As part of our “Meet Startup Communities” series, we go to Portland, Maine to check out how they are growing their startup community.
“About 80 percent of Maine’s businesses are small businesses with less than 10 employees; so the culture of helping small businesses and local entrepreneurs has deep roots in our state,” said Jess Knox, Lead Organizer of Maine Startup and Create Week. “Recently, we have seen a rise in the amount of resources that are of interest to the startup community specifically.”
Jess Knox says four years ago there was no Startup Weekend events in Portland, Maine, now their startup community about to have their third event. Startup Weekend events aim to launch startups in 54 hours. In these 54-hour stretches, designers, developers, marketers, project managers, startup enthusiasts unite to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups.
And the Portland startup community didn’t stop at Startup Weekend events.
“Portland has hosted several Startup Weekends, has a number of co-working spaces, and, with our Maine Startup and Create Week event in June, will be the smallest city in the country to host a Startup Week. Maine has a vibrant innovative, startup, and creative entrepreneurship community,” said Jess Knox, Lead Organizer of Maine Startup and Create Week. “We’re eager to show it off in June with Maine Startup and Create Week (MSCW). While many people think we’re just lobsters and LL Bean, we have a lot going on. We have mini-clusters of startups in pets, vets, biotech, electronic payment systems, and insurance. We also have a ton of folks in renewable energy. More are bubbling up each and every day.”
“Three years ago, there really wasn’t anyone trying to grow the community,” he continued. “Since 2011, we’ve had the Blackstone Accelerates Growth program, a $3 million program funded by the Blackstone Charitable foundation focused on building intentional communities of innovation and entrepreneurship through its Innovation Hub program. We didn’t have any “digital watering holes” for people to connect, now we have Startup Portland and Startup Bangor was just announced. We had maybe one or two meet ups, now we have more than 15. We have a social media breakfast. We used to have zero coverage of entrepreneurship by the popular media, now each and every week we are seeing more and more stories about local entrepreneurs.”
Jess Knox says Maine and Portland are in the middle of an incredible evolution.
“Our economic development and growth strategies are changing by the day,” he explains. “Our challenges are similar to other communities, but we’re working on them every day.”
He lists one of the major problems as density and says one of the major challenges that startups in Maine face is simply the size of the state.
“Our innovators and entrepreneurs are spread throughout the state. With events like MSCW, we’re working to help create intentional communities among innovators and entrepreneurs around the state,” he said.
Jess Knox also says a strong history of humility is something the startup community in Maine needs to focus on.
“We have tons of amazing startups that are hidden throughout the state, but without the culture of sharing their business stories, no one knows what they’re up to and often times these businesses can feel like their going it alone,” he said.
Finally, Jess Knox cites “Yankee Frugality” as a challenge to the growing startup community in Maine. He says that while this is a benefit sometimes, it creates challenges for “betting big.”
So why launch a startup in Portland, Maine?
“Portland, Maine is a wonderful place to live,” Jess Knox explains. “Hilariously, many folks don’t even lock their homes at night because it is so incredibly safe to live here. Portland is a friendly town where everyone wants to see everyone else succeed. Supporting local businesses is part of our culture. Moreover, if you want to meet with a “fancy CEO” or someone who’s built a company, you don’t have to ping them on LinkedIn for months or come up with a strategy. Often, you can just call up and make an appointment with them; that’s the supportive atmosphere.”
Beyond that, he says Portland has great workspaces available that are a third of the cost of equivalent space in Boston and a quarter of the cost in New York.
“It’s also a convenient travel hub. We’re an hour and forty minutes by train to Boston (with high-speed wifi), which just happens to be one of the largest collection of venture capital in the US and a mecca for talent with 86 colleges and universities,” he said.
When it comes to amazing teams who call Portland, Maine home, Jess Knox says three standout in his mind:
“The Team at Vet’s First Choice, with CEO Ben Shaw is rocking,” he said. “In many ways, the company is a product of the amazingly innovative work that’s happening at IDEXX, but now has grown into a big data, medical informatics company. They are crunching all sorts of new data points to totally disrupt the way pet care is provided (don’t laugh, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry).”
“The team at Big Room Studios, co-founder Sam Mateosian is developing some incredible cutting edge technologies, mobile platforms, and their new interactive story telling app, Yarn. Watch out for these guys,” he continues. “And watch out for WEX, Inc., a public company led by CEO Melissa Smith, which is revolutionizing fleet payment systems across the world.”
For those in the Vegas Tech community interested in checking out the startup community in Maine and meeting with entrepeneurs and thought leaders there, Jess Knox says Maine Startup and Create Week happening June 12- June 20, 2014 is a great place to connect.
“And if you think you might want to move here to live and work in a startup or innovative community, fill-out this form and we might select you to be one of the 10 people that we fly in for the week and pay for your flight and hotel,” he said.
Learn more about other startup communities! Follow our “Meet Startup Communities” series here.