Natural Fitness

Over 10 Years of Specialized Wellness Training in Portland

In a time when the doors of aspiring fitness gyms open and close regularly, Natural Fitness has proven the test of time and success. Joe de Silva, owner of Natural Fitness, has worked with CEI’s business counselors and lending department for over a decade, to develop, establish, and grow his business. “I would not be here today if CEI hadn’t helped me out,” said de Silva.

Joe de Silva working with a young client at EVO Rock Gym

Joe de Silva working with a young client at EVO Rock Gym

After working for 3 years as an independent contractor at a local gym, Joe de Silva decided that it was time to go on his own.  He first came to CEI as the sole owner of Natural Fitness, needing startup money.

“I tried every bank to get a loan. You can only get rejected so many times. Nobody would lend to me. CEI took a chance on a 27 year-old when no one else would.”— Joe de Silva, owner

A CEI business advisor helped de Silva develop a business plan and counseled him through establishing a budget and projections. “CEI taught me how to think about how to run a business.” Next, he worked closely with loan officer Mark Jennings.

Joe de Silva, owner, of Natural Fitness on Presumpscot St.

Joe de Silva, owner of Natural Fitness, at his gym located on Presumpscot St.

“CEI looks at the person, not just the bank statements. Mark believed in what I’m doing. CEI backed me up,” said Joe.

Natural Fitness serves as a private training gym which offers gym membership to existing clients. “We create an environment for the body to heal itself,” says de Silva, when describing the training he provides. Whether working with individuals who are recovering post-rehab, the elderly who want to strengthen and improve their wellness, or people with specific medical concerns, one-on-one or small group training takes a proactive approach to health, versus a reactive approach.  Each client receives a personalized assessment and program designed specifically for his or her needs.

Years later, when de Silva’s clientele was growing and the business was expanding, he decided to relocate to Natural Fitness’s current location on Presumpscot St. The move posed some financial challenges, but CEI was able to support the expansion of de Silva’s business by refinancing in the midst of transitions. “They made it easy for me to get what I needed.” Today, de Silva continues to serve the greater Portland area through training, building relationships with his clients, and educating others about wellness.

Illuminated Me by Sharon Herrick

Local Handcrafted Jewelry with a Global Connection

Sharon Herrick’s story is one of passions converging: passion for beauty, and passion for social change. Illuminated Me by Sharon Herrick is a Portland, Maine-based handcrafted jewelry business that sources materials locally, designs and crafts each piece by hand, and employs people who have arrived in Maine as immigrants or refugees. Herrick draws from a range of professional experience to make beautiful handmade jewelry through her community-engaged business.

photo courtesy of KColette

Herrick working in her studio. Photo courtesy KColette.

Sharon Herrick first approached CEI after hearing about successful business advising services offered by the Women’s Business Center. She worked with business advisor Sarah Guerette to refine and grow her business. “Among the many pieces of infrastructure building Sarah helped me with… she was very helpful in guiding our pricing structure, market research, peer networking and continuing education,” said Herrick.

After about a year of working with the Women’s Business Center, Herrick had constructed a growing business. With more work than ever, she was introduced to the Portland Jobs Alliance to help her find an employee.

“My three year business plan always included hiring individuals new to Maine who were artisans in their home country. Partnering with the Portland Jobs Alliance brought my plan to fruition in just 6 months.”-Sharon Herrick, owner, Illuminated Me

Nabaa working in precious metal.

Nabaa working in precious metal

The Portland Jobs Alliance, supported by CEI’s Workforce Development Program, works to connect immigrants and refugees with quality jobs in Portland that suit their specific skill sets. Herrick was introduced to Nabaa, a professional artist, certified Interior Designer, master cake baker and former business owner from Baghdad.

The Portland Jobs Alliance provided the opportunity for Herrick to bring on Nabaa for a fully-funded preliminary training period, as well as cover Nabaa’s childcare costs. Herrick was subsequently delighted to hire Nabaa full-time. “As a highly skilled and educated artisan, Nabaa has helped me launch new products, feel comfortable with making delivery deadlines and allow me to work on my business infrastructure and grow my business.” Herrick took Naaba’s employment even further by not only bringing her into the business, but integrating her into the community. They are often seen together at artisan events around Portland.

