Young entrepreneurs urge others to go for it

PORTLAND — William Sulinski says part of the success of his company, AccelGolf, was the willingness to start transforming an idea into a real product.
For AccelGolf, that product was a real-time scorecard, range finder and game analyzer that works on smartphones such as the iPhone and BlackBerry.

Now just a few years old, the company is growing. AccelGolf users are increasing and the company has secured new investment funding for future projects, said Sulinski, 26.

Sulinski will be among six entrepreneurs under age 30 taking part in CreateMaine on Tuesday at the University of Southern Maine.
Organizers hope the examples of young business owners will help motivate high school and college students to create businesses in Maine.

The discussion is part of a larger series of workshops and gatherings around the state for Entrepreneur Week, a national effort to support new businesses.

Sandra Stone, project coordinator with the Maine Center for Enterprise Development, said the local Entrepreneur Week events are meant to bring together independent business owners to share stories and ideas.

"Maine has traditionally done a good job building small businesses," she said.

But expanding those businesses beyond two to three people can prove difficult, she said.

Sulinski's company began as the winner of a business plan competition at USM in 2008.

This year, the company raised $550,000 in funding from angel investors and the Maine Technology Institute.

While Maine may not have a large technology sector, it's growing, Sulinski said.

"In the current tech world, all it really takes is a couple of smart guys building technology to make a successful company," Sulinski said.

"You can do it. The resources are there."

For Maine's economy to grow, the state needs young entrepreneurs, said Kerem Durdag, organizer of CreateMaine.

"Maine is a very old state; we need the next generation to take over," he said.

Durdag, a partner in BlueWave Investments, said that as jobs in traditional industries disappear, it will be crucial for new industries to take their place.

Durdag said young people need to recognize there is a network, including colleges, business incubators, mentors and investors, that can help them start new businesses.

"It's simple: We want to inspire kids to start their own companies in Maine," he said. "We want to tell them and show them there are people who have done it."

Becky Stockbridge McKinnell, founder and president of iBec Creative, credits the growth of her Web design company to the fact that she stayed in Maine.

"I feel if I went back to Massachusetts after graduating, I wouldn't have had the same opportunities I've had in Maine," said McKinnell, who will also speak at CreateMaine.

McKinnell, 26, took part in a business plan competition as a student at USM and later the business incubator program at the Center for Enterprise Development.

With help from other professionals and networking with other businesses, she has grown her company from one person to five. Last fall, she was named one of the top 25 entrepreneurs in the nation age 25 and under.

But even with help, there is plenty that young business owners have to learn on their own, she said.

"When you're the only owner, you also have to be the No. 1 sales person," she said.

McKinnell said it takes time and commitment to build up a reputation with clients, but when you start your own company, motivation shouldn't be a problem.

"There's a lot on the line," she said. "Your paycheck depends on how hard you work."

Staff Writer: Justin Ellis


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