Maine’s Big Companies Should Lean Into Maine’s Entrepreneurship system

Why Maine’s Big Companies Should Be Pushing Entrepreneurship

There are a growing number of events in Maine each year that that are focused on entrepreneurship, start-ups and innovation. Events like StartUp Weekend, Maine Civic Hack Day, the Makr Faire, the University of Maine Business Plan competition, and more are announced each week. Each event supports this culture of entrepreneurship and startups.

Sometimes small businesses are started, sometimes businesses with a moderate plan for growth are expanded, and sometimes companies who want growth like Facebook are proposed or launched.

No matter the type or size, each business another vital part of Maine’s economy. The greater the startup density, the benefits to Maine’s workforce will be significant. That’s why we need more of Maine’s largest private and public organizations getting more involved.

A byproduct of greater startup density from these efforts will help grow and attract the workers all of Maine’s companies, but especially the biggest players, need today and in the future.

Don’t believe me? I was part of a group who did a survey of Facebook users who proved the importance of this point. The users we surveyed were from Maine (listed a town in Maine as their “hometown”), but worked outside of Maine. One of the most important questions we asked was where we asked them to list the factors that kept them from coming home to Maine.  The highest ranked result was, “inability for my spouse to get a job”.

After some follow up, we got more data:  despite a strong interest in moving home to Maine, the risk of giving up a good paying gig in Boston, NY, or elsewhere, and taking a great job in Maine, was simply too much. They worry about what friend Johann calls “a lack of employment mobility.” Talk to HR professionals at your nearest large company and they’ll tell you they often hear the same thing.

They’re worried not only about their spouse’s employment, but if their job didn’t take, there wouldn’t be opportunities to move into companies in the same or similar industry. Basically, because of the perceived lack of density of “interesting jobs” people wouldn’t make the leap home.

Like any reasonably good survey, created more questions than answers. However, it was clear to all of us, that the ability to have, or the perception of having, employment mobility was of significant concerns to these potential Maine boomerangers.

So why should Maine’s big companies care?  Well, companies like Maine Manufacturing, BIW, MaineHealth, WEX, IDEXX, LLBean, Sappi, and many others face a “talent crunch”. Growing, recruiting and retaining creative talent for these and other companies is a real issue.

Having an ever-growing, and continually-nurtured, entrepreneurial ecosystem, always attracts energetic, diverse, creative, and entrepreneurial workers to it (see Boston, Burlington, Austin, Boulder, Omaha, etc.).

Plus a growth in the “churn” of new companies starting, merging, growing and failing, that allows for significant employment mobility. Workers can move between companies, start their own companies, or whatever. The density is important to reduce the risk of giving up what they have to come home.

This is an attractive factor for exactly the kind of people these companies are looking for today and in the near future. We should all think of entrepreneurship, not just some crazy thing that you start in your dorm room, but as a key part of growing Maine’s future workforce.

So if you’re a big company in Maine, you should be getting more involved in these events. Find ways to support them and encourage employee participation. You guys are the leading indicator of Maine’s economy and you’re, frankly, role models for others and for policy makers. If you get into the action, others will follow. An increased vibrancy in this space will yield big benefits for these you and for the state as a whole.

So it’s time to lean in.

Jess Knox

About Jess Knox

Born in Waterville, Jess Knox is a former high-ranking U.S. Small Business Administration official in Washington. Now living in Southern Maine, he is passionate about growing prosperity via entrepreneurship, innovation and startups in Maine. These days he helps companies pursue growth through his firm Olympico Strategies as a consultant and movement-maker. He also co-founded Maine Startup & Create Week