Nabaa and Sharon Herrick

Nabaa and Sharon Herrick

“There are so many small business educational and network opportunities in Portland, Maine. I love how organizations like CEI partner with SCORE, SBDC, and others. This open communication between organizations has given me a solid team of experienced entrepreneurs and corporate business consultants to help me grow my business.”

Learn more: Women’s Business Center at CEI and the Portland Jobs Alliance.

Tiller & Rye

Local Food & Community Hub Serves Rural Maine

Business owners Sarah Morneault and Lindsey Levesque, co-owners of Tiller & Rye, are passionate about increasing the demand for local food. They believe in offering high quality products and building relationship with the producers, farmers, and craftsmen who make them.

Co-Owners Lindsey (and daughter Willow) and Sarah at Tiller & Rye

Co-Owners Lindsey Levesque (left with daughter Willow) and Sarah Morneault at Tiller & Rye

Tiller & Rye is the only local natural foods market in the Brewer area and the only store focused on carrying local organic produce. The natural food store brings the community together through regionally-sourced foods and food-related events such as food and wine tastings, cooking classes, and connections to farmers markets.

“When local businesses, farmers, and artisans succeed, their whole community succeeds! Compared to national chains, local businesses like ours have a smaller carbon footprint and bring substantially more money to their community. We hope that with every dollar spent at Tiller and Rye, it is used to uphold the often lost connection between farmer and eater, make it easier for the next entrepreneur to start a business, help make the air cleaner, the world fairer, and our bodies healthier.” –Sarah Morneault, co-owner of Tiller & Rye

Morneault and Levesque first came to CEI seeking business advice from Ann McAlhany, a Certified Business Counselor out of CEI’s regional Small Business Development Center in Bangor. “Ann walked us through each step starting as neophytes with a business idea. With patience and without the slightest hint of criticism, she was able to get us to figure out where the problems lay and how we could fix them. This process, which she continued throughout every inch of our plan, is so incredibly valuable to us as it has given us the tools and knowledge to better handle the ups and downs that come with starting a business,” said Levesque.

Later, Tiller & Rye sought financing options through CEI’s lending department, which guided the new business owners through the loan process and implementation of a Department of Economic and Community Development grant into the financial plan.

“We honestly couldn’t have gotten this accomplished without CEI’s hard work, dedication and tenacity. Ann was not only key to this venture but absolutely wonderful to work with. Her energy, expertise and belief in our goal saw us through right to opening day.”

Albie from Albie's of Maine BBQ Sauce

Albie from Albie’s of Maine BBQ Sauce, at a Tiller & Rye tasting event

Employing 15 individuals and sourcing products from over 200 Maine-based farmers and artisans, Tiller & Rye is the only market of its type in an area where affordable, quality, fresh food can be hard to find.

“For Tiller & Rye in particular, we wouldn’t exist without the community’s love of local products. It’s our niche and the reason our customers walk in our doors everyday. We feel so lucky to live in a state that supports local farmers and artisans and recognizes the benefits.” –Sarah Morneault & Lindsey Levesque, co-owners of Tiller & Rye

Vintage Maine Kitchen

Potato Chip Start-up Capitalizes on Local Ingredients & Old-Fashioned Charm

Vintage Maine KitchenOn August 1, Scott and Kelly Brodeur, owners of Vintage Maine Kitchen, will celebrate their first year in business with sales figures that are twice their loan amount from CEI. Already with 100 retail locations and a loyal customer base for their small-batch, hand made potato chips, the Brodeurs are facing busy summer production schedules with remarkable confidence. Vintage Maine Kitchen, located in Freeport, produces potato chips of two varieties using just four ingredients: potatoes, sunflower oil, sea salt and maple syrup. The business employs two full-time and two part time/seasonal employees.

Kelly, a culinary graduate of Johnson and Whales University, spent years in the food industry and worked in restaurants from Lowell, MA to Galway, Ireland. After the birth of their daughter Merrill, Kelly became increasingly conscious of the amount of preservatives in one of their family’s beloved snack foods, and committed to making a healthier potato chip that was sourced entirely from Maine products. Several weeks of experimenting at home taught Kelly that it all came down to the right potato. Vintage Maine Kitchen was born.

As first-time business owners, the Brodeurs reached out to CEI for a business loan, and were referred to CEI’s Business Advisor Brad Swanson for business counseling. Their work with Brad included selecting which business ideas to focus on, learning to translate ideas into a professional business plan, developing a clear brand voice, and learning to execute business tools such as cash flow projections and requests for funding.

