FREEPORT — More than 200 entrepreneurs, educators, legislators, investors and leaders of businesses and nonprofit organziations gathered Friday for Envision Maine: a daylong summit to promote Maine’s economic future.

While conversations about how to support business growth are constantly occurring, the purpose of the gathering was to catalyze a collective effort to nourish that growth and encourage more.

“Innovation is not a new idea in Maine,” Alan Caron, president of Envision Maine, told a standing room only crowd at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport.

“What is new is being intentional about building innovation through the entire state … and redefining Maine as an entrepreneurial place and a magnet for startups.”

U.S. Sen. Angus King set the tone for the day. While acknowledging Maine’s demographic challenges, he said the state already has some of the most critical raw materials with which to grow and prosper.

“This is the nicest place to live I’ve ever found,” he said. “That’s our sort of ace in the hole. We’re going to have tough times with energy and climate, but I think we have a really amazing future and that future is going to be powered by people like you.”


To start the program, 10 business leaders each gave five-minute vision statements about what it will take to grow Maine. Their presentations were followed by workshops that explored how to create critical mass in an innovation-based economy, level the playing field for small businesses and startups, and streamline services for entrepreneurs, among other topics. The enthusiasm and provocative takeaways of the kick-off speakers were greeted with applause.

“If a college student says, ‘I have an idea,’ we need to surround him with the infrastructure that says: ‘It’s OK to fail and screw up again and again. At the end you will succeed,'” said Kerem Durdag, chief executive of Biovation II LLC, a Boothbay-based high-tech startup that designs and manufactures products using organic materials.

Mary Allen Lindemann, co-founder of Coffee by Design, spoke of the need to build the infrastructure that will allow the state to recapture revenue that’s now going out of state and make more products here. “We have industries that are growing and need our support,” she said. “We have the resources here to make it happen. We just need to believe in ourselves enough to do it.”

Shannon Kinney, founder of Dream Local Digital, a Rockland-based digital marketing company, urged the crowd to focus on workforce development so that Maine has a robust enough environment to lure people to work here, and provide opportunities for professional spouses.

Shawn Moody, founder of Moody’s Collision Centers, urged those gathered to empower and engage the next generation of leaders through initiatives such as employee stock ownership plans, which his company created in 2003.

“What we do is difficult and I don’t want someone to work in our organization for 30 years and end up with nothing,” he said. “That’s not acceptable. It’s the organization they put their heart and soul into.”


He also made a case for performance-based pay. “Across-the-board-pay raises breed mediocrity,” he said. “In public service and education, we have to help people feel empowered and get rewarded for performance.”

Melissa Smith, chief executive of WEX, the South Portland-based global corporate payments company, talked of the need to fuel the talent pipeline by investing in STEM research and scholarships, and the importance of having the financial system in place to help companies scale meaningfully and stay in Maine after they do.

“Great ideas grow and get purchased and taken out of Maine,” she said. “If we hadn’t gone public (through an IPO) we wouldn’t be in that position where we can grow and keep thriving in Maine. We need to make sure we have the right financial infrastructure in place to retain all this greatness.”

Jess Knox, statewide innovation hub coordinator for the Blackstone Accelerates Growth program, said innovation will hinge on the courage to embrace people with diverse perspectives and backgrounds. He urged the crowd to get rid of the “cultural credentialing system” that divides Mainers into natives and newcomers and prompts the perennial question “Are you from away?”

“If we’re trying to attract people here, we’ve got to stop saying this,” he said. “It makes people not want to be here.”

John Piotti, executive director of the Maine Farmland Trust, discussed the need to nourish the thriving agricultural sector. In the last decade, the number of farms in Maine is up by 14 percent, and in the past five years the value of agricultural products made in Maine has increased by 30 percent. The number of new young farmers in Maine has outpaced national trends. But as farmers near retirement age, it’s important to keep inspiring young people to farm and make it financially feasible for them to do so, he noted.

“People want to farm, but that doesn’t mean people can afford to buy land to farm,” Piotti said.

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