Our Story


To build a just, vibrant and climate-resilient future for people and communities in Maine and rural regions by integrating finance, business expertise and policy solutions in ways that make the economy work more equitably.


From Civil Rights to Sustainable Solutions

Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) was founded in 1977 by Ron Phillips, a civil rights activist and recent seminary graduate, to help create income, employment and ownership opportunities, especially for people left out of the economic mainstream.

The impetus for CEI came from a few people who had the imagination to establish a community development corporation (CDC) in Maine.

The federal Office of Equal Opportunity launched CDCs in the late ’60s and early ’70s during the “War on Poverty” with the first CDCs founded primarily in urban areas with goals of revitalizing a low- or moderate-income community or neighborhood.

Then a CDC in Vermont showed that the model might have promise for larger, more rural geographies as well. At the time, Maine had little infrastructure to grow the state economy and the fishing industry, in particular, could benefit from a CDC’s focus.

CEI was incorporated in Bath, Maine…

with no balance sheet and a goal of supporting community-based economic development in the midcoast Maine region stretching from Freeport to Camden – a start-up with a big need for investment capital to meet big goals.

Initial funding to launch CEI came from local regional Community Action Agencies and small grants cobbled together from varied sources. Local county commissioners’ offices helped CEI employees build the capacity of the organization. Though the idea of a public-private partnership is familiar today, the model was still new then.


In 1978, CEI made its first investment in the Boothbay Region Fish and Cold Storage, Inc., which had been recently destroyed by a fire.

This was a flagship project for CEI for many reasons. Saving the facility was a community initiative, an effort to preserve the town’s working waterfront and fishing heritage in the face of deepening development pressure from tourism-related business. CEI worked with local residents and community leaders on the project and secured financing that allowed the group to rebuild, modernize and expand the facility after a devastating fire.

The Boothbay project was a model for future CEI activity, demonstrating our capacity to respond to a community need and foreshadowing our commitment to sectorial development strategies, a multi-faceted approach that includes investing in capacity, market opportunities, infrastructure and policy development.


Coastal Enterprises, Inc. directs financial resources to promote economic growth in Maine, to foster growth of natural resource industries, and to support select job-generating small businesses.

Some early sector-based initiatives have included:


Aquaculture Development Workshop, Maine Small Farms Project, and forestry woodlot management initiatives


The Child Care Development Project


Maine Fisheries Industry Project


we continue to work deeply within the fishing/aquaculture, agriculture/ food systems and child care industries with targeted programming, support and financing.


In the early 1990s, CEI was part of a coalition that promoted the development of a federal funding program for community economic development. In 1994, the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund was established as part of the U. S. Treasury to provide a key source of capital to CDCs offering financial services to low-income rural and urban communities.


Coastal Enterprises, Inc. directs financial resources and technical resources to promote economic growth in Maine. Its central strategy has focused on development of natural resource industries, select job-generating small businesses, and targeting of benefits to low-income people. In 1987, CEI expanded its criteria to include limited-resource women in business and services that address a societal need, e.g. child care.


Through our partnership with Maine Small Business Development Centers, we host business counselors who provide no cost, one-on-one assistance to potential and existing business owners throughout the state, supporting entrepreneurs in Maine’s cities and it’s most rural regions.

Recognizing that the potential of female entrepreneurs was being under-served, CEI opened Maine’s first Women’s Business Center in 1995. Supported by the US Small Business Administration, CEI’s two Women’s Business Centers now serve Northeast and Southwest Maine through workshops, training, networking and one-on-one business counseling.

Then seeing a growing influx of refugees and immigrants to Maine in the mid-1990s, CEI responded by designing programs to serve Maine’s newest residents. StartSmart, a microenterprise program that provides linguistically and culturally sensitive business training to refugees and immigrants, has helped entrepreneurs from over 92 countries of origin and a rich variety of backgrounds to bring new products and services to their communities.

Recognizing the unmet need in the local indigenous community, CEI staff members helped the Wabanaki tribes in Maine launch Four Directions Development Corporation in 2001, the first Native-led CDFI in Northern New England.


Coastal Enterprises, Inc. directs economic and human resources to help Maine people with low incomes reach an adequate and equitable standard of living, working and learning.

Florence Olebe, a Sudanese immigrant, opened Portland’s first African restaurant Friday with the help from her seven sons. She says one of her goals is to help the community “know about our culture – through food, through crafts, through dress.” Her favorite dish is kissara, a stew with meat and tomatoes served on flat bread.


While CEI’s primary market remains in Maine, with the birth of subsidiaries CEI Ventures Inc (CVI) in 1994 and CEI Capital Management LLC (CCML) in 2004, we expanded the overall organization’s reach to northern New England and then to rural regions nationally that build on our sectoral experience in areas like food processing and forest products, as well as our expertise on the unique needs of rural communities.


To help people and communities, particularly those with low incomes, reach an adequate and equitable standard of living, working and learning, in harmony with the natural environment.


CEI Ventures, Inc.


CEI Capital Management


30 Federal Street Investments


Bright Community Capital


CEI-Boulos Capital Management

Expanding Access to Capital and Rural Reach

These independently-governed subsidiaries allow the organization to utilize different types of capital (venture capital and tax-credit incentivized financing) that are typically less accessible in rural areas


In 2016, Betsy Biemann, CEO, and Keith Bisson, President, took over the leadership of CEI upon Ron Phillips’ retirement, as the organization settled into its new headquarters in Brunswick, a LEED Platinum-Certified building created in line with CEI’s commitment to serve people and planet. 

Staff conducted listening tours of hard hit industries and areas and developed key initiatives to respond to the most pressing needs of workers – good jobs that paid a living wage, basic benefits and offered opportunities for advancement, as well as access to quality child care. This work gave us a head-start as the pressure on frontline, low-wage positions and our child care system would soon increase unexpectedly and dramatically. 


We envision a world in which communities are economically and environmentally healthy, enabling all people, especially those with low incomes, to reach their full potential.


The COVID-19 Pandemic

In March 2020, CEI staff took their laptops home, assuming they would be returning in two weeks after Maine had “flattened the curve.” It quickly became apparent that the impact from COVID-19 would be neither brief nor small, particularly on the small businesses forced to close their doors or dramatically shift operations to meet changing health guidelines.

From makeshift offices in homes across the state, CEI staff reached out to clients and borrowers, helping them pivot operations, make sense of federal/state guidelines and apply to support programs for their businesses and employees.

In the first two months of the pandemic, CEI business advisors held over 2,000 individual coaching sessions with small-business owners—almost double the number they provide in a typical year. CEI’s lending team worked closely with borrowers, making modifications to over 50 percent of the loans in our portfolio.

The employees of a fitness center, wearing medical masks, are doing handstands and pushups with enthusiasm

Our operational capabilities and deep understanding of the business communities we served led to CEI being tapped by the State of Maine to administer several direct relief programs, including:


$19.5 million to 533 farmers and food producers in December


$20 million for the Agricultural Infrastructure Investment Program


$15 million for Child Care Infrastructure Grants

In addition

to providing pandemic-specific support, CEI continued to offer its regular lending and advising service and expanded them to include a third Women’s Business Center focusing on serving LGBTQ+ and BIPOC female entrepreneurs.

As the pandemic continued, it highlighted existing inequalities in our economic systems, particularly on lines of class and race.

Staff conducted listening tours of hard hit industries and areas and developed key initiatives to respond to the most pressing needs of workers – good jobs that paid a living wage, basic benefits and offered opportunities for advancement, as well as access to quality child care. This work gave us a head-start as the pressure on frontline, low-wage positions and our child care system would soon increase unexpectedly and dramatically.