Faces of Philanthropy - UMaine alum aims to boost student entrepreneurs
A University of Maine alumnus and savvy businessman with a penchant for tinkering has established a fund to support creative students who are developing new products.
“I want students to think of new inventions,” says Perry Hunter, who graduated in 1952 with a degree in economics. “There’s so much opportunity in this world. Every day there are new things that can be developed – inventions that people can dream up to make life easier and better.”
The Perry Hunter Product Development Fund will provide awards to innovative undergraduate and graduate students who are putting their ideas and insight to work and creating new goods and services. The money may be used to cover research, marketing and prototype expenses, and will be awarded by the director of UMaine’s Student Innovation Center where students gain the knowledge, tools and inspiration to help them become successful innovators and entrepreneurs. First preference will be given to students working on products related to enhancing the lobster industry or those designed to protect the marine environment.
The idea is to help young people capitalize on their ingenuity so they can remain in Maine and start their own businesses.
“All you have to do is find a need to fill,” says Hunter, who did just that in the late 1960′s. A self described “tinkerer,” he began experimenting with a hand-operated machine used for tapping into water mains to expand service. He ended up creating a hydraulic-powered unit that could operate the equipment faster and more efficiently and allow service to continue uninterrupted to existing customers.
“It was all done by hand initially,” he explains. “It was a long drawn out process that took hours and hours. I said to myself, there’s no sense doing it by hand when you can do it by power. Why do backbreaking work when you can use mechanical gearing to make it easier?”
It wasn’t long before he developed his own pipe tapping company in Connecticut.
Now he wants Maine to benefit from students’ entrepreneurial talent.
Dr. Bob Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute, an organization based at UMaine that focuses on protecting, conserving and enhancing the lobster industry, praised Hunter for “giving back to his community” by directing his gift toward students whose innovative projects could benefit the lobster industry.
“This fund will allow UMaine students working with the Lobster Institute to also find ways to contribute to these communities – by using their creative ideas and energy to find ways to get to most out of the lobster resource, or perhaps to improve the safety of people who lobster on the ocean, or any of a number of innovations that might advance the lobster industry,” said Bayer, UMaine professor of animal and veterinary sciences.
Hunter credits the University of Maine with nurturing his creative spirit and “giving me the desire to get ahead.”
Always on the look out for jobs that would help pay tuition, he decided as a first year student to open a concession business and sell hot dogs, hamburgers, soft drinks and cookies to students in the residence halls.
The Dean of Men heartily endorsed the idea, Hunter recalls.
“Go for it!” he told the young entrepreneur.
Hunter subsequently “did anything and everything” to put himself through school, including cleaning Fogler Library, scrubbing pots and pans at a camp on Sebago Lake, measuring tree growth in the Colorado forests and staffing a fire look out tower in Washington State.
“I never had any trouble finding work,” he says.
UMaine gave him “a great opportunity to go out and present myself to the world, work hard, be diligent and give back,” says Hunter, who held a number of jobs to support his wife and four children. Before he started his own company he worked as a technical representative for Union Carbide Corporation and as a sales-service representative at American Cast Iron Pipe Co. He also bought and repaired old houses, made weathervanes and restored antiques. He still enjoys reconditioning old items and this summer he plans to open a business called “Antique Hunters.”
“I like to work all the time. I’m a workaholic,” he says.
Class agent for at least a decade, Hunter helped organize his 55th class reunion. Aiming to raise $55,000 for scholarships, he spent hours on the phone talking to classmates all over the country, making sure they planned to attend the reunion and to make a financial contribution.
Meanwhile, his next creative endeavor is just around the corner.
“I’m always waking up in the middle of the night with another idea,” he says. “Something else to do. It’s just so much fun having a challenge.”