ORONO, Maine — Maine entrepreneurs and the agencies that support them shared a lot of love and encouragement early Valentine’s Day morning at the Black Bear Inn.
Members of area business development organizations, including Eastern Maine Development Corp., Bangor Target Area Development Corp. and the University of Maine Innovation Center gathered to hear the stories of two successful local businesses and mingle with entrepreneurs trying to find a foothold for their companies.
Attendees wore stickers that read “We Love Entrepreneurs.”
Two local businessmen told stories about how they overcame difficult situations to make their companies successful in difficult times.
Robert Tracy, executive vice president of R.H. Foster Energy, said his company was facing heavy criticism — even hate — around 2008 when crude oil prices rose to about $100 a barrel and the company started leaving larger invoices in its customers’ doors.
To turn things around “we had to bust the system — break our traditions,” Tracy said.
The company had to adapt, he said, so R.H. Foster began offering energy efficiency assessments for homeowners and providing weatherization services to cut the amount of oil, wood or other fuels used to heat their homes.
For a business that’s been around for more than 50 years, the challenge is to stay relevant and adapt, Tracy said.
Abe and Heather Furth, the husband-and-wife team that owns Verve burrito bar and Woodman’s Bar and Grill in downtown Orono, faced a different problem when starting up Woodman’s, their first business.
The Furths, who met at the University of Maine in Orono, finished courses at the university in 2004. That same year, the couple married, bought a house and started a push to found their restaurant.
They had a lot going against them. They were young, had a limited amount of cash and no collateral, Abe Furth said.
In any economic climate, most bankers would balk at the idea of approving a loan for that sort of venture, he said.
So, the Furths started working with Tom Gallant of the Bangor branch of the Maine Small Business Development Centers, who helped them work out a business plan and lead the couple through the loan process that eventually spawned Woodman’s.
“Getting that first loan and that first business is the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” Abe Furth said. “We wouldn’t be in business if it weren’t for the Eastern Maine Development Corp. and Small Business Development Center.”