WATERVILLE — While teaching middle school science in Providence, Rhode Island, Lindsay Kuhn realized her students could benefit from learning about diverse experiences to broaden their understanding of where their careers can take them.

“My students’ dreams and career aspirations were being shaped by their limited life experiences and I created Wingspans to expand their idea of what is possible,” Kuhn, founder and CEO of Wingspans, said by email Thursday.

Wingspans is now a growing startup business, partly based in Waterville, consisting of journalists and filmmakers who interview people about their work and tell their stories. The company’s work includes software that helps connect people with potential employers, bringing a more personal dimension that goes beyond the standard interview process.

Garvan D. Donegan, left, Emalee Couture, Susan Ruhlin and Sabrina Jandreau gather Thursday at Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space in Waterville. Donegan is director of planning, innovation and economic development for the Central Maine Growth Council; Couture is the growth manager for Dirigo Labs; Ruhlin is the managing director of Dirigo Labs, and Jandreau is the development coordinator for the growth council. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Wingspans is one of 12 companies participating in Waterville-based Dirigo Labs’ free, inaugural 12-week training program for startups that are intended to highlight central Maine as a hub for entrepreneurs looking to launch ventures in software technology, manufacturing, biotechnology, aerospace and other fields.

“We certainly hope that the companies participating in Dirigo Labs’ programs will look at this area favorably to grow their business,” Dirigo Labs Managing Director Susan Ruhlin said Wednesday. “We also want to be good stewards for the state of Maine, and we want to showcase Maine as a whole.”

The “accelerator class” in which the 12 companies are participating is an initiative spearheaded by Garvan Donegan, director of planning, innovation and economic development for the Central Maine Growth Council. It is intended to be part of a broader regional economic development plan.


“With world-class academic institutions and a geographic location within 60 minutes of the state’s largest cities, Dirigo Labs is the primary entrepreneurship service provider between Bangor/Orono, the home of the University of Maine, and greater Portland, Maine’s hub of economic and startup activity,” according to a statement released by Dirigo Labs.

Lindsay Kuhn, center right, founder and CEO of Wingspans, partly based in Waterville, interviews a zookeeper. Wingspans was selected recently to participate in a Waterville program that helps startups grow. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Kuhn

Beginning next Wednesday, three workshops are to be held each week at Dirigo Labs’ home base in the Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space at the Hathaway Creative Center in Waterville. They are to be available in person or virtually. Each company will be assigned a temporary board of advisers to guide operations, according to Ruhlin.

“Because they’re later-stage companies, they’re all going to have very unique needs that they’re trying to achieve,” Ruhlin said. “So it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for them.”

Some of the 12 companies, which operate in the areas of software, aerospace, medical technology, food and more, are focused on raising money. Some are trying to roll out manufacturing plans, and others are planning to hire employees and expand, Ruhlin said.

The workshops include guest speakers and will focus on attracting customers, product development, legal and financial advice, marketing and more, according to Ruhlin.

Prospector Portal, based partly in Waterville, is another company participating in the Dirigo Labs program. It uses artificial intelligence that largely performs “natural language processing” to collect publicly available data into a searchable database used mainly by mining companies and investors, COO John Godbout said Thursday.


He said artificial intelligence simply cuts back the time human researchers must spend sifting through technical data and reports, making it easier and less costly to gather, organize and identify relevant information related to mining.

The company hopes to expand its workforce, particularly in Waterville, from about 15 employees after going through the business accelerator class, according to Godbout.

Winthrop’s Lon Cameron, who manufactures floating picnic tables, is participating in a program by Dirigo Labs of Waterville that helps small businesses and startups expand. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

“To me, working at Dirigo Labs is mainly about building a tech community here in Waterville,” he said. “This is about creating an environment encouraging folks to come here and work.”

More than 40 entrepreneurs were interviewed to be considered for Dirigo Labs’ program. Some of the factors considered were if the companies had an existing customer base, existing revenue and prior startup experience, Ruhlin said.

The program is free because it is funded by a federal grant and funding matches from the Maine Technology Institute and Colby College, which Donegan of the Central Maine Growth Council secured.

Other companies included in the accelerator class are Winthrop’s Maine Float, which makes motorized, floating picnic tables, and The Good Crust of Canaan, which makes dough using ingredients from Maine Grains of Skowhegan.

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