BANGOR, Maine — The Maine Center for Enterprise Development is looking for the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or even William H. Dobelle.
If the last name — unlike those of the creators of Microsoft or Apple computers — is unfamiliar to you, that’s understandable. There are a few people with the MCED who probably don’t recognize the name of the man who invented the first functioning artificial eye either.
What they do recognize is talent and entrepreneurial spirit, and they’re expanding their search for it by expanding a successful, 2-year-old support and mentoring program north from Portland to Bangor to recruit some top guns.
Don Gooding, MCED’s executive director, joined five other panelists — including Top Gun Applied Entrepreneurship Program mentors, past program entrepreneurs and other MCED officers — at Wellman Commons on Union Street in Bangor on Thursday to promote the annual, intensive mentoring and education program and encourage young and old business visionaries to apply for this year’s seven-month session.
“Our goal is to find a class of eight to 10 of this area’s top entrepreneurial candidates,” said Gooding. “We’re not looking for people starting up pizza joints, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love pizza joints, but our targets are businesses hoping to be big someday that are innovative or revolutionary. “
There’s a good chance at least one of the 60 people attending Thursday’s noon discussion fits that bill.
Former high school and college basketball coach Tobin Slaven attended to see how the program might benefit the Mobile Marketing of Maine business he has run with wife Martina for a year.
“I didn’t know what top gun meant, but it might be a real good fit,” Slaven said. “We have a small local business, but I have a lot of ambition and the ambition I have is not bounded by Maine.
“I have an idea I believe can go national at some point, but I don’t have the skill set yet to make that happen. That’s what intrigues me about this.”
Slaven wasn’t the only one intrigued as panelists outlined their experiences and what the program entails.
The panelists included Top Gun advisers Gooding, a former telecommunications market analyst and venture capitalist; John Burns, a Small Enterprise Growth Fund manager; and Jeff Spaulding, an associate attorney with Eaton Peabody. The panel also included program entrepreneur participants Peter Millett, founder of two technology businesses and an engineering consulting company over the last decade; Stephen Jordan, CEO of Benevoltek Inc.; and Susan MacKay, CEO of Zeomatrix (composite materials) of Orono.
Top Gun is a customized, 15-week development program that identifies and matches participants with mentors who guide them face-to-face through two-hour evening sessions.
The program incorporates open communication outside of sessions with mentors and other professionals or entrepreneurs, as well as personal advising outside of sessions.
“I cannot say enough about the network of people you get to meet in the network and the network never ends,” said Jordan.
Top Gun also was started to reverse the ongoing out-migration trend of Maine’s entrepreneurs who go out of state to start up successful businesses.
“It’s a huge problem when Maine entrepreneurs go where the business is and that means leaving the state,” said Spaulding. “We want the founders of the next Google, and we need to keep them here.”
Potential entrepreneur participants must apply online at www.mcedtopgun.biz by June 30 and be reviewed by a Top Gun advisory board. The cost is $500 per business or individual.
“It’s not free, but there are ways to manage it so it’s not as expensive as it could be, and this is an intensive program offering a lot for the cost,” Gooding said.
Slaven called it a potential bargain.
“We did a paid mastermind program on the marketing side and it was valuable, but it was also more expensive than my master’s degree, so to tap into something like this is great,” said Slaven.