Evidence Shows Maine’s Innovation & Startup Ecosystem is bursting like Spring

In Q1 of 2015, lots happened in this startup and innovation space in Maine.

Sadly, we lost the “dean” of Maine’s venture capital community, Kip Moore. There have also been some transitions occurring with programs and physical spaces in Maine’s innovation, startup and creative entrepreneur community, some expected, some unexpected.  But even with all of that there are reasons to be optimistic.  There are so many awesome things happening, so I’ve taken a hack at trying to pull together a collection of the amazing things happening. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the recently released schedule for Maine Startup & Create Week in June — it will be epic. Enjoy.

News & Happenings:

BOOM — In January, the magazine Popular Mechanics named Portland one the best new cities in America to start a startup. Listed at #4 and beating out a bunch of other cities, it’s the first time that a city or town in Maine has EVER landed on a list for great place to start a startup or high-growth company.  Beyond having the 1.25 million print subscribers of PM see the list, they also did this awesome video. We ain’t just lobsters, lighthouses and LLBean anymore people.

AND…this is a wicked big deal: San Francisco startup Fig.ly has decided to build their development shop in Portland, Maine.  We even have economists calling for more startups — Chuck Lawton from the Maine Sunday Telegram, calls on Maine to make “Startups the New Normal.”  While an op-ed writer in the Bangor Daily News proposes making an intentional deal to bring young entrepreneurs back to Maine.  Apparently there was an event in Naples with Bud Stoddard on how to lure angel investment (I say apparently because it’s all behind a paywall). Even innovation in the university system is rearing it’s head — with a mission to drive more economic innovation in Maine, Eliot Cutler has agreed to serve as the head of the new graduate center in Maine.  Hopefully all of it will support what businesses are predicting as lots of opportunities from the soon-to-be launched New England Ocean Cluster building on the Maine State Pier in Portland.

Jason Cianchette, founder of Liquid Wireless, has launched a new venture to change the way we watch t.v. — called Huzzapp.  Meanwhile, a teen in Cape Elizabeth plans to launch a bike-powered lemonade stand.  RedZone Wireless, a new telecom startup from Camden, is taking on the big broadband market.  We even have lobsterman getting into the act and diving into innovation and invention.  Google has taken notice of the work being done here in Maine by the team at Cerahelix.   Redd Bar, while revolutionizing the healthy energy bar world, has been picking up some great press lately too.  And finally, in an article on how technology is revolutionizing the sport of hockey, the Boston Globe featured Orono Company, Double Blue sports.  

Sharks, Tanks & Success:

Later this year, the nationally recognized ABC show “Shark Tank” will host open auditions in Maine. Time to get you t.v. outfit on and your pitch ready.  Even more impressive the just getting on the show is how it could lead to success.  The last Mainers to be on the the show — Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac who started Cousins Maine Lobster — are doing really well expanding their business throughout the Los Angeles Market.  In March, they were featured in Entrepreneur Magazine.  APXnet, a telecom company in Berwick, scored a contract with NASCAR to build out a new gigabit fiber optic network for more than 24 NASCAR tracks across the country. Acquisitions:  Legal startup Custom Counsel of Portland was purchased for an undisclosed amount about by CuroLegal of Ohio.  Maine’s R&D dollars at work: working closely with Jackson Laboratories in Bar Harbor, Rock Step Solutions, received an SBIR (small business innovation & research) Grant from the NIH. This grant will help them continue to grow the commercialization of their product. In addition, Bar Harbor Biotech, a spinoff of JAX, continues to push into their market with new successes as well.


The Maine Angels have been ramping up their activity.  They’ve had their first exit which is an awesome sign of creating more prosperity and more serial entrepreneurs.  Tilson Technology in Portland has raised capital from a firm in Buffalo, NY.  So did Gelato Fiasco (Brunswick) and Cerahelix (Orono) as well as a bunch of other companies in Maine.  And there are reports that investors are starting to get into Maine’s growing aquaculture industry as well.


Some impressive finalists for the Gorham Savings Launch Pad competition this year.  One interesting piece is that 8 of the 10 companies who are finalists completed the TopGun program run by the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development and funded by Blackstone Accelerates Growth.  I wonder who will with the $30k prize this year? You can attend for free and find out for yourselves.  World Class- Brunswick’s Atayne was just named in the top 10 of Best Companies For the World, an annual ranking of worldwide B-Corp structured companies.  Rockland is blowin’ up with entrepreneur winners! The U.S. Small Business Administration has rolled out their awards for 2015.  Big congrats to both Kate McAleer from Bixby & Co in Rockland (2015 Young Entrepreneur of the Year) and Loyal Biscuit Co. and Heidi Neal of the Loyal Biscuit Co (2015 Maine Small Business Leader of the Year).  Both are graduates of the TopGun Program and, last year, Bixby & Co. was the winner of the Gorham Savings LaunchPad Competition.   Also, Memory Lane, the only Maine company in the MassChallenge this year, is a finalist for the 14th Annual French-American Business Awards in Boston.  By the way, know an innovator or entrepreneur who is rocking it in the greater Portland area?  Nominate them for the Entreverge Award from the PROPEL. Google has taken notice of the work being done here in Maine by the team at Cerahelix as they advance to the next round of Google’s “solve for X” competition.  

Upcoming Cool Events:  

In the Portland area, you can catch the Envision Maine series “Doers and Dreamers” each month.  You can hear previous presentations from the Grow Maine Show podcast.  In late April, up in Orono, you can check out the founder of Tom’s of Maine, Tom Chappell, the founder of Kepware Technologies, Corky Ellis as well as many others at the Black Bear Business Conference on April 24th.  You can see former SBA Administrator Karen Mills at the Junior Achievement Maine Business Hall of Fame event on May 6th.  MERADA is putting on a very cool conference on “Maine’s Growing Food Economy & It’s Impact on Real Estate on May 16th. Finally, on May 21st, at the Samoset in Rockland, the Maine International Trade Center is having their big Maine International Trade Day.

In June, things start to get crazy — good crazy.  June is like Maine’s entrepreneur season.  Some amazing stuff is happening all month. Starting on June 4th, the Manufacturing Association of Maine is having their annual summit at Pineland Farms. Then, on June 7th, the TopGun program is having their annual event which showcases the companies that are graduating from the program.  The state’s next Startup Weekend is June 12th-14th in Portland — this time it’s a women’s edition!  This format that has been going strong all over the world. It’s not just for women founders but for women interested in learning to think like an entrepreneur. Also on the 12th is the EnvisionMaine conference at Bowdoin on Climate Change and the Economy. The big Gorham Savings LaunchPad competition is on June 18th.  And then top it all off with Maine Startup & Create Week from June 22nd-28th.

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