In proclaiming the week of June 14, 2013, National Small Business week, President Obama said, “In America, we believe that anyone willing to work hard and take risks can get their good idea off the ground and into the marketplace. This week, we celebrate America’s entrepreneurial spirit, and we recommit to helping our small businesses get ahead.”
Though not always perceived as “business friendly” by some, Maine’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, according to Marilyn Geroux, district director in Maine for the Small Business Administration. Geroux took over the Maine SBA office in March 2013.
“Maine businesses have a unique advantage,” she says. “The country likes Maine-made products; the world likes U.S. products.”
Nancy O’Brien, owner of FIORE Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegars, with locations in Rockland and Bar Harbor, was recognized in 2013 as the Women-Owned Small Business of the Year in Maine.
“Getting this award was really phenomenal and means so much to me,” says O’Brien, who had turned to the SBA for help when she started her business four years ago. “I feel part of a special group”.
Though she started in the midst of a severe economic downturn and had never run a business of her own, O’Brien was driven by the opportunity to create a way to live and work in Maine, a place she had come to cherish.
She attributes her ability to achieve strong and steady growth to honing sound business practices, effective marketing, and a solid workforce. FIORE’s has 19 employees in two stores, plus tasting rooms.
The SBA appreciates, through its annual award ceremony, the hard work and risk taking involved in creating a successful venture.
“The challenges and opportunities of being your own boss are also part of Marilyn’s DNA”, says Mary McAleney, former SBA District Director. “She will always go the extra mile to help an entrepreneur, as she has with her husband, a lifelong seafood harvester.”
Though new to her SBA position, Geroux has an extensive depth of knowledge about the agency and the businesses it serves. In her 44 years with the Maine SBA, she has held positions as diverse as clerk in the legal division, IT specialist, business development specialist and deputy director.
Geroux says she is out of the office more than at her desk getting to meet entrepreneurs from all industry sectors and corners of the State.
“As director, I am focusing on getting the word out. We’re one of the best kept secrets in Maine and we’re much more than a loan guarantor,” she says.
Geroux sees the SBA as a doorway to a host of services from resource partners like the Small Business Development Centers, SCORE, the Women’s Business Centers at CEI, and other agencies like the Maine International Trade Center, Maine Technology Institute, Women, Work, and Community, among others.
As she travels around the state, the SBA District Director will often meet with groups of women business owners where she observes the benefits of business to business networking.
“Women are good at using their relationships to help start and grow their business. I’ve seen their ideas expand as they listen to each other.”
Though she is troubled by the 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, which ranked Maine 47th when considering the economic clout of women-owned firms.
Yet, just looking at businesses with more than 50 percent women-ownership, the Maine SBA’s own records show there have been nearly three times more loans made to women-owned enterprises in 2013 than in all of 2012; and loans to women-owned businesses made up 18 percent of all loans made so far this year, compared to only 8 percent of the total last year. Geroux sees these figures as an indication that Maine’s economy is starting to come back.
“These entrepreneurs are smart, strong and determined. Women owners are stepping up,” she says.
And they can count on the Maine SBA and its partners to be there to back them up.
Eloise Vitelli is the Program Director for Women, Work, and Community, a statewide organization that has provided training and assistance to start-up entrepreneurs since 1984.
For more information on the status of women-owned businesses, see http://www.nwbc.gov/research/nwbcs-2011-annual-report