Samantha Marinko / January 27, 2022
The Maine business world is made up of many diverse industries—animal health, beer, seafood, agriculture, wellness, technology—we are a melting pot of innovation. All of these companies have something in common: they began as an idea. But ideas do not just turn into successful companies on their own. What makes the Maine startup community so robust?
“The most important thing is the entrepreneur behind the company,” says Greg Boulos. “Without the leader’s vision and focus on making his or her dream a reality, nothing else really matters.” Greg has worked with and witnessed the evolution of some of the most successful startups in Maine. “It’s hard to believe, but IDEXX was a startup at one point,” he said. “It was all the vision of David Shaw, who is a serial entrepreneur.” Shipyard Brewing Company was born of the same entrepreneurial spirit. “I remember Fred Forsley bringing kegs of beer around to bars, hoping they would take on his product and provide tap space. Besides having a great product, Shipyard was and is successful because of Fred’s vision, hustle, and focus.”
The number of successful young companies growing and staying in Maine has earned the state a reputation as a stellar location to start a business. But what attracts entrepreneurs to Maine? For one thing, the state offers abundant new business resources: Startup Maine has a 29-page guide full of resources for entrepreneurs. From local chambers of commerce, to the Maine Women’s Network, to SCORE Maine—if you have the idea, there is an organization here that can offer guidance and steer you towards success.
Amy VanHaren, founder of Pumpspotting.com, a support platform for breastfeeding women, utilized resources provided by SCORE when launching her startup. VanHaren, who describes Maine as forward-thinking and deeply supportive of innovation, was able to leverage resources that encourage business growth and development. Pumpspotting has since turned into a national success.
Resources aside, quality of life is one of Maine’s biggest attractions. Startups have had great luck recruiting in recent years because young people want to live here. The food, the mountains, the coast – reasons abound, and the word is officially out.
The technologies developed in startup businesses can go on to flourish beyond their humble origins. Take the story of Binax, started by entrepreneurs Roger Piasio and Myron Hamer. They sold their company to Alere Inc. who sold it to Abbott Laboratories. Today, Abbott’s test for COVID-19, used throughout the world, is based on Roger and Myron’s quick test concept for malaria and other diseases. With technology developed by Binax and translated into Abbott’s current use, the business has grown to occupy a footprint of over 250,000± SF of industrial, lab and office space in Maine. That huge footprint is proof of the success of a Maine startup.
Another noteworthy evolution is Putney, started by Jean Hoffman in 2006 and sold to Dechra Pharmaceuticals in 2016 for $200 million. Both Abbott and Dechra still have a significant presence in Maine. Two of Maine’s biggest employers, IDEXX and Covetrus, were once Maine-based startups. Covetrus began as Vets First Choice in an office of only a few thousand square feet, eventually growing to require a brand new 170,000± SF facility, the largest new office building in Maine in over two decades.
Maine’s financial community is very supportive of entrepreneurs. Local banks and credit unions are accustomed to tailoring their approach to accommodate the particular needs of startups. Nonprofits like Coastal Enterprises, the Finance Authority of Maine, and the Maine Community Foundation specialize in loans, grants, and investments in small and medium-sized businesses. Events like Greenlight Maine and Launchpad are also steppingstones available to Maine startups.
“The state is incredibly invested in the success of businesses who choose to make their home here. From the Maine Technology Institute to the Maine Seed Tax Credit program to the The Roux Institute, there are countless organizations and resources specifically designed to support startups on their journey,” said Joey Spitz, Chief Operating Officer of KinoTek, a startup that provides cutting-edge movement analysis software. Joey and the KinoTek team were the winners of the 2019 Greenlight Maine Collegiate Challenge and currently have an office in Portland’s Monument Square. “Words like community get tossed around a lot,” Spitz added, “but in Maine they actually mean something. I wouldn’t want to build a business anywhere else.” KinoTek nearly tripled the size of their office within their first year.
In addition to the resources, the funding opportunities, and the idea-makers themselves, the people in Maine are an invaluable part of the success of so many of the startups that have turned into prosperous businesses. “There is no better resource than Mainers themselves,” said Spitz. “I continue to be impressed by people’s willingness to share their knowledge, make an introduction, and lend a helping hand. There are countless people—complete strangers—who have taken time from their busy days to help our business without expecting anything in return. I have lived in cities across the country, but I have never been a part of a business community that genuinely supports each other like Maine.”
Startups are flourishing in our state, and even as many expand or are acquired by larger companies, they stick around. With so many great reasons to do business in Maine, I foresee continued success in the startup community. What rock star company of the future will get its start here in 2022? Time will tell.
Samantha Marinko, Associate