HOULTON, Maine — After a five-month, three-phase process, three winners have emerged in the 2017 Houlton Entrepreneur Challenge. Shiretown Stoves and Outdoor Living, Green Minnow Media and Raising The Bar will share over $35,000 in awards including forgivable loans and incentives from program partners.
Nancy Ketch, Houlton’s community/economic development director, announced the winners Friday in a press release.
“The caliber of contestants in this year’s Entrepreneur Challenge was excellent!” stated Ketch.
“The Selection Committee narrowed the field down to three exceptional finalists and deliberated a long time before deciding on the winners.”
“The generosity of our partners allowed us an increased pool of funds that was large enough to help all three businesses,” SADC Executive Director Jon McLaughlin said. “As deliberations continued, the committee rallied around the opportunity to assist all three well-deserving contestants in an impactful way. They each had their strengths and weaknesses, but overall the rankings were quite even.”
The first round of the program concluded in January when Gerry Berthelette, owner of Volumes Bookstore, was selected as the winner of the inaugural Challenge. Volumes received a prize package of more than $10,000 which includes a $7,500 forgivable loan and incentives from program partners totaling over $2,500 to expand their business.
Shiretown Stoves and Outdoor Living is a new store being opened by Matt Donahue on Bangor Street. The retail outlet will sell wood, pellet, electric and gas stoves including installation and service. Other products available will be outdoor living fireplaces, outdoor kitchens and stamping on concrete patios. They will also be selling and installing swimming pools.
Green Minnow Media is a new business owned by Steve Milligan who moved to Houlton with his wife who, is originally from the area. It is a full-service advertising agency that will provide personalized service for radio, television, print material, web site, social media and other creative services. Green Minnow also does video production, VFX and web development as well as a unique service of providing 3D animation.
Raising The Bar will be a fitness business operated by Michelle Sprague that will affiliate with CrossFit. Sprague, who is CrossFit Level 1 certified, will offer classes, private training, nutrition discussions and support. The location for the business is anticipated to be on North Street and will be well equipped with some retail items available. There will be a focus on each individual client’s journey with health and wellness.
“In selecting three winners, the Selection Committee determined they had a unique opportunity to assist three business dreams to become a reality,” Ketch said. “The three finalists have very different business models each with very specific needs to bring their ideas to fruition. They are all enterprises that will complement the existing business mix.”
“Each of the businesses has the ability to expand and prosper in Houlton and are anticipated to be long lasting operations,” McLaughlin added. “All three winners will receive forgivable loans for amounts based on their specific needs.”
Donated services from program partners are also being awarded. Included in their packages, Shiretown Stoves and Outdoor Living will receive funding for signage, computers and equipment for the new store; while Green Minnow Media will receive funding for an upgraded computer and specialized 3D and production software; and Raising The Bar will receive funding for equipment, franchise fees and initial rent.
Upon learning of the win, Matt Donahue said, “I really appreciate the assistance and I’m looking forward to getting the store open for people to come in and see the stoves”.
Steve Milligan added, “I am so excited … the challenge has been a great experience … and, I look forward to creating employment opportunities right here in Houlton.”
“I am beyond thankful,” expressed Michelle Sprague. “I am grateful for the entire process.”
The Houlton Entrepreneur Challenge is a collaborative effort of the town of Houlton and the Southern Aroostook Development Corporation with major financial support from Machias Savings Bank.
There were also several other financial partners including Houlton Water Company, Buildings Etcetera, F.A. Peabody Company, J. McLaughlin Construction, MMG Insurance, S.W. Collins Company and York’s of Houlton. Business partners that provided prizes for the program included Severson, Hand and Nelson, WHOU, Davis, Gates and Alward, The Idea Factory, OTT and Pioneer Broadband.
The program is designed to be an innovative approach to business recruitment and retention. It is a way to assist new or expanding businesses with expenses while also providing basic business knowledge and guidance in developing a business plan.
“Machias Savings Bank has a history of supporting businesses as well as community projects,” said Chris Fitzpatrick, executive vice president of business banking for Machias Savings Bank. “The Houlton Entrepreneur Challenge presented a unique opportunity for us to do both. We were happy to be the major financial partner in this exciting endeavor.”
Further information on the Houlton Entrepreneur Challenge is available on the town’s web site at www.houlton-maine.com or SADC’s web site at www.sadcaroostook.org. Information is also available by calling Ketch at 207-521-5938 or McLaughlin at 207-521- 0157.