Two Maine organizations awarded federal innovation accelerator grants

Christel Deskins

Waterville’s Central Maine Growth Council and Portland-based Maine Center for Enterprise Development have been awarded grants that support creation of rural innovation hubs. CMGC has been awarded a $599,969 grant that, when combined with matching money, will provide $1.2 million for a regional innovation hub. The Maine Center for Enterprise Development was awarded […]

Waterville’s Central Maine Growth Council and Portland-based Maine Center for Enterprise Development have been awarded grants that support creation of rural innovation hubs.

CMGC has been awarded a $599,969 grant that, when combined with matching money, will provide $1.2 million for a regional innovation hub.

The Maine Center for Enterprise Development was awarded a $512,556 grant to support bioscience innovation that, with matching money, will total more than $1 million.

The two organizations are among four in New England to get the Building 2 Scale Venture Challenge Grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Nationally, 52 were awarded in 36 states, totaling $35 million. They are designed to help spur economic development through innovation in rural areas.

Across the country, the grants are expected to leverage $44 million in matching money from private and public sector sources.

The Waterville grant will be used to create a startup accelerator in the region, Dirigo Labs, that will “organize the tech industry’s ability to transition from the post-manufacturing economy,” according to CMGC. Plans include building a startup accelerator with business members, job creation, facilitating access to investment capital and creating a mentoring network.

The Maine Center for Enterprise Development grant will fund the Maine Bioscience Cluster Initiative, which will provide an infrastructure to launch and accelerate commercialization of scientific discoveries, products and services in the bioscience industry.

“Within the context of COVID-19, I believe this grant shows CMGC’s foresight on the economy prior to COVID-19 and, now, resiliency during it,” said Garvan Donegan, CMGC director of planning and economic development.

“As a result of the EDA B2S grant, I we believe CMGC, Waterville, and the region are particularly well-positioned in today’s local, state, regional, and global economy,” he told Mainebiz this morning.

The grantees were selected from more than 600 applications. They “represent exemplary innovation and entrepreneurship from rural and urban areas across America,” said Dana Gartzke, acting U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for economic development. The other two New England organizations awarded grants were the Massachusetts Technology Development Corp. in Boston and RI Bio in Providence, R.I.

Gartzke said that the project, like the others, is also in a federally designated Opportunity Zone, and “will bring new capital and opportunity to communities that traditionally have been ignored.” 

New economy jobs in central Maine

“This grant award will allow CMGC to scale our organization and associated projects while executing on an economic development model that works to educate and train local residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs and empower them to launch startups that will drive digital economies,” Donegan said.

The grant is in addition to $602,910 in matching money to get the Dirigo Labs initiative rolling. Donegan told Mainebiz the local match includes a competitively awarded $300,000 cash grant from Maine Technology Institute, $125,000 from Colby College and remaining costs via CMGC. He said there are also in-kind commitments from Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space, which has a cooperative agreement with CMGC allowing the council to use Bricks’ space at the Hathaway Center in Waterville.

The project is part of the Rural Innovation Initiative that the council was chosen for at the beginning of the year, one of 10 organizations in the U.S. to take part. The program helps rural areas create digital economy jobs through an innovation hub strategy.

Rural Innovation Strategies Inc., which advances economic development in rural areas, created the innovation initiative, and announced the B2S Venture Capital Grant award Thursday.

Dirigo Labs will be a hub for entrepreneurs and tech workers. The program will:

  • Build a startup accelerator with cohort members, generating $15 million in sales;
  • Cultivate a 30-mentor network that produces more than 400 mentoring sessions;
  • Facilitate access to investment capital and deal flow that raises $10 million;
  • Marshal academic assets to develop a tech talent pipeline that fills 50 new jobs.

“In a time when the pandemic is creating a ‘rural moment,’ these funds will allow forward thinking small communities like Waterville to support local entrepreneurs to build new companies for the future,” said Matt Dunne, executive director of RISI and founder of CORI.

Bringing together bioscience innovation

The Maine Center for Enterprise Development, which does business as the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs, is matching its grant with $517,994 in private and donated money.

The money will give the state’s bioscience industry an infrastructure and also strengthen the links to a regional Portland-Portsmouth-Boston life sciences corridor, the center said in its project description.

“Maine has an impressive concentration of world-class scientists producing cutting-edge bioscience discoveries at globally recognized research facilities including Jackson Laboratory, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, MaineHealth, the University of Maine and the University of New England,” it said.

While there is a growing interest in launching businesses from discoveries made at the institutions and by other bioscience innovators, they are “geographically diverse and lack infrastructure to launch and accelerate commercialization of new scientific discoveries, products and services,” the center said.

The bioscience innovation hub will be In collaboration with economic development organizations, the Maine Technology Institute, FocusMaine, MaineHealth Innovation Center and other existing mixed-use accelerators and incubators.The center, which 

The center will adapt it statewide programs to grow the bioscience sector. Programs are:

  • BioInnovate, which will provide technical services to foster commercialization of research at partner institutions.
  • BioStartup, which will provide focused technical support to cohorts at the three partner incubators with training, mentoring, and market intelligence, as well as initiatives to remove institutional and geographic barriers.

The goals align with both the Greater Portland’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, which specifically calls for cluster development in high potential industries, and the state’s 10-year economic plan, which calls for “center of excellence” hubs to further innovation, the center said.

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