Vintage Maine Kitchen 2“We’re endlessly grateful for the opportunities we were given by CEI. We would not have had the courage and confidence to start our business if we hadn’t gone through the steps of planning that only occurred because of the free business counseling that was provided to us. In addition, the loan granted by CEI provided start-up funds that otherwise would not be available to us.”–Kelly Brodeur, Co-owner, Vintage Maine Kitchen

Lāna’i Community Health Center

Affordable Public Health Access on Remote Island

LCHC's new facility.

LCHC’s new facility.

To reach Lāna’i, Hawaii’s smallest publicly-accessible inhabited island, there are two options: a $200 roundtrip flight from Honolulu or a $60 ferry ride from Maui. For the 44% of the island’s population that live at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, the only option for affordable on-island health care is the Lāna’i Community Health Center (LCHC). LCHC previously operated out of a converted three-bedroom home, unable to provide adequate healthcare to the remote island community. Missing services included obstetrics, mammography, psychiatry, inpatient substance abuse treatment, and oral health care. Typically, babies were born in Honolulu or Maui, and mothers-to-be relocated preterm to avoid endangering themselves or their babies.

In order to improve access in this remote rural community, CEI Capital Management LLC (CCML) utilized the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program to attract private capital to the project, constructing a 6,800 square foot health care facility built to LEED standards. The facility nearly doubles LCHC’s patient capacity, accommodating 856 additional patients annually. It includes nine exam rooms, dental x- ray machinery, two dental operatories, lab facilities, conference and administrative offices and a community activity room.

Diane V. Shaw gives remarks at opening of LCHC

Diane V. Shaw gives remarks at the opening of LCHC’s new facility.

“CEI’s show of faith in our organization and our project was tremendous. This was a complicated project and it would have been easy to walk away, but CEI stayed involved, listened to the truth, and proceeded with our project. Mahalo nui loa, Maraming Salamat. We are forever grateful for CEI’s efforts and belief.” –Diane V. Shaw, PhD, MBA, MPH, FACMPE

Executive Director, LCHC


Investing Globally in Sustainability

Global water resources are under pressure due to dramatic increases in demand and climate change. The World Bank notes that about 700 million people lack access to safe drinking water. That number is expected to rise as water scarcity and sanitation issues plague developing countries.


NativeEnergy develops, structures, and finances impact projects providing investment opportunities that further the sustainability and business goals of its corporate partners. The company’s water filter distribution projects in Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, India, and Honduras help prevent waterborne illness, a leading cause of death for young children. Families in these countries have to make a daily choice: use polluting woodstoves, fueled by scarce and expensive charcoal or wood to purify their water, or risk serious disease. NativeEnergy brings private-sector funding to solutions that reduce greenhouse gases and give families sustainable, healthy alternatives.


“CEI is an ideal partner for NativeEnergy. Their long-term view on sustainability and understanding of the impact investing space provides value to our evolving Corporate Impact Investment practice. We look to them not only as a board member but also a business partner.” –Jeff Bernicke, CEO & President of NativeEnergy

With help from CEI’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems program, NativeEnergy got a CEI loan that positioned them for a $250,000 investment from CEI Ventures to expand project origination and development capabilities.


Done Roving

Locally Sourced Artisan Yarn

Artisan, hand-painted yarn is a premier product for knitters, highly coveted for its unique attributes and character. Paula and Stephen Farrar of Charlotte, Maine, a small town in rural Washington County, capitalized on the market demand for this niche product to build a successful business.

Done Roving

Former organic sheep farmers, the Farrars purchase almost all of their wool from small domestic farms in the area. With help from CEI’s Women’s Business Center (WBC), the Farrars built their fledgling home business from the ground up, starting in their basement in 2011. Four years later, Paula and Stephen were recognized as the New England and Maine SBA 2015 Home-Based Business Champions of the Year and subsequently moved Done Roving into a 5,000 square-foot state-of-the-art manufacturing facility.

“Running any business is challenging. Running a business with your spouse can be even more so. Ruth [Cash-Smith] helped us build on our individual strengths and kept us focused on our plan and growth strategy. She understood the nature of our business as well as our challenges and opportunities.” –Paula Farrar

“With a strategic plan, diligence, and creativity, the Farrars methodically grew their business, taking on sales representatives from competitors who had closed and innovating with new products,” says WBC Business Counselor Ruth Cash-Smith.

