Jack Sullivan / Island Institute

Participants in the Island Institute's Aquaculture Business Development program visit Basket Island Oyster Company during Industry Day in December.

Making connections as a small business owner

Industry Day highlights the importance of connecting with peers and provides unique opportunity for participants in the Island Institute's Aquaculture Business Development program to network with others in their industry.

Most small business owners feel isolated. Running a small business is something you take home with you and on vacations—it’s always in the back of your mind. Island and coastal entrepreneurs are often operating businesses that are unique and sometimes find it difficult to connect with others who understand their business or its benefits and challenges. In addition, there is rarely an opportunity to share questions, concerns, or ideas around what works for others in a non-competitive environment. At the Island Institute, one of our goals is to connect island and coastal business owners with peers so that they can have those conversations. 

Networking, not simply for sales but for solutions, is one of our highest priorities. That kind of networking is built into our Aquaculture Business Development (ABD) program. In addition to bringing aspiring aquaculturists together over a 12-month period to learn aquaculture basics and develop their business plans, the program places a heavy emphasis on connecting the participants with each other as well as individuals operating aquaculture businesses, buyers, and others associated with the industry.

Aquaculture has been steadily growing on the Maine coast for many years. As a result, the supply chain between growers and buyers has begun to evolve, and farmers are deciding on the best ways to market their product. One of the biggest challenges farmers face is the “selling” side of their business. 

Connecting with peers and colleagues is one of the many ways we help address this and other challenges these new small business owners face. A good example of this type of networking is the annual "Industry Day" event that our ABD program hosts for its participants. This marketing-focused day provides an opportunity for these aspiring aquaculturists to establish relationships with buyers, wholesalers, restaurants, and retailers.

"Making introductions with existing farmers was key. We already had the lease worked out and had developed relationships with our business partners, but being able to take part in things like Industry Day in Portland and meet other growers was great. We've been able to scale up fast, and it's those relationships that have helped us move things along."

– Josh Conover, 2016 ABD participant and owner of 
Marshall Cove Aquaculture on Islesboro

Our most recent Industry Day, held in Portland in early December, was broken into two parts—a visit by boat to Casco Bay aquaculture farms and afternoon panel sessions at the Portland Hilton. 

The morning boat ride provided a brisk ride to visit Tollef Olson of Ocean's Balance and his newly-seeded kelp line, which had just begun to sprout, and further up the bay, participants also had the chance to visit Basket Island Oyster Company. We were lucky enough catch their manager, Lane Hubacz, and his crew sorting oysters in preparation to overwinter them on the bottom. Lane explained that this labor intensive process was key to giving their oysters the correct shape and flavor that made their product unique. 

Finally, we found Matt Moretti of Bangs Island Mussels tending his mussel raft. Matt provided the group with great insight into how to grow a great product and the best way to create a sustainable supply as the market developed.

After lunch, the group met two panels—one for industry partners and another for farmers. The format consisted of a question-and-answer session to identify strategies to successfully market their business.  

The farmer panel allowed existing growers to share how they overcame challenges for their business. Panelists also shared how they incorporated technology into their business model to create efficiency and determine metrics critical to their success.  

The industry panel created an hourlong discussion on various topics. Conversations ranged from how to craft long-term relationships with distributors to the best methods for bringing fresh/safe product to a retail establishment. Most importantly, wholesalers and retailers were able to share their perspectives on the fiscal realities they faced and how it drove their business from year to year.

As you can see, networking and building connections with peers and partners in your industry are key pieces in helping your business succeed. For our ABD participants, Industry Day provides an opportunity for them to establish relationships with the people who can help take their businesses to the next level. For our industry participants, it helps them share and leverage best practices that will ensure the longevity and sustainability of their industry. No matter what field you work in, finding ways to meet peers and develop these relationships is a great way to exchange ideas, gain new perspectives, work through challenges you may be facing, and stay on top of the latest industry developments.

If you're feeling inspired and would like more information about aquaculture or any of our other small business support, check out the resources below, and happy networking!

Featured Resources

Aquaculture resources:
Small business resources:

Through the Island and Coastal Business Launchpad, we support fishermen, artists, makers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs in Maine’s coastal and island communities, and connect them to resources that can help improve income stability, business efficiency, and economic productivity, and allow businesses to expand and reach new markets. Learn more here.

Further questions?

For aquaculture-related questions, contact Peter Piconi or Sam Belknap with the Island Institute's Aquaculture team. For small business questions, contact Craig Olson with the Small Business team.

What We Do

The Island Institute’s Small Business Team provides business and financial planning to help entrepreneurs navigate the complexities of starting and growing a business. For more information on our small business support services, feel free to contact Craig Olson.

Commercial Currents is an email and blog newsletter that shares buoyant stories from Maine’s island and coastal communities about economic stability and resilience. To find archived editions, go to islandinstitute.org/blog/economic.

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Contributed by

Craig Olson

Contributed by

Peter Piconi