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April 22, 2021

Skowhegan offers another round of mini-grants for small businesses

a line of beer taps that say bigelow on them with bright logos on the pulls denoting different beers Courtesy / Bigelow Brewing Co. Bigelow Brewing Co., in Skowhegan, was a recipient of a Main Street Skowhegan technical assistance mini-grant that helped the craft brewery redesign its website.

Main Street Skowhegan is offering a second round of mini-grants for small businesses and entrepreneurs, a program that expanded last year because of the pandemic but is now going back to its roots.

The grants, available between $500 and $2,000, are for business owners looking to further develop a business as well as for entrepreneurs looking to start one. The deadline to apply is May 15.

"By supporting local businesses and backing startups, we can help strengthen Skowhegan's economy, which will ultimately make our community more resilient," said Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan. 

Last year, the total available through the organization's Business Enhancement Committee was initially $5,000. The program was launched in mid-February 2020, and quickly morphed into a larger COVID-19 relief fund that eventually awarded 23 grants worth about $20,000, with support from additional donors.

This year, the initiative is back to its original tech assistance form, with a total of $6,000 available. While that may not seem like a lot, Cannon said it makes a difference in the town of 8,200, and is more necessary than ever.

When the program launched last year and the town's startup culture expanded, Cannon said, it was clear that many businesses needed tech help to get over the starting line.

“Based on what we have learned through past entrepreneurial competitions and in conversations with our business owners, there’s a need for grant support that will provide that extra boost," she said.

This year that basic need is still there. "It's exciting to be able to help businesses as they recover from negative impacts of the pandemic," Cannon added.

She said the program's organizers are thrilled that several core donors committed to another year of grant funding. "Thanks to their generosity, we can offer our local businesses funding to help them expand or assist an entrepreneur with launching their business idea." 

Funding partners are Skowhegan Savings Bank, Franklin Savings Bank, New Dimensions Federal Credit Union, Franklin-Somerset Federal Credit Union, Bangor Savings Bank and Warren Shay. The lenders are also members of the Business Enhancement Committee.

Websites, machinery, legal support

The money can't be used for hiring employees or payroll, but can be used for a wide variety of assistance, including things like:

  • Hiring a contractor, consultant or advisor to help with business planning or a related function
  • Marketing/logo/brand development
  • Website creation
  • Attending a course or mentoring opportunity
  • Hiring an architect, engineer, or other specialist
  • Buying a needed piece of machinery
  • Getting legal support

Two grant recipients from last year's technical assistance round were Bigelow Brewing Co. and Crooked Face Creamery.

Bigelow Brewing used the money to redesign its outdated website and the creamery used the money to enhance freezer space. Owners of both said the changes were necessary, given the challenges of the pandemic.

"This project is especially important now, more than ever, as we navigate our way through the new normal," Jeff Powers, Bigelow's owner, said. "As businesses are shuttered to customer traffic, relying on a virtual presence that will propel commerce is vital, especially for rural Maine communities."

Crooked Face owner Amy Rowbottom said that the enhanced freezer space allowed her to store and sell larger quantities of locally produced meat. "As the local grocery stores were running out of many products, including meat, it was essential that I increased my inventory and storage space to meet the demand," she said. "Without the new freezer, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up."

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