Becky McKinnell ’06

At the University of Southern Maine, we believe that our students are exceptional and that the USM experience makes them highly prepared for careers after college—but few people have put their education to work so soon after college as Becky McKinnell.

When Becky graduated from USM with an Art degree in 2006, she savored the accomplishment for exactly one night, and then the very next day she founded the digital marketing and web development agency iBec Creative. Now almost 17 years later, iBec Creative has a staff of 12 people and has racked up numerous awards and significant recognition, both for the quality of their work and their demonstrated values as an organization. Most recently, Becky also founded Wildwood Oyster Co., a lifestyle brand centered around her handbag and jewelry lines.

So when it came to selecting a moderator for our 2023 Women in Leadership event on February 16—someone to guide the discussion for the first such in-person event in three years—Becky was a natural choice.

“My career has been a snowball, and that snowball started at USM,” she told us recently from iBec’s offices in downtown Portland.  

The snowball started when, as a student, she transferred to USM from the University of Vermont with the desire to add entrepreneurship to her art education. She was quickly struck by how different the two schools are, with UVM more “traditional” and USM more non-traditional. She also found that she thrived in this environment, where there is a focus on making connections and where everyone seemed to work extremely hard—for this reason she also mentioned that the “great takes grit” ethos of the Great University Campaign resonated deeply with her.

In her senior year, Becky took part in a business-plan competition, which forced her to develop a business plan. In doing so, it gave her passions and interests a new context, and even better—it made that context seem possible. “It gave me just enough confidence to take a risk and put my business plan to the test,” she said. “I felt like I was on a roll, so I decided to start my company the day after I graduated!”

Initially, she focused her business on the health-care industry, but soon expanded her scope. There were challenges along the way, but her experiences immersed in the grit and drive of USM culture served as inspiration to keep her going. “When I started out,” she told us, “one of the phrases I used to repeat to myself was, ‘successful people do the things unsuccessful people are unwilling to do.’  Everything I was doing was for the first time and I needed a mantra to help me push through things that made me uncomfortable. I still think about that phrase a lot—if you are not uncomfortable, you’re not growing.”

The toughest of these challenges was having to manage others without an extensive work history that would have given her real-world experience with various management styles. “I have had to put a lot of personal development into consistently leveling up my management skills,” she said. “Managing people can be the hardest part of growing a company, but at the end of the day when you work with great people, work doesn’t feel like work, so it’s worth it.”

Her most recent challenges involve working on disconnecting and finding the work-life balance that works best for her, and, like so many people, she is still figuring out new ways to be the best leader she can in the modern, hybrid work environment of a post-Covid society. Through it all, though, she remains active at USM. Not only is she moderating the Women in Leadership discussion but she also serves on the Board of Directors for the USM Foundation and is consistently a wonderful friend to the University.

 “I really love giving back to USM because the people at USM have given so much to me. When I was there, I made a sincere effort to walk through every door that opened up for me. I hope that my volunteer work at the USM Foundation opens up even more doors for USM students so they too can thrive.”

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