ARWO Learning Center

Childcare for Young Mainers in Portland

At ARWO Learning Center, located in Portland, Maine, you find faces of the future: ARWO’s young charges, and its founder, Naima Abdirhmon, who immigrated here from Somalia.

Naima Abdirhmon with children at ARWO

Naima Abdirhmon with children at ARWO

Naima’s mother, a successful business owner, has worked with StartSmart for over a decade. Naima attended Portland public schools and then earned a Doctorate of Pharmacy Degree from University of New England. While volunteering at Deering High School, she decided she also wanted to educate young people and help them succeed. And with that, ARWO Learning Center was born.

“It has been a blessing to have a CEI StartSmart business counselor on my team. My business counselor and mentor Tae Chong has been my biggest cheerleader – he is insightful, experienced, and always has my company’s best interests at heart.–Naima Abdirhmon

ARWO opened in April 2015 on Forest Avenue, a hub for immigrant and refugee businesses in the city. In just under a year, the center has grown to an enrollment of 47 children. ARWO means “prosperous” in Somali—the center’s wish for every child in its care. Naima worked closely with CEI’s StartSmart business development program for immigrants and refugees and the Portland Jobs Alliance to identify, train, and hire six staff members, including five new Mainers.


Bo’Lait Farm

Reviving Maine Dairy Farming

Maine’s grassy, rocky pastures have supported dairy herds for centuries, contributing to a long history of dairy farming. In recent decades, however, Maine has been losing dairies at a steady pace. Since dairy is largely considered the backbone of agriculture infrastructure, the loss of dairy farming can be devastating to agriculture as a whole. Despite this challenging economic reality, bright spots dot the landscape. Bo’Lait Farm is one of them—a ray of hope to a sector in decline – illustrating the future of dairy and agriculture in our rural Northeastern state.

BoLait BoLait 5

In launching Bo’Lait, Conor and Alexis Macdonald are bringing life back to a farm that had been out of operation since the mid-1970s. With extensive farming and animal husbandry experience, they represent the next generation of organic dairy farmers building viable, profitable farm businesses, and continually striving to adopt best herd health and pasture management practices.

“CEI worked with us through the loan process, developing everything that goes into that. There were a lot of roadblocks, but they stuck with us the entire time – we didn’t quit, and they didn’t quit either. People stop by and they love seeing the cows out in the pasture, and they love seeing us milk the cows. There used to be four or five dairy farms here 30 years ago, and until we got here, there were no dairy farms, so it’s something that’s vanishing in the landscape in Maine. People are excited to see it coming back.”

–Conor Macdonald, Co-owner, Bo’Lait Farm

BoLait 6 BoLait

Certified as an organic dairy by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), Bo’Lait sells milk to Organic Valley, the leading source of organic milk in the nation.

Millers’ Wharf Lobster LLC

Providing Commercial Fishing Access in Rural Maine

By all measures Maine’s lobstering industry is an economic powerhouse, providing thousands of jobs and adding more than $1 billion annually to the state’s economy. This bright picture, however, belies two startling statistics: a very small percentage of Maine’s 3,500 mile coastline provides commercial access to fishermen and nearly half the licensed lobstermen are over the age of 50. Transitioning this industry to the younger generation, while
preserving working waterfront access, is crucial to the future of Maine’s economy.

Miller's Wharf Lobster

Purchased in 1978, Millers’ Wharf in Tenants Harbor serves as  home base for a lobstering business operated by the four Miller brothers and their extended families. Over twelve years, CEI worked closely with the Millers, providing a loan in partnership with Key Bank to expand the wharf and dredge so that bait and catch can be off-loaded regardless of the tide. With CEI financing, the Millers added four hoists, increasing efficiency and the number of boats they could serve. TH4

“Without CEI, this project never would have flown. It was clear from the start that CEI had an in-depth knowledge of the fishing industry and understood the importance of preserving the working waterfront.”–Hale Miller 

CEI also helped the Millers secure the property through the Working Waterfront Access Protection Program, ensuring access not only for future generations of Miller fishermen, but to other Tenants Harbor fishermen as well.