Maine is a state fueled by small businesses and entrepreneurial ideas – from organic farms to world- famous whoopie pie companies, to myriad one and two-person shops offering a range of services.
And, according to experts, women are the predominant force in that economic engine.
“Maine has always had a higher-than-average share of female entrepreneurs,” said Nancy Strojny of SCORE Portland, one of 364 chapters in a nationwide small business mentoring nonprofit.
About half of all Maine businesses are women-owned, estimated Judy Crosby, who chairs the greater Portland chapter of Maine Women’s Network.
SCORE Portland, meanwhile, caters to roughly 60 percent women and 40 percent men, Strojny said.
Typically, women start home-based enterprises, or what are known as “lifestyle businesses” – that is, taking a hobby such as knitting or jewelry-making and turning it into something profitable.
But, Strojny noted that women are also attracted to a range of other businesses, including elder care, educational services, bookkeeping and landscape design.
Ultimately, she said, small businesses are born of an entrepreneurial spirit that seems to manifest more in Maine.
Because Maine is not a state of big employers, “It’s the Maine way of life: ‘I do it myself, I figure it out,’” she said. “I call this a ‘lifestyle state.’ People move here for the lifestyle and then figure out how they’re going to make a living.”
And in figuring that out, there are many resources – many of them free or low-cost – to seek out help, direction and guidance.
The Maine Women’s Business Center at Coastal Enterprises Inc., for instance, provides general business counseling on a range of topics, as well as workshops and networking events. The Maine Centers for Women Work and Community also offer workshops and online courses, while SCORE provides free, one-to-one counseling and workshops, as well.
The greater Portland chapter of the Maine Women’s Network, for its part, meets at 5:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland, according to Crosby. The group holds events such as a members showcase, and regular educational speakers (welcoming motivational speaker Karen Fagan in March).
“Whether you are an entrepreneur just starting out, or a seasoned business person, it is imperative to keep learning through workshops and classes, to network, and to become an active part of your community,” said Crosby, director of The DaVinci Experience, which offers science and arts summer day camps and outreach.
She certainly has.
When starting DaVinci in 1999, she took advantage of SCORE counseling, she explained; later, a 12-week “new ventures” course offered through Women, Work and Community taught her how to write a business plan that ultimately helped her expand to eight camps in Maine.
“Starting your own business is a huge commitment of time, energy and resources,” she said. “It should be something you are passionate about.”
Still, passion is just one piece of it – which is where the resources come in.
“To run a successful business you need to learn about cash flow, management, regulations and more,” Crosby said.
Strojny echoed that advice: Above all, when starting out, learn what it means to start a business. Write a business plan.
And “figure out who your customer is, and how you’re different,” she said.
Ultimately, being an entrepreneur is “one of the loneliest and most frightening things you can be,” Strojny acknowledged. “There’s help, and a lot of it is free help. Don’t go the journey alone.”
Maine Women’s Business Center
Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community
Maine Women’s Network
Rayne Grace Hoke of KittyWitch Perfumery.
Taryn Plumb is a ?Maine-based freelance writer who has written for a variety of publications, including daily and weekly newspapers, websites, trade and business journals, wedding, art and regional-themed magazines.