BRUNSWICK, Maine — Stephen Schwarzman knows what it’s like to be an entrepreneur, to try to scrape together a company.
He recalled starting Blackstone, an investment firm, with his partner, each of them putting in $200,000. As they put the money into the company, they watched it flow out like sand through an hourglass, he told a group of about 100 entrepreneurs Friday in a hangar at Brunswick Landing, the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.
“It’s very depressing and scary — because you can fail,” Schwarzman said.
But at $157,000, the company stopped leaking money. It grew into one of the world’s top investment houses and today owns 68 companies with a combined revenue of $130 billion and a work force of 550,000.
“In America, certainly the America I grew up in and I believe in, you can start with almost nothing,” said Schwarzman. “You have to dream. You have to work hard. You have to mobilize your resources.
“That’s the kind of spirit we want to bring to Maine.”
Schwarzman was in Maine to officially announce a new $3 million program being launched here by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. Aimed at strengthening programs that help entrepreneurs and expanding their reach across the state, the program is called Blackstone Accelerates Growth.
It will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute and will benefit the Innovation Engineering project at the University of Maine and the Top Gun program at the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development.
The foundation says the targeted investment can create, over 10 years, more than 10,000 jobs in Maine, adding $664 million in new revenues to the economy. Schwarzman said that given economic multiplier effects, those new jobs could help support another 30,000 or so in Maine.
The new Maine initiative is part of the foundation’s $50 million, 10-year effort to grow entrepreneurship nationwide. Blackstone has made similar investments in Michigan and North Carolina, but this is the first effort made in a rural state such as Maine.
He said Friday that the demise of Lehman Bros., where he started his career, shook him. He saw in that collapse the massive unemployment that would result and he suggested there would have been a complete financial shutdown had government not intervened. When a person loses their job, they lose more than just their paycheck, he said. They lose their dignity, can lose their house, their spouse and more.
By aiming the foundation at preserving and creating jobs, Blackstone can have a great impact on people and the country, Schwarzman said.
“We want the United States to do better,” he said. “The world’s changed. We’ve fallen behind, for a variety of reasons. We’ve got to recommit, make it happen.”
U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree spoke to the group, as did Brunswick resident and Small Business Administration head Karen Mills and University of Maine President Paul Ferguson and Deb Neuman from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, thanking Blackstone and talking about the opportunity the foundation has provided for Maine. Former Maine Gov. Angus King was in attendance, and Cianbro Corp. Chairman Peter Vigue introduced the delegation, first talking about Maine’s long history of entrepreneurship.
Hugh Chisholm founded International Paper in Maine in 1888. Milton Bradley, the games inventor, was from Maine. Percy Spencer, inventor of the microwave, was a Mainer. A man from Pittsfield invented the turn signal used in vehicles and Leon Leonwood Bean started the first mail-order company.
“Today, Maine and other states are going through a major economic transformation. Many of the major drivers of our economy have shrunk, disappeared or relocated,” Vigue said. “More than ever before, Maine needs entrepreneurs and innovators.”
Both Collins and Snowe joked that Schwarzman’s time spent in Maine as a youth at Camp Caribou in Winslow obviously instilled a good sense of judgment that led to the investment here decades later.
The initiative, said Snowe, will produce “crucial economic opportunities for our hardworking Maine families.” Rural areas have been hit particularly hard by the downturn, said Snowe.
“[Blackstone’s investment] will throw down the gauntlet that we as a state and as a nation are not going to leave these areas behind,” she said.
Collins spoke about how the challenge in Maine always has been growing small start-ups into larger enterprises. This new initiative should help companies make that leap, she said.