When Louise Jonaitis and her business partners purchased the closed Saunders Brothers wood products company in Locke Mills, Maine, and assets of Moosehead Furniture in Monson in late 2010, one of their first questions was how soon the businesses could be back online. In particular, Jonaitis needed to know if the mills, closed for nearly four months, could recapture customers and scale up production to supply hundreds of thousands more hardwood rolling pins for three national retailers.
Jonaitis, a former social worker from Rumford, had no manufacturing experience, so she turned to the University of Maine School of Economics business consulting program, Knowledge Transfer Alliance (KTA). Alliance Director Hugh Stevens, a UMaine graduate student in financial economics, “was very quick to come to the scene and say, ‘Yes, you can do this,’” Jonaitis recalls. Stevens introduced Jonaitis to John Belding, director of UMaine’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, who assured her she could ramp up production with a few equipment modifications.
“It was like having a John Tesh for manufacturing,” Jonaitis says. “I could just call Hugh or John and say this is what I need and within a week, I’d have the answer.”
KTA’s business and marketing skills were what Dr. Brooke Ligon needed. Ligon is a medical researcher whose small Hancock, Maine, company, Mitokine Bioscience, may have discovered how replenishing an amino acid can help diabetics recover the ability to produce insulin.
“My background is in medicine and neuroscience, and not business,” she says.
Through KTA, Maine Business School professors Paul Myer and Jason Harkins, who are part of the team of experts participating in the free business assistance program, stepped in to help. Myer’s extensive background in marketing and international business enabled him to serve as interim CEO while making introductions to funding sources and prospective investors. Harkins’ experience with pharmaceuticals companies and product development also proved valuable.
“Jason helped write the executive summary for the business plan so we could start telling our story to potential investors and quickly give them an overview. He gave the business polish that I could not,” Ligon says. “Paul raised our profile through basic marketing.”
In addition, using advanced analytical instrumentation, Brian Perkins, a food science and human nutrition research assistant professor, developed a laboratory test to confirm the fermentation process Mitokine uses to artificially create the specific chemical it intends to mass-produce commercially.
Mitokine Bioscience is preparing to begin human trials this year, Ligon says.