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Updated: July 20, 2020

A popular Bangor entrepreneurs event goes virtual this week

Courtesy / Blitz

A virtual conference for entrepreneurs is designed to provide critical information and business connections in the face of the pandemic.

The free conference, called “Blitz,” is scheduled for Thursday from 12:45 to 4:45 p.m.

The event is a special version of the annual Blitz entrepreneurship conference, which is now in its third year and was previously held in the fall, one of the organizers, Ashleigh Briggs, told Mainebiz.

Briggs is head of customer success at an Orono start-up, CourseStorm, and has worked with two technology startups while also supporting entrepreneurs as chair of a Bangor entrepreneur meet-up group, Solve for B, and as a Maine Small Business Development certified business advisor.

The virtual conference is an extra session in direct response to the pandemic. 

“It’s geared toward helping business owners across Maine learn from and connect with other business owners who are going through the same struggles but that have had some successes with those struggles,” Briggs said. “People can learn from others what’s working and what’s not working.”

Made possible by a $9,000 Machias Savings Bank' Rapid Response Grant, the event will allow Maine entrepreneurs to network and get a quick infusion of practical steps, out-of-the-box ideas and overall support that can help them navigate the challenging and quickly changing times, Briggs said.

Among the topics that will be addressed at the conference:

• Digital literacy: Understanding the technology for today

• Communication: The key to winning customer service

• Building resilient teams

• Identifying opportunities and setting the road map for 2020

The entrepreneur ecosystem in greater Bangor is growing all the time, noted Jason Harkins, a co-founder of Blitz.

Harkins is an associate professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Maine, a downtown Bangor business owner and co-managing director of Scratchpad Accelerator, which provides support to promising scalable companies.

The ecosystem includes the University of Maine, which turns out innovation and startups from its Maine Innovation, Research, and Technology Accelerator, scientific research on Mount Desert Island, and spinoff companies, he said.

In addition, he continued, there are programs that are part of the UpStart Maine coalition, including Scratchpad Accelerator, Top Gun, Big Gig and Blitz; and engagement from the University of Maine and corporate partners such as Bangor Savings Bank, Eaton Peabody, First National Bank, City of Bangor and Rudman Winchell.

Run by the University of Maine, UpStart Center for Entrepreneurship is a business incubator program in Orono.

“All of this effort has galvanized around the idea of building the Bangor region of the future on the backs of innovation driven enterprises,” said Harkins. “These innovation-driven enterprises are key drivers of economic prosperity, bringing in dollars from outside the region into the Bangor area."

Blitz also collaborates with business resources providers such as MaineStream Finance, New Ventures Maine, and the Small Business Development Center to support small business success.  

For the last two years, Blitz has provided a place for entrepreneurs, professional service providers and those that are “entrepre-curious” to learn, connect and grow. Harkins said. 

“In these last two years, more than 200 people have participated and built connections to others who are trying to do the hard work of starting and running a business,” he said.

The pandemic, he continues, has created unique challenges for entrepreneurs of all types. “Many of those were the immediate challenges of surviving the state’s lock-down, dealing with huge changes to customer’s comfort in interacting in person, the concerns about their own health and the health of their family,” he said. “A large variety of resources spun up quickly to help entrepreneurs think through how to deal with the immediate crisis.”

The Blitz virtual conference and September conference will focus on ongoing challenges, he said.  

“The challenges facing entrepreneurs as they come out of the first wave of the crisis and can reopen are things like developing a road map to the future where consumers preferences have radically shifted, building resilient teams and identifying new opportunities, curating financial health —personally and for the business, and building systems to increase efficiency and support growth,” he said.

Does greater Bangor have particular advantages or challenges for entrepreneurs?  

“The biggest challenge entrepreneurs face in the Bangor region is that of density,” said Harkins. “We don’t have as many innovation-driven enterprises or small businesses as we would like to, which makes finding a peer or new employees with startup experience challenging in comparison to larger cities with more density.”

But the Bangor region has many things going for it, he continued. They include accelerators and incubators; UpStart Maine, which supports the larger task of building out the entrepreneurial ecosystem; schools such as UMaine, the state’s only research university; professional services firms with expertise in entrepreneurship; financial institutions, skilled people and more.  

“Bangor has many of the infrastructure pieces needed to support entrepreneurship in place and groups of dedicated professionals committed to shifting the culture of entrepreneurship in the region,” Harkins said.

To learn more about this week’s Blitz conference and to register, click here.

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