Client Success Stories
Biscuits and Company
Grandmother’s recipe creates a startup business.
When Stacy Cooper, working in Boston, decided to move to Maine, she brought along her grandmother’s biscuit recipe and a desire to be an entrepreneur. After selling her biscuits at local fairs and the Kennebunk Farmers Market, her friends and partner encouraged her to apply for the 2013 Biddeford Main Street Challenge and fulfill her dream of opening a restaurant.
After Stacy made it to the second round, she reached out to a small business coach to work on her business plan and design some market research. When she won the competition’s $10,000 prize, she got busy putting all the pieces into place. She formed an alliance with friends and associates to raise the substantial funding required of the startup. She made contact with the Maine Grain Alliance in Skowhegan for her sifted wheat flour and identified sources of other Maine ingredients. Southern Maine Finance Agency (SMFA), who had been chosen to administer the grant, offered encouragement, as well as additional financial support. But still, it was almost a year before everything came together.
“At one point, when it looked like it might not work, the folks at SMFA were there to troubleshoot and act as a problem solver for us.”
She credits Will Armitage of SMFA of never giving up as they worked their way through a number of “bumps in the road.”
Biscuits and Company is now a well-regarded member of the growing and increasingly diverse restaurant and shopping scene in Biddeford where they make a point of giving back to the community that supports them. Stacy and her new co-owner, Chef Eric Johannes are looking ahead to become even more of a place for small business meetings and retreats as well as offering baking workshops and occasional dinner offerings.
“This community has been very welcoming and we are just so happy to support them as they supported us.”
Blueprints Early Learning Center
Building Foundations of Love
When you open the door into Blueprints Early Learning Center in Lebanon, it is clearly a place where love abounds. Some children are busy with projects, others listening intently to a story read by one of the teachers and more are just waking up from naps. The infant room for little ones has two teachers and while some babies sleep, others are awake and being cuddled and fed.
It is evident that the children are enjoying every minute and the staff provides a circle of calm and caring that make this the town’s number one full-service child care center. Blueprints was founded by Jennie Clavel in her own home just around the corner from Lebanon’s elementary school. With a BA in Early Childhood Education and extensive experience in providing childcare, she realized that there was a real need she could meet for parents and children in her fast-growing community. Her husband Anthony shared her vision and the two worked to make the business a success.
When their waiting list grew to over seventy-five families, they knew they were ready to grow the business exponentially. But that meant designing and building a new building next door 100% devoted to quality childcare. Reaching out to Southern Maine Finance Agency (SMFA), Jennie identified Bangor Savings Bank as a lender willing to work with her and SMFA to deliver the financing for a new building. Opened in August 2017, Blueprints now is staffed by eight specialists and accommodates eighty-nine children–some for ½ days, some for full days and some for just before and after school care. Now that waiting list is closer to fifty-five.
“I had a hard time understanding why some of the first financial institutions would not look at my success and my track record to provide a loan for the new building,” says Jennie. “But Chris O’Brien of SMFA never let me get discouraged and urged me not to give up on my dream. In the end, SMFA’s enthusiasm and financial support helped put together the deal. Just 18 months after we moved in, we are already expanding into a new addition designed specifically for infants.”
Fernleaf Bakery and Coffee House, Saco
A Bakery Grows in Saco
How many bakers do you know who have a degree in Chemical Engineering? And a background in computer programming? Oh, as well as a degree from the New England Culinary Institute in Baking and Pastry Arts? Well if you know an international couple with that pedigree, you must know Irene Lim, who together with her husband Thys, are the owners of Fernleaf Bakery and Coffee House in Saco.
When these two natives of Malaysia (Irene) and Zambia (Thys) met in Toronto they were both working in business, but both also wanted a lifestyle change and having a baby decided it for them. They wanted to live in a friendly neighborhood in a home with a yard for the baby. And Irene, an excellent amateur baker, wanted to go to culinary school to hone her skills. While Irene took time out to go to the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont to get a degree in Baking and Pastry Arts, Thys, who wanted to be by the sea, found the perfect spot in Saco.
As it came time to finance the fit-out of the building on Free Street behind the Saco Post Office on Main Street, they relied on personal savings and credit cards. Realizing that more reliable and cost-effective borrowing was needed, they went to Saco Biddeford Savings and were immediately referred to Southern Maine Finance Agency (SMFA) who saw their skills in a new way.
“We listen to our customers,” says Thys. “And SMFA found the right programs to help us as we repaired our roof and expanded into savory items like Chicken Pot Pie and luncheon specialties.”
“We are always looking to expand our market,” says Irene who is already planning to appeal to more customers with a more extensive menu.
