The I.D.E.A. Pavilion – Showcasing Diverse Women Entrepreneurs
by Louis Luchini, Region 1 Advocate
The New England Made Giftware and Specialty Food Show features high-quality, New England made products and connects businesses to potential wholesale buyers. Hundreds of exhibiting businesses and wholesalers participated in Giraffe Events’ Spring Show held in Portland, Maine.
I had the pleasure of attending the show with SBA Region 1 Administrator Michael Vlacich, Maine District Director Diane Sturgeon, and Deputy Director Tim Hobbs. We also joined SBA resource partners and event sponsors from Coastal Enterprises Inc (CEI), who hosts three Women’s Business Centers in Maine, and the Maine Small Business Development Center. It was a great opportunity to connect with unique, innovative businesses from across the six New England states.
In recognition of Women’s History Month, we were invited by Grace Mo-Phillips, program director of CEI Women’s Business Center South, to visit the (Inclusive, Diverse, Equitable, Accessible) IDEA Pavilion.
The IDEA Pavilion Initiative was created in 2022 by the CEI Women’s Business Center, in collaboration with Giraffe Events, with the goal to support new and existing businesses owned by women of color.
According to the Office of Advocacy’s 2022 Maine State Profile, women made up 48.6% of workers and owned approximately 40.5% of businesses in Maine. Racial minorities made up 3.8% of workers and owned 2.6% of businesses.
In addition to highlighting female entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds, the IDEA Pavilion provides the opportunity to showcase and market their products to perspective wholesalers – potentially opening their businesses to new, regional markets. Prior to the show, participants in the IDEA Initiative receive training and coaching from CEI Women’s Business Center on developing wholesale accounts and must demonstrate the ability to scale their business. Exhibiting at the show comes at no cost to the business.
“It’s been a privilege to work with these talented women who create beautifully crafted products right here in Maine. They are at the growth stage of their businesses and are poised to scale,” said Grace Mo-Phillips, program director of CEI Women’s Business Center South. “The New England Made Show provides an ideal platform for these artisans to develop business opportunities through the wholesale channel. With the support from the producer of the show, the IDEA Pavilion will have an impactful presence at the Portland event. We are excited to celebrate women who are from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds for their contributions to the Maine economy.”
We had the opportunity to visit with the four small businesses featured in this year’s IDEA Pavilion. Each entrepreneur turned their skills and passion into truly unique businesses.
Kira Sangsap is the founder and designer of Studio Choo 11, which creates thoughtfully designed, handcrafted jewelry. After working in fashion design in her home country of Thailand, Kira discovered polymer clay, which she incorporates with metals or mixed media to create handmade jewelry that is stylish and truly one of a kind.
Studio Choo handmade jewelry display at the New England Made Giftware and Specialty Food Show
A lifelong love of the arts spurred Selina Chan to create Tealight Studios. Her business creates fun artwork and accessories for the modern pet, including bowties and bandanas. What began as a hobby has developed into a full-time business. The SBA recently named Selina and Tealight Studios the 2023 Maine Minority Owned Small Business of the Year.
Originally from Mumbai, Cherie Scott has lived in Maine for over a decade. After being unable to find home-style Indian food that matched her mother’s cooking, she founded Mumbai to Maine. Cherie mastered her family’s recipes and makes these home-style Indian flavors accessible to all. We were fortunate to sample her new Simmer Sauce Collection, which features caldine, mokhani, and saag.
She Anoints with Love was founded by Jessica Gil in 2021. Jessica handcrafts aromatherapy jewelry and anointing oils which aim to lighten life’s burdens and promote meaningful self-care with natural ingredients.
After leaving the IDEA Pavilion, our group was able to spend the day visiting with numerous small businesses exhibiting at the event. The show’s friendly, collaborative atmosphere gives businesses a platform to grow, while offering retailers access to unique, high-quality products made in New England.
The IDEA Pavilion Initiative provides valuable support to underrepresented business owners in Maine. CEI Women’s Business Center will be looking for businesses to feature when the Spring Show returns to Portland in 2024. Next fall New England Made Giftware and Specialty Foods Show takes place from September 12-13 in Boxborough, Massachusetts.
If you are a small business stakeholder in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Vermont, please send an email to Louis.Luchini@sba.gov to let me know about your business’s regulatory concerns. Please feel free to contact our other regional advocates as well.