Child Care Business Lab

Giving you the building blocks of a successful child care enterprise

Have you ever wanted to start a child care business and weren’t sure how? Our Child Care Business Lab was designed for you.

Already open? Click the Active Child Care Providers button above to learn about our resources for existing businesses.

Do you have a passion for helping children learn & grow — and do you want to learn more about the business details of running a child care? Are you wondering how to make sure your child care business is profitable? Would you like to be coached through the licensing process?

At the CEI Child Care Business Lab, we help people start new, quality child care businesses here in Maine. We work with moms of young children who want a good job for themselves and start a home-based child care business for 6 or 8 kids. We work with grandparents whose adult children struggle to keep full-time jobs due to lack of child care – so they start a small child care business in a vacant building in their town. We work with nonprofit organizations with an unused room in communities short on child care options. We work with friends and relatives who decide to partner or create a cooperative child care.  We want to help you open a child care that meets the unique needs of your community and reflects your personal values.

With a shortage of child care spaces across the state, your commitment will create new good jobs, help parents get back to work, and prepare children for school. You have the power to make a difference! Imagine that within 6 months you will own your own business, caring for kids and making an impact in your community. With your hard work, and guidance from the Child Care Business Lab, this is possible.

Want to learn more about what we’re offering?

Child Care Business Lab Information Sessions

Please join us to learn more about the CEI Child Care Business Lab and the first steps you need to take to prepare to open your new child care. We hold Information Sessions on the Third Thursday of Every Month from 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM EST.

September 21, 2023, October 19, 2023, November 16, 2023, December 21, 2023, January 18, 2024, February 15, 2024, March 21, 2024, April 18, 2024, May 16, 2024…

Zoom Meeting : Click to Join Meeting       Password: children

For questions about the Child Care Business Lab please email

“It was always a dream of mine to have my own daycare after working in a preschool for 6 years. Then I found CEI’s Childcare Business Lab which prepared me for the licensing process, to get a business loan and build a daycare addition on to my home. Months later, I now have my own successful business which is filling a need in my community and I am able to walk down the hall to work every day with my daughter.”


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“When my first grandchild was born and my daughter wanted to return to work, she couldn’t find child care. The solution? I opened Little Bird Child Care in Pembroke in 2020 and now we are very busy. Taking care of the kids is the easy part. Managing the business and getting all the ducks in the row – CEI had that all laid out in a step by step fashion, which was really helpful. “


Expert Advice to Boost Your Success

Since the 1970s, CEI has financed or advised hundreds of child care businesses, lending more than $15 million to child care businesses in Maine. We have used our experience to design the Child Care Business Lab. With support from CEI, Child Care Business Lab participants have created 330 new child care slots in the last 3 years.

The Child Care Business Lab is a rigorous cohort, or group based program that will give you the tools to start a successful small business, help you refine your child care philosophy and guide you through the licensing process.  We focus our curriculum on overcoming four major barriers:


One of the biggest challenges new start-ups have is finding sufficient money to get their business started. Many facilities require renovation to meet the state fire marshal and child care rules.  Other upfront costs include furniture, education supplies, books, games and playground equipment. It can be a confusing and stressful process to find financing and receive approval especially when the founder has little prior business experience or collateral.

As a community-based lender ourselves, we know what funders and lenders want. We will walk you through the process of building a winning business plan and applying for financing, including grants that do not need to be repaid.


Understanding the Maine rules for licensing, teacher qualifications and required activities is just the beginning of what child care business owners need to know. From employee background checks to space and equipment regulations to navigating the state subsidy and USDA food programs, it’s essential that child care business owners know the minimum requirements and establish policies and procedures to meet or exceed them. There is a dizzying array of content and it is too easy for new business owners to misunderstand an important rule and make a decision that diminishes their success.

We partner with Maine Roads to Quality to help you establish policies and procedures that meet or exceed State requirements, get licensed and earn a quality rating.


Developing a business plan is an essential element of securing financing. Many who consider starting a child care business find the idea of doing a feasibility study, drafting a marketing plan and creating a cash-flow analysis intimidating. It’s especially important for child care leaders to understand the economics of their business – number of staff, wages and state regulated child-to-staff ratios are key.

We’ve created a recipe you can follow, and our experienced business advisors will share their know-how to help you open and operate a financially strong business.


New child care entrepreneurs face many of the same challenges and risks that other small business owners encounter, but with the added complexity of operating in a highly regulated environment. Child care businesses are labor-intensive, with costs driven by state regulated child-to-staff ratios. Frequently, there is a mismatch between parents’ ability to pay and the business owner’s costs, leaving both parents and child care business owners with difficult financial choices.

We will help you comply with the rules and apply for government funding programs to help you increase your profitability.

“We’re a nonprofit: for 15+ years, Mano en Mano/Hand in Hand has been helping immigrants and migrant farm workers thrive with programs like the Blueberry Harvest School – providing education for migrant children while they are in Maine. It was natural to create a child care program. I really liked being in the Child Care Business Lab with others around the state, and then having a business advisor for our unique situation.”


image of Mis Primeros Pasos

Mis Primeros Pasos

“This fall, we celebrate with Thania Centeno as she realizes her dream in starting a childcare center – Mis Primeros Pasos (Spanish for…”

image of Little Bird Child Care

Little Bird Child Care

“In 2019, Stephanie was pregnant with her first child and knew that she wanted to return to work after the child was born, but despite searching her town of Calais and the surrounding…”

image of Rayitos de Sol

Rayitos de Sol

“Children of working parents can spend up to half of their waking hours in child care. When that child’s first language is something…”