Two Maine outdoor recreation startups collaborate to get more Mainers outdoors

Hiking and camping gear rentals make it easier and less expensive to enjoy Maine’s outdoors. (contributed photo)

TreeFreeHeat founded by Thomas College senior Dylan Veilleux

Bioenergy startup TreeFreeHeat has signed its first distribution deal with Back40, a fellow Maine startup that operates an e-commerce site for outdoor gear rentals. Founded to make outdoor adventures as comfortable, convenient, and accessible as possible, Back40’s mission has become more powerful and urgent due to the social distancing restrictions recommended in response to COVID-19. Hiking and camping gear rentals make it easier and less expensive to enjoy Maine’s outdoors, and the new partnership gives consumers, whether seasoned recreators or first-time campers, easy access to TreeFreeHeat’s initial product offering, hemp stalk-based fire starters for campfires and cooking grills.

“This summer, outdoor adventures will be more popular than ever, and gear ownership shouldn’t be a barrier to enjoying Maine in a safe, healthy way,” explains Henry Gilbert, founder of Back40. “We are excited to supplement our gear rental options with TreeFreeHeat’s fire starters – it’s a great product that makes camping easier, and partnering with another Maine business is a no-brainer for us.”

The deal marks a major milestone for both startups, who are deeply interconnected within Maine’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Both contestants in the Greenlight Maine pitch competition – Back40 in the flagship competition, TreeFreeHeat in the Collegiate Challenge – the two startups formalized their connection at Waterville’s Central Maine Tech Night and quickly identified their product synergies. For TreeFreeHeat, Back40 provides promotion and distribution to its target market, including campers, campgrounds, and employer wellness programs. For Back40, the bioenergy fire starters made of renewable hemp stalk waste reflect the brand’s commitment to environmental sustainability and innovation while fulfilling consumer demand.

“Partnerships have been essential to TreeFreeHeat’s growth, and Henry’s commitment to making adventuring easy makes Back40 an ideal partner. As soon as I learned about what he was building, I knew he’d be a perfect match,” explains Veilleux. “And now that I have improved my manufacturing processes, I’ve been able to build more partnerships throughout Maine because I can now keep up with the demand people have for making better fires easier.”

As an alternative to wood-based fire starters, TreeFreeHeat was founded in 2019 by Dylan Veilleux, a senior at Thomas College and Entrepreneur in Residence at Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space, in downtown Waterville. With a proven market and streamlined production system, Veilleux is now scaling the startup through distribution deals and participation in Waterville’s TopGun mentorship program.

“TreeFreeHeat’s growth is a testament to Dylan Veilleux’s tenacity and strategic use of the entrepreneurship resources in the Waterville area,” states Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development at Central Maine Growth Council. “His partnership with Back40 is a powerful combination that enhances Maine’s outdoor recreation brand.”

Gilbert and Veilleux look forward to contributing to Maine’s legacy tourism economy in the 2020 summer season by offering innovative solutions within convenience and sustainability. TreeFreeHeat’s fire starters will be available on Back40’s website,


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