SKOWHEGAN — The Skowhegan Center for Entrepreneurship is hoping to cultivate a new crop of local changemakers with a business lab and $5,000 pitch competition, complementing ongoing revitalization efforts downtown.

Advocates say Skowhegan is positioning itself to become a local food destination, with a slew of projects — including development of the Skowhegan River Park and revitalization of the former Solon Manufacturing mill downtown — and job and housing opportunities to bring visitors and new residents to town.

The effort includes a program that has Main Street Skowhegan using its second-ever lab and pitch competition to invest in local entrepreneurs looking to start a business or maintain an existing one.

Joe Almand is planning to open Joe’s Flat Iron Café at 65 Water St. in downtown Skowhegan this spring. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The application for the process launched last week Monday, and Patric Moore, Main Street Skowhegan’s business relations manager, said he is looking to choose 10 entrepreneurs for the seven-week program.

During the program, selected participants learn about reviewing their mission, vision and values, and are taken through finance and accounting, marketing and advertising, project management and more.

After the lab, the entrepreneurs take part in a seven-minute pitch competition with a $5,000 prize supplied by Skowhegan Savings Bank.


The winner of the fall lab was Quinn’s Tree Farm, a Christmas tree farm in Cornville operated by Matt Quinn. Quinn, who used the $5,000 to invest in a tree shaker and a wreath maker, said following the competition he saw an increase in sales.

“The real prize, though, was the networking opportunities that the competition opened up for me,” Quinn said.

Moore said that is what the lab is all about: Investing in local people, such as Quinn, and giving them the resources needed to be successful.

Another participant from the fall business lab was Joe Almand. Almand was a career firefighter with the Skowhegan Fire Department who had a carpentry business on the side. After he suffered a career-ending injury last July, he decided to pursue a lifelong dream of opening a coffee shop in downtown Skowhegan.

Almand said he decided to take part in the business lab because, despite having owned a carpentry business, he found there was much more to operating a coffee shop than “money in, money out.”

Joe Almand works Sunday at Joe’s Flat Iron Cafe, which is under construction at 65 Water St. in downtown Skowhegan. Almand, who has a background in carpentry and cabinetmaking, is building the interior of the cafe. He says he expects to open in the spring. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“(The business lab) really, really helped me get an idea of how to market myself and get people to buy into what I was trying to do,” Almand said.


He said it also helped him develop sales pitches.

While Almand did not win the pitch competition, like Quinn, he was able to develop a support network of other entrepreneurs in the area as he looks to raise money — through loans and crowdfunding online — and open his coffee shop.

“I think the Skowhegan population — and Maine people in general — is very independent, but the mindset in Skowhegan is slowly changing,” Almand said. “Like, hey, if we work together, we can have some really nice things happen here, and kind of make our place this destination to draw people in.”

Joe Almand stands Sunday at Joe’s Flat Iron Café, which he expects to open this spring at 65 Water St. in downtown Skowhegan. Almand, who has a background in carpentry and cabinetmaking, is building the interior of the cafe. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Almand’s coffee shop, Joe’s Flat Iron Café, will occupy the first floor at 65 Water St. Almand hopes to open this spring.

Almand was one of three food businesses that participated in the fall lab (out of a total five), which Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, said reflects Skowhegan’s appetite for a larger local food market.

Cannon said she sees Skowhegan’s brand as three-pronged: local food, outdoor recreation and the arts.


“Those things are front of mind as we look to develop,” Cannon said.

In addition to the business lab, Cannon said the Center for Entrepreneurship is helping local businesses in other ways, including providing a “necessary” co-working space for meetings.

In the coming months, Cannon said Main Street will be looking to build a commercial, shared-use kitchen the downtown area.

Like the business lab, Cannon said a commercial kitchen should allow local entrepreneurs to “try out” their ideas, perhaps through a food market at which food trucks, caterers, restaurants and small-batch vendors can test new products.

Cannon said the project is eyeing a space on Water Street, but is still in the fundraising stage. The organization has already secured some state funding for the commercial kitchen, she said, but will also be applying for a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Applications for the Skowhegan Center for Entrepreneurship’s spring business lab can be found at

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