Success from the Innovate for Maine Fellows Program

“Innovate for Maine” fellowship leads one Maine student to two-year “Venture for America” fellowship

Note:  This is another great guest post from Jennifer Hooper from the Foster Center for Innovation at the University of Maine.

When Brock Cassidy, now a senior at Bowdoin College, was 10 years old he collected discarded sticks from beaver dams in the Maine woods, transformed them into walking sticks, and sold them at craft fairs. This endeavor marked his first entrepreneurial experience but not his last.

“By the time I got to Bowdoin I helped start our school’s first entrepreneurship club and have had a hard time understanding the aversion most of my peers have with trying to build something and create jobs/internships themselves,” Cassidy says.

It was this spirit that helped him earn a position as a fellow in the Blackstone Accelerates Growth “Innovate for Maine” fellowship program two years ago.  The program, coordinated by the University of Maine, provides innovation training and exposure to Maine’s entrepreneurial landscape, then places college students in internships at innovative and fast-growing companies across Maine.  Cassidy was matched with the Maine Technology Institute (MTI), where he worked as an economic analyst – supporting MTI’s efforts to measure the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Maine and how MTI could better support its portfolio companies.

The fellowship further exposed Cassidy to Maine’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, where he learned about exciting startup companies, and connected with entrepreneurs at events like Startup Weekend.  At Portland’s Startup Weekend last June, he was one of 50 people who pitched a business idea.  Cassidy’s idea was one of 15 selected projects for the weekend, and his team went on to become one of the three finalists.  In just three days, Cassidy’s team formed Day With a Local, a Maine company that pairs tourists with local guides for unique Maine experiences.

Cassidy hasn’t slowed down since. Earlier this year he applied–and was recently selected–to participate in “Venture for America (VFA),” a two-year fellowship program that immerses recent college graduates in the “trenches of a startup in an emerging city, where they learn how to build a business while making an impact.”

When asked if the “Innovate for Maine” fellowship had any impact on his application and acceptance into the “Venture for America” program, Cassidy said, “I spoke about the ‘Innovate for Maine’ program in a few of my interviews to indicate that I understood what working in the startup world would actually look like.  I also spoke at length about my long relationship working with the Maine Technology Institute and all the opportunities I have been given there since Innovate for Maine paired us together.”

The “Venture for America” program is not an obvious path out of Bowdoin, and no previous student had ever pursued the opportunity before, so Cassidy conducted significant research on VFA on his own.  He was motivated by his desire to work at a high-growth startup after graduation.  Now that he’s been accepted, he’s excited to participate in VFA because he’ll be exposed to a lot of startup options, as well as belong to a class of high potential young entrepreneurs.  “Many of the fellows from previous years have already started ventures together and there is a lot of opportunity for training, mentoring, and even funding for a fellow’s venture at the end of the two-year commitment,” Cassidy says.

Cassidy has strong ties to Maine, and anticipates he always will.  “The untapped beauty of this state makes me incredibly happy any time I step outside, from my family’s cabin in northern Maine, to the mountains in western Maine, to the coast where I have attended school…It seems strange to be preparing to leave Maine, because all VFA cities are much bigger than any in Maine (1-3 million people), but I will definitely be back regularly and could see myself coming back here to build new companies after I conclude this program.”

On the surface, this story appears to be about a single college student, but in truth, it reflects a much deeper story about Maine’s entrepreneurial ecosystem: it’s working.  There’s increasing synergy among programs like Innovate for Maine, events like Startup Weekend, entrepreneurial college students like Cassidy, service providers like the University of Maine, and growing companies and new startups.  Every year, these connections become more prevalent and more cohesive, which is exactly what Blackstone Accelerates Growth intended when it invested $3 million in Maine in the first place.

–This is another guest post from Jennifer Hooper from the Foster Center for Innovation at the University of Maine.

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