Working Solutions: Inventing Entrepreneurial Success

    A manufacturer has gone from making prototypes to becoming an archetype for collaborative success in business growth. (WGME)

    BRUNSWICK (WGME)-- A manufacturer has gone from making prototypes to becoming an archetype for collaborative success in business growth. STARC Systems started as one man’s garage invention and grew to a 40-person operation in four years.

    "A big reason a lot of people are here is because it isn't often that you get to be a part of something that is creating a market, and creating a product, and creating a brand and creating an organization,” says STARC Systems CEO Chris Vickers.

    The company has expanded sales of their reusable temporary wall containment system to 47 states and to Australia and Canada. STARC has shaken up the healthcare, construction and manufacturing industries by replacing dirty, dusty drywall hospital renovation and expansion with sterile barriers that keeps construction clean and tidy.

    “It always starts with the product and the idea,” Vickers says.

    And that product idea attracted investors. A big reason for STARC’s success comes from two sources of collaborative funding: The FMaine Technical Institute and Blue Heron Capital, a Virginia-based investor that was drawn to Maine due to STARC—but also the Maine Seed Capital Tax Credit, which gives an investor a 1-to-1 match of their funding. Blue Heron dropped $3.5 million into the company’s coffers in October. The MSTC is so popular that $5 million in credits have already been pulled into Maine companies--maxing out the program for 2019.

    “And since then, we’ve doubled in size from a people standpoint,” Vickers says, noting the latest expansion of 10,000 square feet of manufacturing space happened alongside the hiring of 17 people in January—the company’s fourth expansion in as many years.

    The Maine Technical Institute has been supporting STARC since 2014 with an initial prototyping and market research grant. Since then they’ve provided $630,000 in matching grants.

    “We want to know the people and companies we help have skin in the game,” said MTI president Brian Whitney.

    MTI is behind some of Maine’s biggest success stories. The non-profit helped Vets’ First Choice get off the ground from two people in Portland through its expansion of 6,000 employees globally—to the company merging with Melville and launching as a public company—Covetrus—on the New York Stock Exchange in February.

    STARC has been able to ride out challenges like steel tariffs, which have tacked on a 30 percent increase in manufacturing costs. But the real challenge will be hiring and either growing or sustaining their progress.

    "As we go forward and need to grow that will be an ongoing challenge--we're trying to hire people right now with experience--and it just takes longer,” says Vickers, “and I know that's the case for most businesses in Maine today.”

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