Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space at the Hathaway Creative Center, Thomas College and Tortoise Labs in Waterville have received a grant from the Alfond Foundation to support local startup businesses. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — The Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation has awarded a grant to help boost the Waterville area’s technology and innovation sector, taking particular aim at providing training, accommodations, the development of software and continuity to student entrepreneurs.

The funding has been awarded to a partnership that includes Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space, Thomas College and Tortoise Labs.

“This grant is the next step for us in our mission to make Waterville a place where entrepreneurs, founders and creators want to be and want to grow their businesses,” said RJ Anzelc, founder of Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space.

The award supports innovation-based courses in product design and classroom space and infrastructure; the development of software prototypes for course graduates; dedicated coworking space for graduates; and scholarships to allow student entrepreneurs to remain in Waterville over the summer to continue their work.

The coworking space in downtown Waterville’s Hathaway Creative Center will house the design courses and provide space for class participants and graduates to work on their business ideas, though all programming will be virtual until the need for social distancing subsides.

The product design courses will be taught by Tortoise Labs, a software design and development company based at Bricks, in an eight-week format. The free program is open to all interested makers, whether student or non-student, with no technical or design experience required. Participants will receive personalized guidance on how to move their idea from concept to customer, which will include software design.

Nick Rimsa, product designer at Tortoise Labs, has taught product design at Colby College and CEI’s Women’s Business Center, including people from a variety of backgrounds with no prior experience in design. “It has been so exciting to share our love of making things with others and to see students and community members using software as a medium to solve problems.”

Graduates of the product design course and entrepreneurs in the Waterville area will be eligible for the opportunity to develop a software prototype with Tortoise Labs.

Mike Duguay, executive director of the Harold Alfond Institute for Business Innovation at Thomas College, said, “What invariably is missing is the process for getting ideas out of people’s heads and out into the marketplace. This program is that missing link.”

A second barrier to monetizing an idea or scaling a startup, particularly for students, is summer break, which forces students to leave the area. With the Alfond Foundation grant funding, Thomas College will provide housing to allow student entrepreneurs to remain in Waterville to continue their work.

The grant funding arrives at a propitious time for entrepreneurs working on startups. Students at Thomas College and Colby College have recently received Maine Technology Institute (MTI) grant funding and appeared on the pitch competition Greenlight Maine.

Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space received a grant from Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development to bolster its innovation and entrepreneurship efforts focused mainly on local student entrepreneurs.

“Technology and innovation is a key growth sector for downtown Waterville and the mid-Maine region, and the infrastructure and resources offered by partners, including Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space, Colby and Thomas Colleges, MTI, Tortoise Labs, and the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation is creating an innovation hub that attracts entrepreneurs and serves as their launching pad,” said Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development at the Central Maine Growth Council.

The first product design course, which runs from July to August, is already full. The next available course begins in September. Space is limited but residents and students in central Maine are prioritized.

Those interested may sign up for the waitlist at

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