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June 4, 2020

Maine outdoor rec startups collaborate to get more consumers outside

PHOTO / MAUREEN MILLIKEN Dylan Veilleux, far right, is seen here last September at Summer Startup, a Waterville mentoring program for young entrepreneurs. Veilleux, founder of TreeFreeHeat, has signed his first distribution deal with Back40.

Bioenergy startup TreeFreeHeat has signed its first distribution deal with Back40, a fellow Maine startup that operates an e-commerce site for outdoor gear rentals. 

The new partnership gives consumers easy access to TreeFreeHeat’s initial product offering, hemp stalk-based fire starters for campfires and cooking grills.

Two on a match

Based in Portland, Back40 is a subscription on-demand outdoor gear rental company. It was founded by Henry Gilbert in 2017 to increase access to the great outdoors by offering convenient, affordable gear rental options and connecting travelers with outdoor experiences hosted by local guides, according to its Facebook page.

TreeFreeHeat takes unused hemp stalks left over from hemp production and processes them into biobricks for renewable heating. It was founded in 2019 by Dylan Veilleux, a senior at Thomas College and entrepreneur in residence at Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space in downtown Waterville. 

The deal marks a milestone for both startups. Both were contestants in the Greenlight Maine pitch competition: Back40 in the flagship competition and TreeFreeHeat in the Collegiate Challenge. The two startups formalized their connection at Waterville’s Central Maine Tech Night. 

For TreeFreeHeat, Back40 provides promotion and distribution to its target market, including campers, campgrounds and employer wellness programs. For Back40, the bioenergy fire starters made of renewable hemp stalk waste reflect the brand’s commitment to environmental sustainability and innovation while fulfilling consumer demand.

Courtesy / Central Maine Growth Council
Bioenergy startup TreeFreeHeat makes biobricks from hemp stalks left over from hemp production.

“Partnerships have been essential to TreeFreeHeat’s growth, and Henry’s commitment to making adventuring easy makes Back40 an ideal partner,” Veilleux said in the release.

“As soon as I learned about what he was building, I knew he'd be a perfect match. And now that I have improved my manufacturing processes, I’ve been able to build more partnerships throughout Maine because I can now keep up with the demand people have for making better fires easier.”

Veilleux is now scaling the startup through distribution deals and participation in Waterville’s TopGun mentorship program.

“TreeFreeHeat’s growth is a testament to Dylan Veilleux’s tenacity and strategic use of the entrepreneurship resources in the Waterville area,” Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development at Central Maine Growth Council, said in the release. “His partnership with Back40 is a powerful combination that enhances Maine’s outdoor recreation brand.”

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