The Sellam Circus School
When an international circus performer and a girl entranced with the circus since age 8 got married, it seemed natural that they would base their new Sellam Circus School in her home state of Maine. In the summer of 2015, Amity Stoddard and Sellam El Ouahabi founded the Sellam Circus School and launched their Maine Coast Summer Circus Arts day camp program, which involved a summer camp for circus arts inside a traveling big top tent, as well as weekend performances by students and professionals. The circus played throughout coastal Maine including the towns of Biddeford, Rockport and Bar Harbor. Now based in Biddeford Maine, they divide the work to take advantage of both Sellam and Amity’s backgrounds. Sellam, originally from Tangiers Morocco, is a respected international circus star who has 30 years of performance experience. Amity, who had handled everything from tour management to marketing for large circuses such as Circus Smirkus, Cirque du Soleil and Big Apple, is the administrative director.
While running their busy summer programs, the two continued to scout for a location to build a year-round circus school. In 2016 they were referred by another client in the North dam Mill Complex to the Southern Maine Finance Agency. They were able to go on an open their school in the Pepperell Mill Campus offering both recreational after-school classes as well as a full-time professional training program that currently has 14 full-time students from throughout the United States. Those in the full-time program in Biddeford tend to be at least 18 years of age and can specialize in skills such as wire, silks, and straps in addition to unicycle, juggling, and Adagio.
In the summer of 2019, they will launch eight continuous weeks of circus arts in their Biddeford location as well as a return to Bar Harbor for one week of circus camp at the College of the Atlantic.
Students of all ages and abilities come from all over the world to study the accelerated practice methods of Sellam, and learn how to handle their own body weight on silks, high wire, trapeze, and other apparatus.
“We honestly are so grateful to Southern Maine Finance Agency for looking beyond what others might dismiss and realize that our business plan and experience are a solid foundation for a very viable company,” says Amity. “We are still working on our existing space, but we are slowly but surely expanding our capabilities and our appeal to potential students from all over.”
Possum Hollow Farm Soaps
Organic and environmentally responsive soaps and skincare.
When Robin and Jim Bedford started making soap as part of their family business, they determined to make it the best they could utilizing natural ingredients and being environmentally conscious. When their son Derek and Jennifer were married, soaps were the wedding favors. Derek and then Jennifer joined the business sometime after, determined to further develop the soap business.
The business began in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania and the name Possum Hollow Farm Soap came about because there was a possum hollow behind the family farmhouse. While in Pennsylvania, Derek and Jennifer developed a vegan line of bar soaps and for five years operated the family retail business and began wholesaling their soaps.
Acting on a desire to move back to New England where both had gone to college, they bought a home with small workshop outbuilding in Sanford Maine in 2015. They enhanced their existing soap formulas and developed a full line of skincare products that are sold not only in New England, but nationally on a wholesale and retail basis.
Their soaps proved popular, and when the number of orders and the potential for new outlets presented itself, it was time to expand production. They worked on a proposal for some funding by the Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council (SREGC) which not only included a new and automated soap cutting machine but machinery to assist with their soap wrapping process. With funding from the SREGC in hand, Derek went to the University of Maine for help in designing the soap wrapping machine to automate the distinctively designed packaging that he and Jennifer were doing by hand.
The SREGC recommended Southern Maine Finance Agency (SMFA) to help them in financing not only the soap wrapping machine but also to enlarge their workshop.
“Will Armitage of SMFA urged us to think bigger than we were,” says Derek.
That resulted in creating about four times the capacity that Derek and Jennifer had when they were doing things by hand, plus room to grow. Unique soap scents such as Matcha Lemongrass, Herb Garden and Double Mint Citrus have proven very popular over the past years. Most recently the two utilized the skills they have built up over time to create the Bedford line of skin care products.
“We are currently reacting to demand by supplying our full line of skin care products to the many spas, hotel spas, and resorts that use them in their treatment rooms as well as sell retail,” adds Jennifer. “We are really excited about the potential for our business and being able to do what we love, right here in Maine.”
Kate Nelligan Design
Designing a Bright and Colorful Future
“Even with an award-winning business plan, banks kept saying ‘no.”
That’s when Kate Nelligan contacted Southern Maine Finance Agency (SMFA).
Kate had been turned down by a number of banks as she sought to bring her design business to the village of Kennebunkport. She had even found retail space in the super competitive Dock Square area on her own, but it was SMFA that believed in her concepts and successful track record that made the financing possible.
Kate, who is a Kennebunkport native, had started her own business after working for a number of corporations and organizations. She had a background in communications and photography, but it was Graphic Design that really captured her soul. And she had proven that her vision to extend her bright and distinctive art into various products including textiles for pillows, bags, and aprons, melamine, placemats, and mugs could work. She had successfully outsourced to various manufacturers and she knew she had a ready market.
She envisioned a store of her design carrying only goods of her design.
“SMFA could not have been more supportive and enthusiastic. Chris O’Brien of SMFA saw the business the way I did,” she says. “When we opened our store on Memorial Day 2015, sales really took off and we continue to grow.”
Right now Kate Nelligan Design is about 50% retail and 50% wholesale. And Kate is working with SMFA to further scale her business by relying on her business associates and engaging well-qualified manufacturers reps to market her products further afield.
