Applications Now Open for Year Two of CEI’s Child Care Business Lab

Applications Due on February 5 for Entrepreneurs Interested in Launching New Child Care Businesses in the Rim Counties or Lewiston

January 11, 2021 (Brunswick, ME) – Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) is offering three concurrent virtual courses of its Child Care Business Lab, helping entrepreneurs start new, quality child care businesses in underserved areas of Maine. Applications are due on February 5, 2021 at 5:00 pm EST. The applications and more information can be accessed here. The program begins in March.

“Recognizing the significant unmet need for child care in Maine and, at the same time, the impact that child care has on a family’s ability to thrive, CEI developed a training program to help people, who might not have opened a business on their own, offer child care services,” said Cynthia Murphy, Senior Program Director, Workforce Solutions, CEI. “Based on the momentum of last year’s pilot, we are taking the Child Care Business Lab to the next level in 2021, expanding to three training cohorts and targeting areas of the state that will benefit the most.”

The Child Care Business Lab is an intensive cohort-based program that gives entrepreneurs the tools to start a successful small business, helps them refine their child care/early childhood education philosophy and guides them through the licensing process. Designed as an experiential leadership opportunity, the Child Care Business Lab will provide participants with a blueprint for a high-quality, financially viable nonprofit, for-profit, co-op or shared model child care business.

The six-month program consists of ten 2½ hour workshops conducted live via Zoom, 25 hours of on-demand online learning sessions, bi-weekly one-on-one meetings with a business advisor and personalized coaching sessions with a child care mentor.

Two of the 2021 cohorts will focus on child care businesses in Maine’s Rim Counties (Washington, Aroostook, Piscataquis, Penobscot, Somerset, Franklin, and Oxford), while a third cohort will focus on child care businesses for families that have recently immigrated to Maine in the Tree Streets Neighborhood in downtown Lewiston, which faces unique challenges around child care including securing appropriate facilities. The Rim Counties cohorts are made possible with funding from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation. The Lewiston cohort was made possible with funding from the John T. Gorman Foundation and aims to expand the number of slots for child care in the Tree Streets Neighborhood by 50 in 2021.

Building on a successful pilot

CEI designed the Child Care Business Lab, a five-year initiative to grow new child care enterprises in underserved areas of Maine, with help from Maine Roads to Quality, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services Office of Child and Family Services Children’s Licensing and Investigation Services, and the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children, in response to data showing that increasing access to quality child care enables more parents to work full time and support their families. Individuals interested in starting a child care enterprise frequently have a passion for early childhood education and development but lack the experience to start and run a financially viable small business or nonprofit.

The Child Care Business Lab launched in 2020 with a pilot cohort of eight individuals primarily from Maine’s rural Rim Counties. Participants were motivated by a variety of factors, from wanting to create a good job in a field they were passionate about, challenges they experienced in finding appropriate childcare for their children or grandchildren, to a lack of culturally attuned offerings for immigrant or families of color in Maine’s increasingly diverse communities.

For families and single parents who want or need to work, having access to affordable, high-quality child care is essential to working full time. Across Maine, only 26.5 percent of children up to 14 years-old (55,000 children) are in paid child care,[1] indicating that many parents are shuttling children between family and friends and/or working part-time jobs. Nearly 152,000 Maine children up to 14 years-old (74 percent) may require paid child care services,[2] indicating significant unmet need.

This need has only increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. Existing centers closed or were forced to reduce capacity, schools have gone full or partially remote, and working parents, primarily mothers, have had to make difficult decisions about how much they would be able to work. In Maine, a majority of those collecting state unemployment aid in September – 55 percent – were women, according to demographic data from the Department of Labor. More than a quarter of claimants were in the 25-to-34 age group, and another 20 percent were ages 35 to 44. For households with children under the age of 18, 52% reported loss of employment income during the pandemic compared to 38% of households without children.[3] Child care and health concerns are the top issues raised by jobless Mainers that call into a hotline staffed by Maine Equal Justice Partners.[4]

Little Bird Child Care, Pembroke

Little Bird Child Care, in Pembroke, opened in August 2020 with support from the Child Care Business Lab. Owner Tabitha Bennett, one of the most experienced participants in the program, ran a family-based childcare in California when her children were young. When her now-adult daughter had difficulty finding appropriate care for her own child, Tabitha decided to return to the profession, but Maine regulations and processes were new to her.

“Taking care of the kids is the easy part, right?” Tabitha said. “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. Because of CEI, I am now a member of the Family Childcare Association of Maine and the National Association for Family Child Care. The training I have been able to access helped me get a really good handle on tracking income and expenses, even better than last time, which was 15 years ago.”

Little Bird Child Care filled eleven of the twelve child care spots in its first week and has a growing waitlist. Tabitha is hoping to add an additional employee by summer 2021 to double the number of spots she can provide.

Rayitos de Sol, Milbridge

This month, Child Care Business Lab graduate Juana Rodriguez Vasquez will open Rayitos de Sol in Milbridge. Rayitos de Sol is affiliated with Mano en Mano, a nonprofit organization that helps Downeast Maine farmworkers and immigrants thrive by providing education, housing and other essential services. The Rayitos de Sol program is bilingual (English/Spanish) and accommodates the shifting schedules of seasonal agricultural workers. The child care program opened with 12 slots (80% were filled a month before opening) and Mano en Mano is already planning to expand and build a new center.

To assist with the attraction and retention of employees in an occupation that is categorized for low pay and high turnover, CEI instructs Child Care Business Lab participants on the importance of providing employees a living wage, basic benefits and a fair and engaging workplace. Rayitos de Sol pays a living wage significantly higher than minimum wage; training, health insurance, a 401(k) and a generous vacation package are included.

Lewiston Child Care Co-op

Azenaide Pedro joined the pilot cohort of the Child Care Business Lab to learn how to help five women, who immigrated to Lewiston from Angola, start a cooperative child care in Lewiston. The Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) and Maine Roads to Quality (a professional development network for the field of early childhood education), along with the state licensors, are partnering to make the co-op a reality, with plans to open in May 2021. CEI recently hired Azenaide as a full-time program development specialist focused on growing additional child care options in Lewiston.

About CEI

Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) helps to grow good jobs, environmentally sustainable enterprises, and shared prosperity in Maine and in rural regions across the country by integrating financing, business and industry expertise, and policy solutions. For more information, visit www.ceimaine.org.


[1] Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update (Washington, D.C.: Region Track, commissioned by the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, 2019)

[2] Ibid.

[3] U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, November 11-23, 2020

[4] https://www.pressherald.com/2020/11/15/pandemic-strands-thousands-of-mainers-in-long-term-unemployment/

The CEI offices remain closed to the public, but we're hard at work! Reach out or click here for a list of COVID-19 Business Resources.
toggle