New Education Opportunity Leverages Academic and Business Partnerships to Fill Leadership Development Gap for Maine Small Businesses

Businesses become classrooms as leaders of Maine startups and small businesses meet together virtually in the new Visionary Leadership Program. 

The Visionary Leadership Program is recruiting now for its 2021-22 cohort of business leaders.

Portland, Maine – The Visionary Leadership Program (VLP) is celebrating the graduation of its first cohort of Maine small business leaders. The nine-session program launched in October 2020 as a leadership development initiative for startups and small businesses. Originally envisioned as an in-person pilot program based in Portland before the Covid-19 pandemic began, the VLP quickly pivoted to an online format that enabled small businesses as far away as Hancock and Kennebec counties to participate. 

The VLP provides participants with a peer network of other business leaders in the state with similar challenges facing their companies, as well as mentoring and perspectives from established business and thought leaders. 

The VLP is a collaboration between the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center (Maine Center) and the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs (MCE). Bangor Savings Bank is providing in-kind sponsorship and guidance on program design that leverages the bank’s experience working with small businesses across the state. Skip Bates, SVP and Director of Main Street Banking at Bangor Savings Bank, and Alexa Dayton, COO of the Maine Center, facilitate the sessions with support from additional MCE and Maine Center staff.

“Maine’s economy is dominated by small businesses, at a ratio of 1000:1 relative to the number of big companies in Maine. Many of these small firms struggle to access high quality leadership training and development resources due to program costs, scheduling or distance challenges,” says Dayton. “This training gap caught the attention of Tom Rainey, Executive Director of MCE, who brought it forward to the Maine Center as an opportunity to meet a critical talent development need for the State.”   

“With the VLP, we have tailored a leadership program for Maine’s economy by adapting to the needs of our business ecosystem,” says Dayton. “Through monthly virtual meetings, we are building a strong peer group for startup leaders, teaching leadership skills and tools for today’s business challenges, and introducing participants to experienced Maine business and thought leaders.

Topics for the inaugural year of the VLP included building culture, understanding your strengths, leading change, personal and business mission building, performance management, and knowing your customer.  Guest speakers came from Bangor Saving Bank, Maine Angels, Great Works Internet, Conscious Revolution, the Delphi Group, Lean East, and the University of Southern Maine. 

The inaugural cohort includes 14 CEOs or senior managers from Wilbur’s of Maine, Healing Harbors, North Spore, Startup Maine, Crown O’Maine, Mug Buddy Cookies, Vena’s Fizz House, Bangs Island Mussels, Glacial Multimedia, Spring Point Solutions, Pemberton’s Gourmet Foods, and American Unagi. 

Many of the participants are alumni of MCE’s Top Gun program. American Unagi currently raises American eels at the University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin, Maine.

“Many CEOs are looking for best practices and inspiration. They need a chance to build connections while also strengthening their skills,” says Bates. “The VLP helps them to invest in their success. From building culture to building empathy and the power to execute, the program is deeply focused on leadership.”

Recruitment for the 2021-2022 VLP cohort, which will meet one evening monthly between October and May, is now underway. Candidates with a growth mindset from Maine-based companies and organizations with five or more employees are encouraged to email Laurie Johnson ( to learn more about the program and apply.


About the University of Maine System

Established in 1968, the University of Maine System (UMS) unites six distinctive public universities, comprising 10 campuses and numerous centers, in the common purpose of providing quality higher education while delivering on its traditional tripartite mission of teaching, research, and public service.  

In 2020 UMS became the first and only statewide enterprise of public higher education in the country to transition to a unified accreditation for the system.  Much different than a merger or consolidation, unified accreditation is a new operating model for the University of Maine System that removes the primary barrier to inter-institutional collaboration.

A comprehensive public institution of higher education, UMS serves more than 30,000 students annually and is supported by the efforts of more than 2,000 full-time and part-time faculty, more than 3,000 regular full-time and part-time staff, and a complement of part-time temporary (adjunct) faculty. 

Reaching more than 500,000 people annually through educational and cultural offerings, the University of Maine System also benefits from more than two-thirds of its alumni population residing within the state; more than 123,000 individuals.

The System consists of six universities: The University of Maine (UMaine), including its regional campus the University of Maine at Machias (UMM); the University of Maine at Augusta (UMA); the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF); the University of Maine at Fort Kent (UMFK), the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI); and the University of Southern Maine (USM).  The System also includes the University of Maine School of Law and the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center.    

Please follow these links to the  UMS Logo, UMS and individual university style guides and an image and biographical information for Chancellor Malloy.