Saturday, May 25, 2013
WATERVILLE -- For most of his time as a student at Colby College, Eddie Benjamin was frustrated with conflicts between social, campus and community calendars.
He thought it was a feeling most students could relate to and he decided to do something about it. Benjamin, a philosophy major who was also interested in web programming and entrepreneurship, started his own website, Collegepedia, and entered it in an on-campus business competition.
"I was in the classic entrenpreneurial Catch-22," he said. "I had a great idea. I loved my idea but I needed money. I stuck with it and I relied on my connections to get momentum."
As a college student in central Maine, Benjamin learned how hard it can be to start a business in the area, even if it is one that is web-based.
Today his is the first business to belong to a new entrepreneurial incubator program run by Colby College and an anonymous community sponsor in downtown Waterville.
The incubator is a platform for small business entrepreneurs to collaborate and network. It will provide office space and mentoring with local business leaders and access to faculty from Colby, Thomas College and Kennebec Valley Community College from its location at 44 Main St.
"Our goal is to develop the business ideas of young people and contribute to the continued economic prosperity of our region," said Roger Woolsey, Career Center director and co-director of the Entrepreneurial Alliance at Colby College. "It's something we desperately need in this area."
There will be an application process for the incubator that is still being developed, but it will be open to students from local colleges as well as people in the community.
Mike Duguay, 45, director of development for the city of Augusta, was born and raised in Fairfield and has lived for the last 20 years in Waterville. He says there are a few challenges to starting businesses in the Kennebec Valley area that the incubator will address.
"A lot of people in this area are used to working for large companies such as paper and textile," he said. "As those industries have gone away there is nothing for people here to fall back on. I think it's an area where it was always expected that you'd work for someone else, so it doesn't cross many people's minds that you can start something on your own."
He also said the the Kennebec Valley has traditionally had more success in attracting larger companies, franchises and chains than it has in developing new jobs.
Benjamin said that his advice to those interested in starting their own business is to have a working prototype ready when seeking investors or support for the idea.
"Investors won't invest unless you have something to show them," he said. "It's important to have a working prototype."
With the help of Colby alumni and the resources of the Colby College Entrepreneurial Alliance, an initiative to develop students' business skills, Benjamin designed a new website, collegeTempo. The site, which he plans to launch sometime next month and is now part of the incubator project, combines the calendar events of local businesses with college communities.
He has recruited Waterville businesses including Barrels Community Market, Common Street Arts, Mainely Brews, Selah Tea Cafe and Silver Street Tavern to host calendars.
If the site is successful at Colby he would like to take it to Bates, Bowdoin, Thomas and other area colleges, he said.
Rachel Ohm -- 612-2368