Abigale Gutowski and Kristen Douglass needed an idea for their capstone project.
During their senior year, in fall 2014, they needed to combine their interests and everything they had learned during their past three years as new media students for a final project.
Others in their class were inventing something — a technology that hadn’t been done before. Gutowski and Douglass wanted something different. They decided to focus on the University of Maine specifically. What wasn’t offered here? What does this university lack?
“[We] saw a lack of high quality media production being produced and advertised by the University of Maine,” Douglass said. “Maybe once or twice a year we’d see a high quality commercial come out, or promos done for athletics, but there was no quality advertising for anything student-based such as events, concerts, Greek life or student government.”
After bouncing back and forth between several ideas, Douglass and Gutowski came up with what is now MaineStream.
“We thought, what if we provide the service of making videos for people that want to advertise something,” Gutowski said. “Whether it be a sorority or fraternity who have a big event that they want other people to know about or athletics, student government, or even just a small group on campus. Just to provide the option of filming a commercial for any group to get more people to come to their event.”
What started as a capstone project quickly flourished into an opportunity for a business. Without any previous experience from formal business courses or studies, both Gutowski and Douglass had to learn as they went along.
It wasn’t easy.
They started by scanning the community looking for any group that would collaborate to create a video or set up a photography shoot. Finding clients wasn’t the hard part — getting them to follow through was. The duo found that they had to persevere and prove their worth.
“We realized we needed to just go out on our own, and start producing videos and photography to show people what we were capable of and what we could provide to this community,” Douglass said.
That wasn’t the only obstacle they encountered. Aside from the financial limits they had regarding equipment, getting the campus to notice them was even harder.
“It’s very hard to advertise yourself as a new company to a campus,” Gutowski said. “You would think that’s not a very big area to spread the word around. It’s actually pretty difficult.”
With the help of resources on campus, they were able to defeat these obstacles one step at a time. The Foster Center for Student Innovation served as a vital resource for the co-owners. The two learned that to start a business it isn’t necessary to be business savvy if the idea is good enough.
The Innovation Center provides student-led companies or businesses with their own office space completely for free. There is a requirement to meet on a monthly basis. Along with providing business advice, the center connected MaineStream with several clients to help them jump-start their business.
“From then on things really picked up for us. We were gaining traction, clients and more and more students wanting to get involved with what we were doing,” Douglass said. “It made sense to protect our intellectual property and work by becoming an official licensed business, so we bought our LLC. I haven’t taken a single business class, so everything I know about that I’ve taught myself. We also got a lot of support from new media professors Joline Blais and Jesse Moriarity who had been working at the Innovation Center on campus.”
Now, MaineStream LLC is considered a media production company, specializing in video, photography, websites and graphic design.
The co-owners split the work in half. Gutowski does the video production, while Douglass, who currently works from Chicago, handles marketing materials, graphics, social media accounts and communication between clients and the public.
“I came up with the name MaineStream by combining the name of the state where we are based with the idea of a ‘stream’ of media,” Douglass said. “I probably could have come up with something more creative, but at the time I think it was close to midnight at Fogler library and we needed to give a name to this project.”
MaineStream currently runs an internship program for students to work and receive college credit. The business mainly advertises to students who are interested in video and photography, but also in business management, marketing and graphic design. The program unofficially ran in spring 2015, so no students received credit. These students joined as if it were a club on campus. Fall 2015 was the first time college credit became available.
The internship program benefits both the company and the interns. One intern in particular helped solve the equipment crisis.
“We won a grant this past semester and we were able to invest in some camera gear and now we are fully equipped so we are ready to just hit the ground running and start producing as much content as we can,” Gutowski said. “We had a business writer intern who did the research to find the Libra Future Fund. She used her technical writing skills to create a proposal and we ended up winning. We win the money and she gets to put that on her resume.”
Fourth-year student Marina Gray is currently an intern at MaineStream and has been promoted to assistant director of production. She is a communication student with a minor in psychology who, after three years of college, has finally found her passion.
“I have always loved photography,” Gray said. “I knew MaineStream existed because of their Maine Day footage. I thought I would reach out to them and see if I could possibly be a part of it. For the last six months I have been working with them and I have realized that filmmaking and production is my passion.”
While getting hands-on experience and making some of her own projects, Gray has learned about management skills as well. She was put in charge of hiring the five new interns for the company. She believes the company is vital for the university.
“There aren’t many production companies in the area that make the creative content that we do,” Gray said. “We try to make content that students at UMaine would want to see.”
Some past projects that MaineStream has produced are Pi Phi’s recruitment video, the Maine Day concert and the homecoming parade. Currently, they are working on a “BuzzFeed-type” video called the Cutest Couples on Campus contest. At the end of the contest, whether MaineStream is the judge or the students vote, one winner will win a $50 gift card to the restaurant of their choice for Valentine’s Day and a one-hour professional photoshoot as a couple with MaineStream.
MaineStream’s goal is to paint an image of the student body for other people to see, especially for potential undergraduates who are trying to choose where they want to go for college. The business hopes to create media that will entice these potential students to come to the University of Maine.
The first step for them is for people and the community to know about MaineStream. They do business outside of the campus with local businesses, but they would like to focus on doing videos for the university.
“If we are able to successfully spread the word about us, get our name and our logo known around the campus, then what I’m hoping is that more people are going to utilize us,” Gutowski said. “So events that happen on campus that are fun would have a really nice commercial done for them beforehand such as concerts and athletic events.”
MaineStream is looking for anyone who has ideas, or any clubs or groups on campus that know they want some form of advertising. Interested clients can contact MaineStream through Facebook or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“When I’m not editing, I’m filming,” Gutowski said. “Yes, it’s hectic, but I love it. I like the fact that I’m providing an opportunity for students who have been looking for this type of thing because it’s something they want to do with their future, but it’s not exactly taught at this school. This isn’t a film school. It’s nice to be able to provide that.”