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Inno on the Road: New startups entering Maine ecosystem already have an impact

Mainstays of the Maine startup ecosystem will already know its hallmark organizations and programs, including Startup Maine, which was born in 2014, and the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs, established in 1997.

Over the last few years, organizations with roots in other states, including Massachusetts-based Northeastern University and the nonprofit Entrepreneurship for All, have begun expanding into Maine. Not every experimental expansion has worked out, as evidenced by the shutdown of Techstars Portland earlier this year. But overall, these recent entrants to the ecosystem are introducing new resources to entrepreneurs and breathing new life into Maine’s startups.

There are some early signs that the new programs are bearing fruit.

There have been 68 venture capital funding announcements from Maine companies thus far in 2023, according to Crunchbase data. During the same time period last year, Crunchbase recorded 32 funding rounds. In 2021, there were 24. These numbers buck the national trend of a decline in funding during this period.

Maine founders, especially those from underrepresented communities, also told BostInno they’re seeing value in bringing more players and support systems into the ecosystem.

The launch of Roux Institute in Portland

In 2020, Northeastern University launched the Roux Institute in Portland to be an economic development engine for Maine through research, learning and entrepreneurship programs, according to Chris Wolfel, Northeastern’s associate vice president of entrepreneurship and venture creation.

For a brief period the Roux Institute collaborated with Techstars on an accelerator. Techstars, which operates more than 40 startup accelerators worldwide, launched a new Portland-based program with the Roux Institute in 2021. At the start of 2023, after two cohorts had been through the program, the accelerator ended.

Wolfel said the Roux wanted to focus on programs they could scale, like their own Founder Residency, which is for women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and other historically marginalized people to develop their tech-based, early-stage startups. The Roux’s entrepreneurship programs also include its Future of Healthcare Founder Residency and idea hackathons known as Start Summits.

With the launch of the Roux, Wolfel said they aimed to bring a more “traditional accelerator” model to Maine with “cash, curriculum, and coaching.”

The Roux also stands apart in Maine because its entrepreneurs benefit from connections to Northeastern’s learning and research enterprises in Portland and around the world, Wolfel said.

Another new entrant into Maine is the nonprofit Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll), which launched its business accelerator program in Maine earlier this year. Maine Technology Institute is providing a three-year sponsorship commitment to EforAll in the state. EforAll works with underrepresented entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses.