Starting and running a small business is not for everyone. Even in the best of times, entrepreneurship takes a lot of passion, planning, and perseverance, and the pandemic has made something that was already difficult even more challenging. However, for those who decide to start a small business, Maine offers countless resources to help them launch, and support them after they are up and running. Many municipalities have economic development departments, and these can be good places to start when looking for resources and advice. We sat down with Nelle Hanig, the City of Portland’s business programs manager, and Lincoln Jeffers, the City of Lewiston’s economic and community development director, to learn more about these resources.  

How does Portland support small businesses?  

In addition to being a resource for business advice and referrals to many of the free business counseling and financing agencies in the Portland area, such as SCORE, ProsperityME, New Ventures Maine, Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI), and many others, the city offers its own loans and grants to help start up businesses or grow existing businesses in Portland. These include the following programs, detailed on the city’s Journey Map: Microenterprise Grant Program (to be launched at the end of September), Job Creation Grant Program (to be relaunched at the end of September), Standard Commercial Loan, COVID Rapid Response Micro Loan/Grant Program. SCORE, ProsperityME, New Ventures, and CEI serve the entire state.  

How do you ensure those with limited English proficiency have access to these same opportunities?  

Portland city staff will include a language interpreter when needed, in order to answer any questions someone may have about the city’s programs or other community resources. Many documents and applications are translated. For example, the Journey Map (below) is translated into multiple languages, as is a one-page flyer so those with limited English proficiency can navigate the process of applying for a city loan or grant. If someone needs assistance in filling out an application for funding, the city is able to provide help. 

Does the city of Portland offer any Sharia-compliant financing options?  

The city offers several grant programs. In addition, the COVID Rapid Response Micro Loan/Grant Program charges 0% interest for businesses that were in operation and employed between two and 15 people before March 15, 2020 (until the funding runs out). CEI offers two Sharia-compliant (non-interest bearing) loans: Murabaha and Fee-for-Service loans. The Murabaha loan is a profit-plus-cost loan. Fee-for-Service loans are used for other commercial lending needs. Neither loan charges interest; both are open to all borrowers. 

How does Lewiston support small businesses? 

The city of Lewiston offers Microenterprise Grants of up to $2,000, Microenterprise Loans of up to $15,000, and Economic Development Loans of up to $50,000 for eligible businesses. Details of each of the programs, and the applications, are available at The city also provides site search and regulatory assistance, and referrals to workforce development and technical assistance offered by others. The Lewiston-Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce offers the Top Gun entrepreneur training program locally.