Marianne Russo will tell you her late life passion is all things tea. She loves the civility, mindfulness, and cultural expression surrounding tea so much that she is Maine’s only Certified Tea Specialist. But like many who come to New Ventures Maine (formerly Maine Centers for Women, Work, and Community) for microenterprise training, Russo needed help getting Nellie’s Tea and Gifts from floundering to a profitable concern. “It had become a compelling necessity to turn things around or allow my investment of time, money, blood, sweat, and tears to dissolve into the never land of unfulfilled dreams and failed businesses,” she said. Russo was accepted into the New Ventures Entrepreneurship Training Program in 2012, when her business was in its eighth year.
“The program guided us through the step-by-step process of considering all aspects of creating a business plan that could have a good chance of succeeding.” Russo says the class connected as a group of entrepreneurs who formed a supportive and close network. This enabled her and her classmates to bounce ideas and critiques off one another. “The hardest part of the process for me was looking honestly at the finances of my venture; it was pretty ugly.” Through the program, Russo was able to connect with a bookkeeper to help her organize her financial information, set goals, and put systems into place. “My greatest joy is sharing my passion with others, young and old, and I recently had my first annual review and staff meeting with my two very part-time employees, both also retirees who are supplementing their retirement with work they love. Nellie’s Tea and Gifts in Scarborough is now in its eleventh year.