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Updated: August 9, 2021 Women to Watch

Women to Watch: Heather Blease knows how to make a comeback

Photo / Tim Greenway Heather Blease is owner and CEO of the customer support company SaviLinx, Maine’s largest woman-owned business.

Heather Blease, owner and CEO of the customer support company SaviLinx, Maine’s largest woman-owned business (by number of employees), has learned from her share of accomplishments and setbacks building four businesses from the ground-up, one of which, EnvisioNet, filed for Chapter 11, leading to her own personal bankruptcy.

So, when the pandemic hit, she was ready to turn a challenging time into an opportunity for growth. SaviLinx quickly adjusted to working remotely while taking on vital work as emergency call centers for newly instituted government programs in a matter of weeks, bringing its number of employees to over 1,000 in four locations across the country, with annual sales of $17.9 million. We sat down with the business owner and mother of four to learn more.

Mainebiz: How did you go from electrical engineering student to entrepreneur? Were you always interested in starting your own business?

Heather Blease: My first electrical engineering job was with Digital Equipment Corp. Starting a business was not on my to-do list whatsoever until DEC announced the impending sale of the Augusta manufacturing plant.

The idea of creating a company to provide tech support services evolved partly out of the fear of losing my job. The timing of starting a new company was challenging in some respects relative to work-life balance (my sons were 1, 2 and 5 years old), but serendipitous in other ways as the company was able to capitalize on providing tech support to internet service providers serving the explosive consumer internet market and contributing to EnvisioNet’s rapid growth.

MB: What gave you the motivation to start another company from the ground up after EnvisioNet? And how did you fill the years between EnvisioNet and Savilinx?

HB: SaviLinx is my fourth company. In each case, the idea of launching a new venture caused dread, fear and a rush of adrenaline. Once a new business concept entered my head, I couldn’t let it go. It is like standing in line for a roller coaster ride with anticipation, knowing that once you’re locked in the seat, there is no getting off and you’re in for a wild ride.

With each company, I have been all-in financially and emotionally. They say the most impactful lessons come from adversity, and I’ve had my share. The Chapter 11 bankruptcy and subsequent sale of EnvisioNet resulted in my personal Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Before I started SaviLinx, I collected unemployment, was not eligible for a $100 credit card and divorced with four children under my roof. Yet, I could not rid myself of the new business concept obsession.

To rise from the ashes and start again in my hometown was a curse and a blessing. Some people would have nothing to do with me because of my history. Some people believed in me and offered support. Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Development Authority, was one of those mentors that showed up at the right time. He listened to my talk about the new business, how I believed it could work except that I had no money and no credit. He suggested I apply for loans through Maine Rural Development Authority, Midcoast Council of Governments and MRRA. These economic development loans and Steve’s encouragement fueled the start-up of SaviLinx.

Mainebiz: What was it like growing up in Brunswick, then later returning and starting a business there?

HB: Brunswick was and is a great place to grow up, with the influence of Bowdoin College, the Navy base, BIW and L.L.Bean. Having lived away after college, upon my return, I felt a deeper appreciation for my hometown. Now more than ever, I understand the importance of the familiarity and connectedness of our community toward our well-being. At SaviLinx, we’ve incorporated the community concept in our growth strategy. As we establish new locations in the U.S., our intent is to foster community-mindedness within our company as we become woven into the fabric of the communities we serve.

MB: You’ve mentioned previously that helping people is at the core of your company’s values. How has that influenced the business decisions you make?

HB: Starting and running a business just for the sake of monetary gains doesn’t float my boat. The “why our organization exists” needs to strike an emotional chord and instill passion. Helping people gives us that purpose as we strive and thrive, knowing that our work is significant in a broader context.

We target new locations and recruiting efforts in areas affected by economic adversity and offer good-paying jobs with benefits such as our facilities in Caribou, Lawrence, Mass., and Hattiesburg, Miss.

Our contracts focus on helping people with unemployment benefits, paid family medical leave, COVID support, student financial aid, life-saving technologies, medical insurance benefits and veterinary products, to name a few.

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