James Morin felt fortunate to have gotten a good education and honed a career direction at UMaine. And he felt passionate about helping out his home state of Maine. So he and three like-minded fellow students came up with the UMaine Business Challenge to support and encourage young entrepreneurs in Maine.
In only its second year, it was recently responsible for channeling $10,000 and priceless advice and guidance to the aspiring entrepreneurs who entered the Challenge. The Lewiston native talks about his own business aspirations, growth of the Challenge and about paying it forward.
Name: James David Morin
You're well-known to many as one of the founders of the UMaine Business Challenge. Briefly, what is the Challenge and how did it come about? The UBC is a one-day business competition with the goal of giving collegiate entrepreneurs the support to transform their business dreams into reality. In parallel, the competition strives to contribute to the long-term growth of Maine’s economy and the mission of the University of Maine as a partner with the state of Maine.
Myself and three other 2010 UMaine alumni got together shortly after graduation in 2010 and challenged ourselves to give back to our alma mater. We saw a need for a business plan competition and decided to create one. We saw this as an opportunity to pay it forward. It is our goal to see UBC alumni leading the state in economic growth and development, while giving back to the university in their time, talent and treasure.
What has been the most impressive project pitched so far? Every project/pitch has been unique in its own right. All with varying implications and all targeting different industries. This year's two winners, Tom Myers and Spencer Wood BOTH have items that they are trying to get intellectual property protection on. Lucas and Jacob Thomas (the 2012 winners) are looking to directly partner with the state of Maine on projects. I don't mean to be ambiguous, but things are developing as we speak, and I'm excited about all of them.
You say entrepreneurs come from all disciplines, and the participants in the Business Challenge are proof. Define entrepreneur? We've seen just about every class (from freshman to PhDs) and every major and discipline participate in this challenge over the last two years, and what I have come up with is that entrepreneurs are problem solvers. They see things differently than most people. They walk into a situation and figure out ways to do it more efficiently or, in many situations, find a problem and come up with a solution that's never been seen before.
How old were you when you realized you had an interest in business? I suppose I've always been a bit of a "businessman." In grade school (Montello Elementary) I came up with grading system for ranking players in tetherball. In middle school I made and sold music CDs. In high school I successfully negotiated with my parents a 15-minute curfew increase for every quarter that I got straight A's (still my best sale ever). However, it wasn't until junior year in college when I truly realized that I wanted to be in business. I decided against going to medical school at the 11th hour to pursue an opportunity in the medical device industry. For a 21-year-old, this was a serious process of self-reflection and development.
You graduated from UMaine with a degree in biology and a concentration in health professions. What do your business dreams look like? One of my favorite quotes is from Bob Burge's book "The Go-Giver": "Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value then you take in payment." With that said, I want to provide value — in any organization, in any relationship, in any endeavor. Deep down, I know that someday I want to create something tangible, something that I can be proud of. I want to be part of growing something and watching it develop. It's why I recently left a company with 22,000 employees for a start-up company with 40. The start-up, entrepreneurial world is an exciting place to be and I intend on giving it a run someday.
The UMaine Business Challenge has grown and expanded in just its first two years. What do you hope for the future of the program? One thing that really motivates me is the UMaine Business Challenge 2022. That will be our 10-year anniversary. I hope to have a reunion of sorts, inviting back 10 years of competitors, 10 years of judges and 10 years of supports and sponsors. Understanding full well the perils of starting a business, I anticipate that many contestants from now to then will not find success, but some will and ALL will learn. Our hope is that in 10 years we have several companies still operational, producing revenue, hiring Maine workers and creating organic growth for Maine's economy.