Are you thinking about moving or relocating your small business or startup to Maine?
You should (at least come to visit).
In fact, our startup isn’t located in Portland. We’re in Waterville. Central Maine. Exit 127 off of Interstate-95.
In January, I moved to Maine with the intention of staying for a month to teach a product design course at Colby College. I planned to move to Los Angeles after the month. (My co-creator lives there.)
While the five-minute walk to Santa Monica Pier was awfully enticing (especially so in January), Maine’s burgeoning startup ecosystem (a community, really) was what cemented the decision.
Moving to Maine has provided me and our team an ideal home to focus on building our business around wildly creative founders in a community that supports and helps us wholeheartedly.
Firstly, I Love Cities
Moving to the middle of Maine (especially during January) might not be for you.
That’s okay. It’s probably not for a lot of folks.
Prior to living in Waterville, I lived in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. The two of us have particularly strong connections in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles, and I love living in cities.
I’ve made lifelong friends in these places, and I feel at home when I return. Opportunities are endless, as is food, music, new people to meet, new things to try. If you’re building something, you’re never short on classes to take, meetups to attend, folks to learn from, or partnerships to forge.
“I lived in Maine this summer, and I really enjoyed exploring all of the restaurants and shops in Waterville,” explains Kia Jones, Eariously’s Junior UX/UI Designer from Nebraska and finishing her degree at Northwest Missouri State University, “There’s something special about finding fun new spots and supporting local businesses. First and foremost, Waterville is a community.”
As a designer, I loved living in the world’s best cities because it meant constant inspiration from working alongside folks with cosmic talent. For me, it also meant constant distraction. I’m easily fascinated. I have discovered my new routines — particularly as a creator for an early-stage product — in central Maine to be highly focused. If you translated that previous few sentences as “Maine is boring”, it certainly is not. As friends and coworkers visiting from all over the country can attest, there’s plenty to do.
Rural Community Opportunity Is Endless
As you’ve probably read, remote work is pretty popular right now. It certainly isn’t going away.
However, of former acquaintances, coworkers, or classmates trading in an office job for remote work, they tend to remain in their metropolis of choice or travel the world. (We did both.)
The remote ecosystem will undeniably continue to thrive, but I do believe that a viable — and seldom mentioned — alternative does exist for software teams (and especially early-stage companies).
Rural communities offer model opportunities for software teams — particularly early-stage products — to focus intently on developing excellent products, immersing themselves in the problem they’re solving for, amongst other creators who care deeply about solving for needs in communities that actively champion a job well done.
We work in one of Maine’s first rural coworking spaces, Bricks Coworking and Innovation Space in Waterville. Daily, we’re surrounded by 20 analysts, designers, developers, journalists, and student entrepreneurs. We’re a full hour and a half drive north of Portland, Maine’s largest city (population: 69,000). What others might see as a geographic challenge, we see as an opportunity.
Are People from Rural Communities Better? No, But Maybe They’re More Supportive.
In central Maine, we’ve discovered a kind, humble, genuine, and tenacious community of founders, owners, and makers, driven by outcomes. As a bootstrapped startup, our resources are scarce. Up here, when leaders of our community say something’s going to happen, it does. When someone asks us if we need help with something, it’s unfeigned. We’ve discovered a sincerely straightforward approach in Maine. And like a dip in mid-Maine’s rocky coast, it’s quite refreshing.
We believe that the best solutions happen when makers are experts about the problems they’re solving. Living and working in Waterville has provided our team the opportunity to become experts about the problem we’re solving by testing our product constantly with hundreds of students. Students at Colby College and Thomas College (as well as other schools throughout the state and country) have provided invaluable feedback to guide product improvement. In our coworking space, we share the space with members of the community solving central Maine’s problems. They’re the perfect people to offer solutions because they’ve developed a mastery of what they’re solving for.
