WATERVILLE — There’s been a lot of talk about revitalizing the downtown area and driving economic development in the region. Colby College is investing tens of millions into downtown areas on Main Street. The technology company CGI Group Inc. is working to bring 200 new jobs to the former Hains building on Main Street.

But Thomas College saw an opportunity to put a more local spin on the “Waterville renaissance,” according to the executive director of Thomas College’s Entrepreneurial Institute, Mike Duguay.

“The piece we noticed that was missing was a conversation about entrepreneurship and innovation,” Duguay said.

To fill that missing piece, the college organized a series of speakers to present to the public. Duguay said these speakers are all local entrepreneurs who have been successful and can share their experiences in breaking down business barriers. Duguay said the series of six speakers, whose presentations begin today at 6 p.m., is a networking opportunity as well as a chance to hear stories from successful local business leaders that often go unheard.

“It helps people realize you can start a successful business from very humble beginnings,” he said.

The series begins at 6 p.m. today in Ayotte Auditorium on West River Road with Amber Lambke, president and chief executive officer of Maine Grains, talking about how she built an industry as well as a business. Maine Grains is a Skowhegan-based company that manufactures stone-milled grains in the Somerset Grist Mill.


“Maine Grains is a business which I started with a business partner in 2012, Michael Scholz, to restore the necessary infrastructure for processing locally grown organic grains,” Lambke said Tuesday afternoon via email. “The mill makes it possible to serve stone milled flour and rolled oats to markets from Maine to NYC. Our primary customers are artisan bakeries, natural food stores, restaurants, colleges and institutions, and breweries.”

Duguay said as the series progresses, different kinds of industry leaders will be showcased, and these entrepreneurs will explain their different journeys to success. He said it is important to showcase the businesses that started from smaller, more humble beginnings, because many people in the region started from similar beginnings. The series will spotlight these credible success stories and offer a venue for these people to share their advice.

“There really are some incredible stories. We’re trying to bring them forward to the public eye,” he said. “A lot of times those stories never get told.”

Duguay said it made sense for Lambke to initiate the series for the business school. He said a lot of people want to be an entrepreneur, but they often see too many perceived roadblocks in the way and need guidance. The old saying, he said, is you learn by mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they have to be on your own.

“In order to grow, we’re going to have to start more of our businesses locally. That’s just what needs to happen,” Duguay said.

Lambke said she was excited to be part of the discussion, saying she hopes this series will inspire more entrepreneurship and young leaders to start businesses in central Maine.


“I expect the discussion with Prof. Duguay tomorrow night to be broad, encompassing what activities and it took to start a business for the first time, what skills it may require, and what ups and downs have occurred along the way,” she wrote Tuesday via email. “Our business is just under five years in operation, and we will discuss the ways in which it has grown, and where we expect the business to take us.”

Duguay said there was “no magic” to the selection of speakers, just that they were looking for newer entrepreneurs in the area to showcase different talents and different sectors, ranging from agriculture to technology to manufacturing. He said these industry leaders can serve as mentors to someone who wants to start a new business. The events are free and open to the public.

The next speaker, Chris Voynik, created a company in 2011 that produces eco-friendly dog toys called Wag Rags. The Thomas College graduate’s company makes dog toys out of clean recycled T-shirts. He will speak June 13 at the college, Duguay said.

“We want to bring more of a breadth of different industries to show people how varied the entrepreneurial activity in the area is,” he said.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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