Juan Olmeda presents La Coyotera Agave business pitch

Magnificent Seven Ventures for COA Hatchery –

Proposing everything from a Bar Harbor community center to an agave sweetener plantation in Mexico, students presented their cases to a review board for COA’s Sustainable Venture Incubator, aka “the Hatchery” on Wednesday, February 22.

Ordinarily, six projects or six people are included in the program, but this year eleven students applied, with seven projects. They wore suits, ties, heels. They spoke calmly and eloquently. They documented their passions with facts and figures. The presenters were so inspiring that every single one of the projects was accepted.


Photos by Donna Gold


So what are these projects?

  • COA Radio: James Crawford, Zabet NeuCollins and Bogdan Zymka, all first-years, are working on establishing an internet radio station at COA as an alternative creative outlet to reflect the broad human ecological spectrum of interests at COA. The students are passionately devoted to launching this internet-based station; they also want to ensure its continuity after the students have graduated in 2015. “Do it right!” they say. “Achieve sustainability—financially and logistically.” They want to work with Hatchery mentors to create a solid foundation for the station.
  • La Coyotera, an agave sweetener: This is Juan Olmedo’s dream project, one he already has begun. When he graduates this year, Juan will be working full-force to transform family land in Mexico where agave plants are growing into an organic agave sweetener plantation. Agave has many uses. We may know it best as the plant from which tequila and mescal come. But agave is sweeter than honey, has fewer calories than sugar, and is much better for the body than Stevia. A win-win-win situation. And unlike tequila, where the plant needs to be cut down to get out the goods, the sweetener extraction is more like a southern version of maple sugaring—the sap can be harvested from living plants, but with no seasonal restrictions. Juan hopes to use the Hatchery to get work on getting to know the US organic market.
  • Rio Furniture: Christian Wagner has already created his prototype, an elegant wooden chair supporting a seat made from hammock material woven by hand in the Yucatan. (The source of the hammock material is a plant like the snake plant, known as mother-in-law’s tongue.) Christian is fascinated by the way people create the material, and for several years has been incorporating the hammocks into these chairs, using sustainably harvested wood. He plans to develop a whole line of quality, environmentally sustainable furniture—enough to furnish an entire house—moving into a market segment that’s barely been touched. For now, though, he hopes to use the Hatchery to get his marketing strategy and web site in order.
  • Solar MDI: According to the presentation by Lisa Bjerke and Alex Pine, the sun generates thirty times the amount of energy that Maine Yankee (remember Maine’s nuclear power plant, since decommissioned?) used to generate. Lisa and Alex want to make some of that energy available to nonprofits. Cost is an obstacle. And yet for-profit companies can take advantage of tax incentives, ones that non-profits can’t use. The solar array that sits on top of COA’s ceramics studio comes with the help of an L3C (low-profit, limited liability company) that buys the array, gets the tax break, sells the college the electricity for the years it takes to make their money back, and then COA owns the array, and hence our electricity. Lisa and Alex plan to connect to this L3C and link it to other island non-profits to extend this economic and ecological partnership to other island non-profits.
  • Bar Harbor Community Arts and Resource Center: Ben Hitchcock and Margaret Fetzer-Rogers haven’t been living in Bar Harbor for all that long, but they know that 10 percent of the population lives below poverty line, and that Bar Harbor lacks its own community center. But Bar Harbor could have one. The vestry at St. Saviour’s Church has been unused for years. The church is willing to have it used as a community center; all it needs is an upgrade, and the vestry committee is getting an appraisal. “We hope to launch a capital campaign,” says Ben with total confidence, “once the renovations are done, the center should be self-supporting.” The Hatchery, they say, will help the center develop a long-term business plan, apply for non-profit status, create a community advisory board, discover the range of community needs, and offer leadership development to area youth. Already, Downeast AIDS Network, St. Saviour’s Church, an art collective, Occupy MDI and COA have shown interest.
  • Earth in Brackets: Five years ago COA students created an environmental policy website, earthinbrackets.org, to comment on the annual United Nations Framework Commission on Climate Change. It’s been up ever since, though most active during the December meetings. This year, the website got so good it was rated one of the top go-to sites for information on the meetings. That, plus the amazing preparedness that students have—as demonstrated by the fact that one-third of the youth speeches at the meetings were made by members of the COA delegation, got a few students thinking. Why limit activity on a site that had come to be known for its clarity, passion, and depth of information, to once a year? Nathan Thanki along with Graham Reeder and others will work with the Hatchery to expand the outreach of Earth in Brackets, and formalize the online environmental policy discussions.
  • Independent Filmmaker: Most artists at some point in their career realize they need a bit of business acumen. Luke Madden has recognized this earlier than most. He has sought Hatchery assistance to help him get his marketing package in order so he can submit the short fictional video he created for his senior project to numerous film festivals, one of the best ways for a new filmmaker to break into the business.

Just so you know: The Hatchery is a year-long program for students wanting to start something—for profit or non-profit. Students begin by creating a rapid prototype in the first ten weeks to test the market and take their ideas from plans to practice. Once the spring term is over, the Hatchery students continue to have use of the shared office space and equipment until the following March, as well as access to community mentors and their established networks to continue growing their enterprises. Up to $5000 is available to assist in jump-starting these projects; acceptance into the Hatchery is not a guarantee of funding, however. For more information, please contact Kate Macko: kmacko@coa.edu


Juan Olmeda presents La Coyotera Agave business pitch


Christian Wagner presents Rio Furniture


Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Just to clarify: The amount of sun (adjusted for the 12% efficiency of solar panels) that falls on 10% of MDI’s land each year can produce 30X what Maine Yankee produced in a year. I don’t think MDI uses that much…


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