Fifty people braved a snowstorm Jan. 16 to engage with a panel of insightful businesspeople who shared their experiences as startups within Biddeford’s historic mill complex. The complex has operated as a business incubator since the mid-19th century, growing from its roots as a textile manufacturing center to now housing 200 businesses in a 1 million square-foot complex that includes apartments, manufacturers, breweries, medical offices and more.
Sharing their experiences were Marc Feldman, co-owner and founder of co-working space Think Tank; Lisa Scali, marketing director and principal of Ocean’s Balance, an edible seaweed company; Kerry Hanney, founder of Night Moves Bread, a bakery that uses only sustainably grown grains from Maine; and Doug Sanford, developer of the Biddeford mill complex.
Here are some of the takeaways:
• By making space affordable for startups, Sanford sees his role as a venture capitalist “without the capital.” More than 200 business are located in the Biddeford mill complex, employing 500 people. As an example, he cites Hyperlite, makers of high-tech outdoor gear, and one of the mill’s first tenants. Sanford made low-cost space available to the two co-founders for a production facility, and rented them an apartment in the same complex to help them get on their feet. Today the company employs nearly 100 people.
• When Ocean’s Balance was ready for a bigger facility, its principals looked along Portland’s waterfront for suitable space but found it prohibitively expensive. The company moved to the Biddeford mill complex about two years ago, and while they lost immediate access to the water, they found a similarly valuable amenity: proximity to the University of New England. The company employs several interns from UNE’s marine biology program, who help not only with production work, but are also learning basic tenets of business.
• Feldman said it’s the convenience of offering co-working space to people who can pay one price for all services (internet, utilities, security) that keeps his operation at 95 percent occupancy. He has been able to keep his rents at roughly half what similar space would cost in Portland. But he acknowledges there is pressure to raise those rates as more people priced out of Portland find Biddeford.
• Parking and signage remain challenges. Oftentimes delivery vans can’t find the appropriate business in the labyrinth of buildings with GPS occasionally sending drivers to a nearby cemetery. Hanney said accessibility would be a problem if she decided she wanted to grow a retail operation from what is now a predominantly wholesale bakery.
More about our panelists:
Kerry Hanney: She started baking her sustainably sourced breads for commercial clients from her Portland apartment in 2016. Eventually, she was able to use the ovens at Maples in Yarmouth to amp up her production, but accessibility to the ovens often meant 14-16 hours days between baking and delivering her products. She moved into the Pepperell Mill about 18 months ago, and recently opened the bakery to retail customers on Fridays and Saturdays.
Lisa Scali: She spent 20 years working in international financial services acquiring skills in relationship management and business development. She parlays those skills into her passion for good health and food that is locally sourced and environmentally sustainable. She holds a masters in International Political Economy from Columbia University and joined Ocean’s Balance in 2016.
Marc Feldman: After running a restaurant in Kennebunkport, Feldman got into the grocery wholesale business as a commodities broker. He set up and began managing the Think Tank co-working space in the Pepperell Mill in late 2015, managing it through several expansions.
Doug Sanford: Sanford, who professes a love for urban centers, bought the first section of the Biddeford mill complex in 2004. Since then he has redeveloped portions of the 1 million square foot complex into a multi-use facility. Today, more than 700,000 square feet are occupied.