The green edge
Business plan competition helps launch energy-saving start-ups
(Editor’s note: Full-length version of story.)
Justin Jamison admits he’s always been a little obsessed with dairy production and how it fits into a sustainable food economy.
“For thousands of years, cultures have revolved around some kind of dairy industry,” says the University of Maine graduate student in business administration. “And what I really love about dairy are the different products you can make from it as part of sustainable agriculture.”
Jamison’s vision is to one day have a microdairy specializing in organic milk as part of a natural foods retail store, specializing in local produce and products. He shared his entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm for local food production and promotion with MBA classmate Brooks Einstein and, together, they developed a business plan for launching a microdairy to supply local organic milk to the Bangor area.
In February, their concept for Local Food Solutions got one step closer to reality with a $5,000 boost as the top prize in the 2007-08 Green Products Business Plan Competition, sponsored by the University of Maine’s Foster Student Innovation Center.
In the Green Products Business Plan Competition, participants describe the commercialization of a green product made from biobased, recycled or recyclable materials, or a technology that reduces environmental pollution or produces renewable energy. The top three winners receive money to launch their start-up businesses with the guidance of the Foster Student Innovation Center.
This year, four teams entered the competition. Last year, the debut of the contest, there were three teams. Last year’s winners were civil engineering graduate student Jeremy Labbe and his partner, UMaine graduate Adam Paradis, for plans to establish an ethanol plant fueled by cull potatoes and other agricultural waste.
“I’m a big dreamer,” says Jamison, who graduated from UMaine’s Sustainable Agriculture Program in 1996. “I’m always thinking of a thousand cool things I could do, but I try and be as efficient as possible, seeing opportunities and doing what fits. I’ve been successful at farms with that philosophy, and only hope that it will work in starting a business.”
Jamison has spent the past dozen years working on three of UMaine’s farms. He was superintendent of Highmoor Farm in Monmouth before returning to Orono in 2004 to manage the J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Farm and Rogers Farm.
Einstein has retail experience working for Whole Foods Market, one of the largest retailers of natural and organic foods.
Jamison’s days overseeing the student dairy cooperative at Witter and his work with an organic dairy farmer in Charleston inspired Jamison to look into supplying a local market with local product.
“The majority of organic milk in stores is processed out of state and shipped back,” Jamison says. “The advantage of microprocessing is to not only keep the milk local, but to keep individual farms’ milk separate. That really allows people to identify where their food comes from.”
The prize money from the Green Products Competition will fund market research to determine such critical factors as the extent of the consumer base and how much organic milk the facility would have to process annually to be viable.
“Local Food Solutions could be like Tom’s of Maine for local foods,” says Jamison, who will resign his farm management duties in June to pursue his graduate studies and the business plan full time. “I plan to stay involved in business and agriculture. I like being able to tell the story about the farming system and the people who help make it.”
May – June 2008
Image Description: Justin Jamison