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Maine Innovates Hot Startup Scene

See what draws creative startups to Maine's hot technology community.

By Teree Caruthers on September 25, 2015

From software that preserves digital memories to next-generation wireless speakers, Maine is home to innovative technologies produced by a growing startup scene that leverages unique assets to make the state one of the nation’s hottest destinations for tech entrepreneurs.
Homegrown firms such as CashStar, Winxnet, Tilson Technologies and Apothecary by Design were among 14 Maine companies named to the Inc. 500 list in 2014. Other tech companies such as WEX and Kepware are in the spotlight for their recent growth as well.
Behind the scenes of many startups and innovators is the Maine Technology Institute (MTI), which since 1999 has invested more than $178 million in 1,500-plus Maine companies, organizations and institutions that engage innovative technologies in seven key industry sectors.
“MTI is delighted to invest these funds to stimulate research, development and commercialization activities at these emerging Maine companies,” says Brian Whitney, MTI’s president.
The Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development also offers entrepreneurs services, resources and mentorship.
Funding the Future
Tech firms are using MTI grants to develop products and technologies and move them to the market.
DemerBox co-founder James Demer built the first prototype of his wireless portable speaker out of an old equipment case while working as a sound location mixer on a film shoot in Alaska. Along with funds raised from a Kickstarter campaign, the Portland-based Demer used a TechStart Grant and a seed grant from MTI to further develop the rugged, waterproof and Bluetooth-enabled boombox.
To serve the cold-water sports community, Furnace co-founder Yona Belfort is working on the second version of a dry glove for surfers. Belfort launched his first product on Kickstarter, and runs the business out of Engine Room, a small-business incubator in Portland. MTI provided grant funding to to help him develop patented bite valve technology on the glove that allows surfers to let cold air out and blow warm air in.
With seed funding from MTI, co-founder Pamela Castrucci and her team launched Voice Kite, a Gorham-based startup that has developed an app for preserving digital memories, driven by the loss of loved ones.
“While most people carefully plan to pass down physical valuables to loved ones, there is no simple, reliable solution available today to organize, preserve and transition those personal memories and stories for generations to come,” Castrucci says.
The MTI seed grant allowed the Voice Kite team to build its software prototype and perform critical market testing.
“The innovation demonstrated by this technology exemplifies the creativity of Maine entrepreneurs, and MTI is pleased to continue to play a role in its development,” Whitney says.
Additional support comes from Blackstone Accelerates Growth, a three-year initiative of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation to accelerate the growth of entrepreneurs and innovative companies in Maine. Jess Knox, statewide innovation hub coordinator, is expanding a series of innovation hubs, including new ones in Lewiston-Auburn and York County.
The initiative focuses on working with existing organizations and programs to build stronger and more effective entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystems, Knox says.
Point of Entry
A relatively new player in the startup scene is TechPlace, a tech incubator at Brunswick Landing designed to attract companies developing technologies in composite materials, aviation, biotech and renewable energy markets.
The 95,000-square-foot space offers both office and manufacturing facilities and shared manufacturing shop and plans to develop a shared lab for biotech companies, according to Kristine Schuman, director of TechPlace. In addition to facilities, the incubator also offers educational opportunities.
“We bring in resources and services through seminars, workshops and lectures on different topics such as writing a business plan, getting a patent and human resources topics,” Schuman says.
The space is home to 14 companies, including one from Switzerland and others from out of state, attracted by the startup culture and resources.
“It’s actually a nice way to have an entry point that’s lower risk than to try to take on a bigger space, and it’s a good entry into the Maine market,” Schuman says.

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