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Updated: October 28, 2020

Startup Maine series debuts with 'bold ideas' to support entrepreneurs

screen shot Startup Maine Screenshot / Startup Maine Startup Maine's new "Entrepreneurs & Ecosystem Builders Speakers Series" debuted this week with Startup Maine President Katie Shorey interviewing Nick Rimsa, a Waterville-based product designer and design instructor at Tortoise Labs and a product design instructor with the Propeller program at CEI Women's Business Center.

If Maine wants to attract more entrepreneurs, particularly from diverse backgrounds, then it should provide greater financial resources to get them into the startup ecosystem.

That was one of the recommendations from Nick Rimsa, a Waterville-based expert who works with aspiring entrepreneurs in two local programs, in a virtual webinar Tuesday morning.

While praising Maine's "stellar" support system for startups, Rimsa called for greater financial incentives for getting entrepreneurs into the system in the first place. He noted that it's a lot harder to start a business while working part-time and paying off student loans.

"If there's a single problem," he said, "It's getting more people into this realm of making stuff."

The half-hour session, hosted by Startup Maine President Katie Shorey, kicked of a new virtual speaker series by the volunteer-run nonprofit organization.

"The goal is to feature people from around the state who you may not have heard of before, but are doing exceptional work," Shorey told Mainebiz afterward.

Close to 100 people registered for the debut talk. Shorey described it as featuring real observations and feedback from someone who is constantly creating programs and iterating, along with "bold ideas" about paying entrepreneurs and getting more underrepresented groups into technology.

"He knows firsthand where the gaps are and what entrepreneurs need," said Shorey.

Rimsa was a 2019 Mainebiz Next List honoree and Shorey is was cited on this year's Next List for her contributions to Maine's economy. 

Projects 'all over the place'

Rimsa started his talk with an explanation of his work as a product designer and design instructor at Tortoise Labs to help makers of early-stage products better understand their customers and as a product design instructor with the Propeller program at CEI Women's Business Center.

Entrepreneur Rimsa has worked with include Heather Kerner of frozen pizza-dough maker the Good Crust; Michael DiGirolamo of virtual chair-yoga class provider Wela; Reilly Kons of SubLocal, which helps consumers save at local businesses on things they buy regularly while giving businesses predictable income; and Tracy O'Clair at My ContentTeam, developer of a project management tool for marketers.

"These projects are really all over the place," Rimsa told viewers. "They span every type of category, but the thing that really connects them ... are founders that are focused on being profitable from Day One."

Asked to elaborate on his idea for more financial incentives, Rimsa told Mainebiz that he was referring to super-early, pre-partner financing.

"The reason behind mentioning that is because we wanted to plant the seed amongst some of the folks listening that it's far too difficult for too many people to start a business," he said.

He also said he had answered viewers' questions about how they can help support the startups he's working with, whether any of those companies are seeking investment opportunities and how to sign up for free Tortoise Labs classes. (They can do so online.)

"Our team is so appreciative of everything that Katie does, so it was a delight to share our work with Central Maine startup founders together with her," he added. "The progress we've made this year wouldn't have been possible without the Bill & Joan Alfond Foundation, Mike Duguay and his team at Thomas College, and Anna Ackerman and Sarah Guerette from the CEI Women's Business Center. We're very lucky to work with such talented and kind people on a daily basis in Central Maine." 

Sticking with 'big ideas'

Shorey said future sessions would be similar in format to Tuesday's kickoff.

"I want to continue to end the conversations with big ideas," she added, "and asking the guest to think about what's needed to move the dial in the ecosystem as well as bring us closer to a risk-tolerant culture in the Maine startup scene."

The next virtual conversation is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 10, at 8:30 p.m. with Torey Penrod-Cambra, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Portland-based industrial software startup HighByte. Find out more here and register for Session 2 here.

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