ST. GEORGE, Maine — A national foundation has recognized Kyle Murdock, the young man who founded Sea Hag Seafood to process more lobster in Maine, for his entrepreneurship and will provide him with financial and consulting assistance to build his business.
The Hitachi Foundation on Monday named Murdock as one of its Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs, an award which recognizes young business owners who are “operating viable businesses that fill needs in the market while creating social value and tangible opportunities for low-wealth Americans,” according to a news release from the foundation. He is one of eight entrepreneurs from five businesses that received the recognition.
The foundation specifically cited Murdock’s attempts to provide good-paying jobs to “low-wealth individuals and work release participants from a local correctional facility.”
Murdock, who on Monday was in Washington, D.C., attending an entrepreneurship conference hosted by the Hitachi Foundation, said he was excited for the award and the opportunities his involvement with the foundation has opened up to his business.
“We started doing a lot of the social-minded things that we do at Sea Hag Seafood because we thought it was the right thing to do and the way businesses should operate,” Murdock told the Bangor Daily News on Monday. “We never really thought anyone would be interested in that or want to support those kind of behaviors. It was pretty exciting to get recognized for that and see these organizations and individuals that actively support businesses like that.”
Murdock, a Monhegan Island native, was 23 years old in August 2012 when he founded Sea Hag Seafood in the former Great Eastern Mussel Farms facility in Tenants Harbor, a village within the town of St. George. Given the falling price of lobster and the rising cost of transportation, Murdock saw an opportunity to process lobster and other seafood closer to home, rather than watch the seafood be shipped to Canada for processing.
He first heard about the Hitachi Foundation award last fall, when a Monhegan Island visitor who is involved with the foundation recommended he apply. He learned in the spring that he made it to the final round and last month traveled to Washington, D.C., to pitch his business.
The award comes with a $40,000 grant, which Murdock said would be used to reduce his company’s operational debt, as well as business mentoring services through the foundation.
Murdock met on Monday for the first time with a mentor who will work with him this year to address some of the challenges his company faces while still trying to maintain his vision of social stewardship.
“It seems like a good match. I look forward to working with him this year,” said Murdock, who added that one specific challenge he discussed with his mentor was a high turnover rate among employees, which raises costs because it takes time and resources to train workers.
In addition, mentoring services will be available from partner organizations such as B Lab, a nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs solve social and environmental problems, and Investors’ Circle, a network of angel investors who support businesses working on social and environmental issues.
Angel investment isn’t something Murdock ever considered for his business, but he wouldn’t rule it out.
“The award definitely has opened us up to that arena,” Murdock said. “Honestly, before applying for this and meeting with the foundation, I didn’t even know it existed, so I’m excited to explore those opportunities.”
Sea Hag’s employment level fluctuates with the seasonal nature of the lobster industry. Sea Hag currently employs 25 to 30 people right now, but employed 65 during the peak season, Murdock said.
He said this has not been a good year for the lobster industry from the perspective of processors and shippers, he said. Boat prices increased, and the quality of the meat, while still good, did not improve in late summer like normal. The shells usually begin to firm up and the lobsters yield more meat, but that didn’t happen this year, he said.
“We’re hanging on, but everybody is hurting,” he said. “We still have a lot of issues to address in the lobster industry as a whole, but I think next year should be better.”
The company’s goals in the next two years include reaching $25 million in annual revenue, launching an e-commerce website, starting construction on a commercial wharf, and acquiring a nearby property to provide affordable housing for employees, Murdock told the foundation.