Summer program seeks entrepreneurial Maine kids

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PORTLAND — Three years ago, Kate Gooding had kids around the state selling lemonade for a day as a way to teach them how to run a business.

But she found the program too limiting.

So last year, the former marketing executive from Falmouth transformed the lemonade stand program into one where entrepreneurial Maine students could complete a four-part training module in business planning, marketing, budgeting and business operations, and later pitch their business to a local business leader.

“The (lemonade program) was so restrictive, so the board and I, and some partners at (the University of Southern Maine) and 4-H, decided to create a curriculum that would better serve Maine children,” Gooding said.

The new program, called Build-a-Biz, provides students ages 5-8 and 9-15 with the tools and resources necessary to create and pitch a business.

Gooding, who is director of the program, said the type of business pitched doesn’t matter, as long as kids are gaining the experience of developing their own business plans and executing those plans during their summer vacations.

“I cannot tell you the number of great ideas that these kids are discussing with me,” she said. “I have a 10-year-old who wants to develop a software application for phones. Another little boy built an online origami business to raise money to buy a plane ticket for his younger sister to come home from Ethiopia.”

She said one of the major goals of the program is to keep the kids who become involved in the program in Maine after they graduate from high school, so that the state’s business base can expand.

As a part of the program, which Gooding calls “a ‘Shark Tank’ for kids,” students have the opportunity to enter into the Pitch ME! Contest, where they will compete for the chance to pitch their businesses to entrepreneur Robert Baldacci on CTN Channel 5.

The top three entries will appear on television on May 7 and the winner will receive a $1,000 college scholarship. Entry forms are available on the Build-a-Biz website and must include a business plan. All entries are due by April 28.

In addition to the Pitch ME! Contest, students can register for Build-a-Biz Day, where they will receive advice from local business owners on how to get their businesses up and running for the summer months.

While the major focus Gooding’s program is teaching students to create their own businesses, there is also a focus on how kids spend and save their money.

She said that she tries to teach kids to spend, save and share.

“I feel it is very important for kids to spend money on themselves, because they have worked so hard on this, but they also need to save some money. (So) Bangor Savings Bank is giving each participant (in Build-a-Biz Day) $5 for their savings account,” Gooding said. “(But also) the last thing is to share, so (we hope to) bring the awareness to sharing their profits with a charity in need.”

As the program grows, Gooding hopes to gain support from school districts, which is a market that has been difficult to tap.

She currently relies on the help of the Maine Parks and Recreation Association to spread the word about Build-a-Biz, but next year hopes to have the help of the Maine Department of Education.

Students interested in registering for Build-a-Biz Day or entering the Pitch ME! Contest should visit the Build-a-Biz website at for more information on the program and access to the training modules.

Amber Cronin can be reached at or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.