The Maine Center for Entrepreneurs is a nonprofit organization that has empowered our state’s most promising new businesses for the past 25 years. We partner with many organizations to provide training, mentoring and connections to help businesses grow and commercialize products that benefit society and create jobs.

An integral part of our mission is to support marginalized and underserved communities, especially entrepreneurs of color for whom opportunities have historically been denied by the broader business community. This year, 50 percent of our clients are women-owned businesses and 20 percent of those in our entrepreneurship program are people of color.

Following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, we outlined additional steps that we would take – and encouraged the larger business community to take, to support the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) community. These included providing scholarships to businesses that encourage diversity; providing diversity training to our staff and client business leaders, and working with our board to develop actionable diversity goals.

For these reasons, we were dismayed to learn of comments made by the founder of a company that had participated in our entrepreneurship training program. According to a Press Herald article, the founder stated that his motivation for inventing a vehicle-mounted pepper spray device came after hearing the story of a Bangor-area woman who was in a vehicle with her children and was allegedly surrounded and intimidated by Black Lives Matter protesters. These comments were made after the company received an award from a business association unaffiliated with the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs.

We had accepted this company into our program based on products that, according to its application, provided nonlethal deterrents to thwart car-jacking and kidnapping attempts. The company later highlighted one of its first customers, a Black, women-owned trucking business that deployed the product to protect their female drivers. The company had never suggested to the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs that its pepper spray products would be used for crowd control, and certainly not on lawful protesters. Moreover, the company had not indicated that this was part of the motivation for designing the product.

We first learned about the founder’s comments – made after he completed our program – from the Press Herald article. We were not told about the comments by the reporter, and we had no chance to respond to them directly. The reporter’s email only asked about our application process and a vague, one-sentence question about any potential for misuse of this product. We were never told about the broader context of the article and the founder’s endorsement that the product be used to attack people engaged in the Black Lives Matter movement.


Unpardonably, the next day the Press Herald editorial board conflated our training program with an award given by a completely separate organization and the founder’s comments upon receiving that award. Doing so suggested that our organization condones attacks upon people exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly.

We are appalled by the notion that any product we have supported would be deliberately used to attack people lawfully exercising those rights. Moreover, we are appalled if the genesis for any product we have supported was born of racial animus. We reject those beliefs categorically. They do not represent the values of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs, our staff, board or partner organizations in any respect.

We are also disappointed that this newspaper denied us the opportunity to provide an informed response to these comments before running its story – and compounded that mistake, as well as the slur against our organization, by implying that we are oblivious to racial injustice.

Our lesson from this experience is that creating an equitable business environment requires unending thoughtfulness and transparency. In the future, we will be more vigilant in assessing the candidates and companies admitted into our programs. Hopefully, the people covering these issues will be equally vigilant in making sure they present the full story – not part of it.

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