The Target Technology Incubator at the University of Maine isn’t in the business of hatching chickens, but of birthing dreams. “We often find ourselves working with people who are in that transitional phase between working from their home or lab and having their first office,” says director Debbie Neuman. “It’s the best feeling, when you can give somebody a nugget of information that can help them move to the next place.” Moving—literally and figuratively— is something the energetic, 46-year-old Neuman has been doing most of her life. Born in Berkeley, California, and raised in Pennsylvania, she caught the entrepreneurial bug early. “I was one of those kids who had business after business,” she says. “One time I decided to open a store, and for inventory I collected my brother’s and sister’s toys. I was out of business pretty quickly once my siblings and parents found out about it.”
Neuman’s connection to Maine began in childhood, when her parents bought a summer place in Steuben, in coastal Washington County. She returned to California for college, majoring in communications and broadcasting at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. “For a while I wasn’t sure which coast I really belonged on,” she says.
Fortunately for Maine, she decided to apply her abundant energy here. After a stint as an inn manager in Bar Harbor, she purchased another inn “with zero money and a business plan.” She ran a tour boat business, worked for the Washington- Hancock Community Agency and Eastern Maine Development Corporation, where she ran the Small Business Administration’s micro-loan program and launched the successful Incubator Without Walls program. When the University asked her to direct the new Target Technology Incubator six years ago, she jumped at the opportunity.
“The Incubator was created by the state in part to nurture and encourage more growth in the technology-based sector,” Neuman says. “When we think of technology, most of us have this vision of someone sitting at a keyboard designing software. But we work with a variety of entrepreneurial businesses, like aquaculture and specialty foods. Our clients don’t necessarily have to be connected to UMaine, but we’re often able to connect them with resources at the university.”
Services at the Incubator include renting office space to “anchor tenants”; hosting seminars on business planning, patents, and legal issues; providing conference space; and connecting likeminded businesspeople. “We do a lot of matchmaking,” Neuman says.
She’s fond of beginning conversations with “Wouldn’t it be cool if . . .” That’s how she launched her popular radio show, Back to Business, which recently aired its 100th episode. “I met the former general manager of Clear Channel Bangor at a Chamber of Commerce networking event, and I pitched it to him right there, like an elevator pitch. I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do a radio show all about small business?’ And it’s been wonderful. There are so many great stories. Every week we discuss something that I know is going to mean something to somebody.”
In addition to the show (which airs at 9 a.m. Saturdays on WABI-AM and at 2 p.m. Sundays on WVOM-FM), Neuman writes a weekly column for The Maine Edge, offers business tips on WABI TV 5 and radio stations in the Bangor and Augusta markets, and travels throughout New England to speak on business issues. In 2007 she was named Small Business Journalist of the Year for Maine and New England by the Small Business Administration. “
I learn so much from the businesses I work with,” she says. “I’m really lucky because there are so many people supporting what I do. It’s bigger than me.”
Students at the university have begun to notice. “When someone comes in and says, ‘I have this idea, I want to turn it into a business, I want to stay in Maine after I graduate,’ it makes me want to cry, because that’s what it’s all about. I get frustrated at all the negative, negative, negative about doing business in Maine, when I’m out there seeing all the positives. Sure, we have challenges, but there are a lot of success stories out there.”