“I always thought being an entrepreneur was a solo journey until I came to Maine. The wisdom and support from mentors I’ve encountered in Maine has given me the tools to start a startup and feel confident while creating it,” Dylan Veilleux, a senior student at Thomas College in Waterville making reusable hemp bricks, “If I ever have a question or need help, my community in Waterville is there to guide me through the process of critically thinking. For any young entrepreneur, especially a first-time founder like myself, Maine has the network and tools to really help you get started.”
When we design, after understanding problems (and which ones matter), we fixate on outcomes. If you know where you want to end up, it’s a lot easier to figure out where to start. Our community in central Maine knows where it wants to end up. Portland, Maine has provided pieces of a blueprint. In order to blossom (and become perennial), Waterville must grow. By deciding to steadfastly champion what’s working (and who’s making it happen), Waterville (and Maine, in general) knows exactly where to start.
Affordable Locations Are Ideal for Bootstrappers
As compared to the cities we’ve previously lived, living and working in rural Maine provides an inexpensive home to bootstrap.
Rent is inexpensive.
Food is affordable.
Expenses are low.
Keeping our costs at a minimum by operating from Maine has meant that less time can be dedicated to designing and developing freelance projects. Instead, our focus is on learning the needs of our listeners and designing for their outcomes.
Who and what are some specific reasons you should move your business to Maine?
- Authentic Founders: You’re not going to read about triple-digit funding rounds happening in Maine, which is fine by us. When we’ve had questions about resources (or really anything else), the founder community here has offered the kind of support only a friend would. (And we’re lucky and humbled to now be friends with so many folks in Maine’s close-knit startup collective.)
- The Central Maine Growth Council: In conjunction with the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, the organization’s mission is to provide any and all resources to organizations in central Maine. Whether it’s providing PR, marketing, or networking for your business, the Growth Council leaders work tirelessly (for free) to meet the needs of founders and owners.
- Maine’s Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD): Relentlessly at the service of Mainers, the DECD’s Office of Business Development works with statewide and local partners, private industry and small businesses to enhance and sustain economic prosperity in Maine.
- Libra Future Fund: Are you a Maine-based founder who’s 29 years old or younger? Then you should apply for a Libra Future Fund grant. The grants are generally less than $5,000, but the total amounts are up to the discretion of the Board (meaning that they can be higher). If you’re applying for an MTI grant, you can submit an application copy to the Board of the Future Fund.
- Maine Technology Institute (MTI): Last year, MTI invested more than $57M in 175 distinct projects. Regardless of the stage of your business, MTI offers grants, loans, equity investments, and services to support Maine’s innovation economy. They’re an incredible group of humans to work with and are champions of Maine-based companies (of all shapes and sizes).
- Really Good Colleges: In Waterville, we’re walking distance from Colby College and Thomas College. We’re a car ride away from Bates College, Bowdoin College, and the University of Maine. Maine-based colleges have served as laboratories for us. For the past year, we’ve worked closely with hundreds of students around Maine to test and learn.
- Rural Coworking: Unlike #remote, rural coworking might not be a worldwide (or Twitter) phenomenon quite yet. (And it might not ever be.) But, we’ve loved working in a beautiful location, surrounded by mission-driven leaders.
- SCORE Portland: SCORE is the country’s biggest network of expert volunteer business experts. Last year, SCORE Portland was named the chapter of the year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. We were assigned a mentor who helps us with our business’ biggest weaknesses. For us, that’s financial modeling. It’s something we’re not particularly skilled at (and certainly not something we enjoy), but our SCORE mentorship is invaluable. Perhaps the best part, for a bootstrapped startup like us? It’s free.
- Startup Maine: Led by the inimitable Katie Shorey, Startup Maine is a three-day conference held annually in Portland. We’ve been to a lot of conferences sponsored by giant companies. The experience is largely transactional — buy an expensive ticket, listen to pitches disguised as presentations, and slither past hawkish vendors at every corner. Startup Maine is focused on learning and connection. But that’s what everyone says, no? Sure, but while leaving other conferences always have left me drained, I drove back each day from Portland feeling energized.
Originally published at https://www.eariously.com on July 23, 2019.