USM Student Business Plan Alumna: The Entrepreneur’s Tale

Becky Stockbridge McKinnell, award-winning entrepreneur, has no trouble tracing her bright brief recent history to its starting point: "When I think of where I am today, it all starts with the university."

Becky was a finalist in the USM Student Business Plan competition in 2006. She didn't win, but her participation was part of a process that transformed a student into a businesswoman whose marketing company has been in the black since it was eight months old.

The student who thought drawing up a business plan would be fun now does a quarterly refocusing of the business plan, a summary that guides an eight-person graphic and web design company, now freshly settled into new and larger quarters in Portland's Old Port.

The original class assignment to write a business plan got it going. That homework developed into an entry in the Student Business Plan competition which resulted in a year-plus at the Maine Center for Enterprise Development incubator on the USM campus, then success and a move into the company's own quarters.

USM Is the Place

"USM is the place to do this," Becky McKinnell says. "It has the resources to get started, and then it has the connection to the (Maine) Business Development Center. It's a great time to write a business plan, when you're in school. You're in that world, doing homework . . . The resources are there."

That doesn't mean it was all a piece of cake. "That first one was hard – I was an Art and Entrepreneurial Studies student," not yet that much into the hard numbers. By graduation Becky had taken six or eight business courses. She had originally been drawn to USM by the attraction of its combined art-entrepreneurship degree program, and the business plan challenge injected realism into fulfilling her expectations..

The new graduate's first business, MediCreative, specialized in web marketing to physicians and dentists – or attempted to. "I didn't realize how hard it was going to be – just to get in touch with them." Her cold calling turned up maybe one sale in 200 calls. "Doctors are reluctant to market," she acknowledges.

While Becky still thinks the medical field is an important potential niche for web marketing, she founded iBec Creative to facilitate marketing to a broader market. That's when things started to take off. Her major marketing vehicle turned out to be personal referrals, and her supporters got more positive response when the implication of the medical specialty was no longer reflected in the name.

Along the way, honors have come her way – most notable, perhaps, her designation as one of Businessweek's Top 25 Entrepreneurs 25 and Under, and as 2010 SBA Young Maine Entrepreneur of the Year.

Do the Hard Stuff

Now, four years into this successful career, she advises budding entrepreneurs: "You have to do the hard stuff. Writing a business plan requires a lot of discipline. It's how you find out if you're going to be able to handle a business."

The immediate result of the courses and the Business Plan competition was that "when I graduated from college, I had a road map. I knew what I needed to get for the business, how many web sites I would have to be putting up. . . ."

There was another big take-away for her: That discipline.

"When I finished classes, I went to work 9 to 5 every day. There was no business, but I was doing research and marketing. I made a portfolio." She also devoted herself to that demanding chore of sales cold-calling.

She was cautious as things started to build. In her second year, a student asked her for an internship. The student would work for a month at no salary in order to earn class credit. While she wondered whether she had enough work for him, she agreed. "But I kept him busy the whole time," she says. When the student finished the internship, she hired a fulltimer.

The steady growth, increasing success and growing national recognition stands on a solid foundation.

"When I look back to when I first started the business, I was so new at everything," says Becky McKinnell. "The USM Business Plan Competition gave me the experience of writing a business plan that I was proud of, present to business leaders in the community, and give my company the initial credibility. If I were to do it again, I would!"

Now a proven veteran, she knows for sure that this career she launched five years ago is the right one: "I didn't realize how much I would enjoy being an entrepreneur until I got into it."

- University of Southern Maine


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