Flowfold above the fold, Portland Press Herald July 2, 2012: Young Maine upstarts blaze a trail
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Young Maine upstarts blaze a trail
With passion and a bit of daring, Maine entrepreneurs have launched businesses in challenging economic times.
By Jessica Hall firstname.lastname@example.org
The Great Recession and the sluggish economic recovery have provided a daunting backdrop to would-be entrepreneurs over the past few years.
Charles Friedman, 23, is founder of FlowFold wallets and tablet cases, which he displays at Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine store in Portland. They’re made of scrap material from high-tech racing sailcloth.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
But even with unemployment among young adults more than double that of the rest of the state's work force, some ambitious twenty-somethings in Greater Portland have bucked the odds and started their own businesses.
These young entrepreneurs say their projects grew out of longtime dreams, fueled with unending confidence and nurtured with some raw nerve and naivete. One found inspiration amid the scraps of sailcloth on a sewing room floor, another juggles a second job overnight to finance a daytime dream of running a surf shop, and a third had the courage to scrap her business plan and start over after a misstep.
"They are extremely proactive people. They tend to be the people who make things happen rather than let things happen to them," said Renee Kelly, director of economic development initiatives at the University of Maine and co-director of the Foster Center for Student Innovation.
These young business creators shrug off the daunting statistics. More than half of all small businesses fail within five years, according to the state Office of Securities.
"Young entrepreneurs are not scared to fail. They don't want to sit on the sidelines and say, 'I don't know what to do about life,'" said Nate Huckel-Bauer, the new president of PROPEL and a lawyer with Drummond & Drummond. PROPEL, a networking organization for young professionals, is affiliated with the Portland Regional Chamber.
The unemployment rate among Mainers ages 16 to 19 in 2011 was 20.5 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2003, according to the Maine Department of Labor. For the 20- to 24-year-old age group, the 2011 rate was 16.2 percent, up from 8.3 percent in 2003. The numbers reflect only those people actively looking for work -- not people enrolled in college or vocational training.
"That age group doesn't always trail other age brackets, but it always does during a recession," said Charles Colgan, professor of public policy and management at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. "During a recession, youth unemployment gets very high, very quickly as companies lay off people and they're not hiring new workers. And when companies start hiring again, they go for more experienced workers."
Overall, unemployment in Maine was 7.4 percent in May, up from 7.2 percent in April, according to the Department of Labor. "Unemployment for youth goes very high, very quickly and it takes a long time to go down," Colgan said.
Colgan does not expect unemployment for young adults in Maine to fall below 10 percent until there has been at least three years of overall economic growth. He does not expect growth to really gain momentum in Maine until 2013 at the earliest.
Nationally, just over half of recent college graduates are working full time, according to the John J. Heldrick Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. Twelve percent were either unemployed or employed part time and looking for full-time work. Many others are not actively looking for work so they don't appear in the statistics.
FLOWFOLD PEAKS ISLAND
As a teenager, Charles Friedman, now 23, had a job sewing boat sails in Yarmouth. When his grandfather's old leather wallet fell apart, he crafted a new one from scrap sailcloth. After hundreds of prototypes and a $10,000 loan from the Island Institute in Rockland, Friedman founded FlowFold in 2010 when he was 21.
"I was scheming up a business for a long time. Instead of taking notes in class, I was building a brand," said Friedman, who said he's been working ever since middle school busing tables on Peak's Island or painting houses.
He credits the Foster Center for Student Innovation with helping him learn about business basics such as paying sales tax, writing a business plan and trademark registration.
"As a young person with no business history, you can't just walk into a bank and get a line of credit," Friedman said.
FlowFold, whose slogan is "Carry the Future," uses scrap material from high-tech racing sailcloth to make wallets and iPad cases.
"We're not the first people to make products out of recycled sailboat cloth. It's the value and quality and design we put into it," Friedman said.
Revenues are expected to be in the range of $75,000 to $100,000 this year, up from $35,000 in 2011, Friedman said. The company produced 5,400 units in 2011, and has made 3,492 units so far this year.
Friedman has a partner and co-owner, Devin McNeill, as well as a salesman. Another person handles shipping about 30 hours a week, and four to five independent contractors handle sewing.
"We've learned that the rules of business apply to everyone no matter how old you are," Friedman said. "Act as seasoned as everyone else. It's easy to dream really big at first, but focus on what you do best."
Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: