine Community College. The Aroostook Entrepreneur of the Year dinner will be a traditional New England lobster bake complete with raw bar, hors d’oeuvres, mussels, corn on the cob and potatoes. There will also be a steak or vegetarian option. The price per person is $30. Pre-registration is required by 4 p.m. May 16. To register, contact Judy Dinsmore at Northern Maine Development Commission, at 498-8736 or by email email@example.com.