“I love doing what I am doing and I encourage others with a dream to find the right partner and persevere!”
Hyperlite Mountain Gear
Less is More
When Mike St Pierre despaired of finding a backpack and tent that wouldn’t weigh him down as he escaped from the kitchen to New York’s Adirondacks, he did what every self-respecting high-end chef would do; he whipped up his own.
Working in his Brooklyn apartment on his mom and grandma’s sewing machines, he experimented with materials, bonding and sewing to come up with backpacks and tents that were infinitely better than he could find in the marketplace. At half the weight or better, and waterproof, the material he settled on, Dyneema, was unforgiving, but made from fibers that are stronger than Kevlar. In fact, Dyneema is the strongest manmade fiber in the world.
Starting with funding from family, and later friends, Mike moved out of his apartment and into a garage in Kennebunk and Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) had its first employees. In 2011, Mike approached Southern Maine Finance Agency (SMFA) for financing to buildout 7,000 square feet of space in the North Dam Complex in Biddeford. Hyperlite was poised for hyper-growth.
“I approached SMFA for a loan and they worked with me to find exactly the right combination of funding sources to provide my company with the money it needed, at the right rate, in a timely manner” Mike explains. “Without their expertise, we would not have been able to move ahead as quickly as we did with as much ease. Their knowledge of mill redevelopment, coupled with their access to a variety of sources of capital, really benefitted HMG”
Dan St Pierre, Mike’s brother, and another refugee from New York City, was brought in with extensive experience in corporate finance and entrepreneurial management. He joined Mike just as Hyperlite was taking over contiguous space for manufacturing in order to meet the demand of elite mountaineers and long trail thru-hikers.
The growth has continued between 50% to 70% each year since 2011.
“We have a unique relationship with our customers” says Dan. “We live their lives, and with 80% of our business coming direct from our website, we continue that discussion to improve and grow our product line. Mike continues on as our key R & D user/designer and we have some of the most highly skilled and productive employees anywhere.”
Prescott Metal is a metal fabrication company located in Biddeford, Maine that has been in business for over 90 years. When they have expanded and acquired other businesses, Southern Maine Finance Agency (SMFA) has provided them with the funding to complete these projects.
“Prescott Metal has approached SMFA several times with needs for gap funding to complete an acquisition or expansion. Every time we have needed financing, Will has worked with us to assure that we get the money we need in a timely manner to maintain our production schedules. SMFA has really helped our business stay on track.”
Pepperell Mill Campus
Biddeford’s Pepperell Mill Campus is one of the premier redeveloped mill complexes in New England. Almost 150 businesses and over 100 residents currently call this sixteen-building campus home. Mill owner Doug Sanford credits Southern Maine Finance Agency (SMFA) with facilitating financing with local banks and Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission to push this redevelopment project forward.
“SMFA worked with us through every phase of this project to collaborate with bankers and SMPDC to get us the funding we needed to keep our development on schedule. They can be credited with providing critical financing that contributed to the success of this mill redevelopment project.”
North Dam Mill
Shields Meats and Produce
Shields Meats and Produce, Inc. has been doing business in Kennebunk, Maine since 1923. In 2004, Shields added a line of hot dogs to meet market demands and needed additional financing. Southern Maine Finance Agency (SMFA) assisted the company with funding to facilitate this growth.
“We determined that SMFA would be a great option for our financing needs. They really listened to our needs and matched us with the correct loan.”
Dean and Greg Shields
Yale Cordage, Inc. is a manufacturer of synthetic rope for the pleasure marine, industrial, utility and oceanographic markets. The company purchased a vacant building in the Biddeford Industrial Park in 1997 and then relocated to a new facility in the Saco Industrial Park in 2000. Southern Maine Finance Agency (SMFA) worked with Yale Cordage to structure a financing package for both real estate acquisitions to reduce their annual debt service.
“Everything came together here. SMFA came charging to the table and lined up all the elements for us very quickly–financing, labor force issues…they certainly made it easy.”
Tom L. Yale
Transparent Audio, Inc.
Transparent Audio, Inc. (TA) was established in 1981 as a marketing and distribution company for high-end Norwegian electronics. Today, TA manufactures and sells Transparent Cables and Well Tempered Turntables worldwide. TA is a high-end manufacturer of products whose fit and finish is recognized as the best in their industry. TA approached the City of Saco and Southern Maine Finance Agency to provide a financing package that would meet their financing needs for their expansion and relocation, which was completed in 1998.
“When we were ready to build, location was very important. It’s beautiful here, with trees and space. And we have easy access to FedEx, the Turnpike, the airport and shipping facilities, because we are an international business.”
Transparent Audio, Inc.
Precision Transmission & Auto Care
Precision Transmission opened its state-of-the-art transmission and drive train repair facility in Wells in 2003. Owner David Roy credits Southern Maine Finance Agency (SMFA) with assisting in making his business start-up possible:
“Partnering with the SMFA has had many benefits. They helped me realize my business start-up plans by securing the financing needed in a timely manner.”