Q. Briefly, what is your vision and hope for Maine's entrepreneurial support community?
A. It’s no secret that Maine is an exceptional place to live. With its stunning natural beauty, and burgeoning arts and food scene, it offers many of the amenities that highly sought after graduates look for when they complete their education. The challenge is to develop a dynamic economy where millennials can live, play and work. Maine’s high quality academic institutions offer a pipeline of talent, skills and creativity that we need to keep in the state. For that reason, partnering with academic institutions to support entrepreneurial training, technology transfer and the emerging “start-up ecosystem” is a high priority. Maine’s manufacturing base, another key strength, represents opportunities for spin-offs, technology commercialization and diversification.
Assisting small businesses in expanding business development opportunities and getting to the next level is a key strategy for economic diversification. This is especially critical given uncertainty around Federal funding and defense procurement. Rural economic development is another area of importance given Maine’s demographics and size. Delivering high quality services to underserved areas will boost opportunities and connect rural communities with resources not available locally. I see this as an exciting challenge and look forward to engaging with economic development partners, community leaders and entrepreneurs around the state. Building a fertile statewide start-up culture, celebrating successes and continuing to develop a highly collaborative support community strengthens Maine’s brand nationally and internationally. I am excited to be part of it.
Q. You have had deep experience working for entrepreneurial accelerators, and putting together programs to push innovation. What do you think Maine could learn from other states?
A. Based on my experience in several states, the key is collaboration, coordination and the careful leveraging of resources. There are some great organizations and individuals in Maine devoted to assisting start-ups and promoting economic development. We need to work closely together as partners, along with the investment community, our elected officials, and private sector and academic partners to deliver impactful services to the state’s business community. The states that are most successful develop a shared vision and a consensus, and action plans to achieve their goals. These strategies are tied to strategic industries, traditional strengths and an overall marketing effort to differentiate, highlight and reinforce the state’s unique brand.
Q. What is your favorite part about interacting with entrepreneurs?
A. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working with some visionary and driven entrepreneurs to help them pursue their dreams. These individuals are often the “unsung hero’s” who identify compelling needs and provide the innovative products and services that make our lives better. Whether it’s bringing a new medical device to the market, a better way to fund rooftop solar, or bottling a new hot sauce, these are the creative people who solve problems, makes things happen and create jobs. It’s exciting and rewarding to see an idea become a reality and to contribute in some way to making it happen. I also love to see passionate, hard-working people succeed. Entrepreneurs are an inspiration to me and the reason I’m very passionate about work.
Q. Why do you think entrepreneurs need support?
A. Start-up companies play a vital role in our economy and are a powerful driver of innovation, growth and job creation. The bulk of new job creation in the US over the past two decades is due to small business development. This innovative and entrepreneurial spirit makes America the envy of the world. Our national success story is tempered by the reality that most start-ups face significant obstacles in the early stages of development. Many never survive beyond their first five years. Failure is often attributed to the combined gaps in business knowledge and experience of entrepreneurs and the lack of seed capital required to sustain a new business. I love working with start-up teams to improve their odds of success, helping them avoid common errors, and connecting them with the people and resources they need to succeed.
Q. What Maine specific adventure are you going to have first?
A. As a 17 year-old from St. Louis, my first introduction to New England was hiking the Appalachian trail in New Hampshire and Long Trail in Vermont. While Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin have long been on my bucket list, I’ll most likely stay closer to the Southern Coast during my first few months. I’ve heard great things about Rattlesnake Mountain near Casco. Coming from Arizona, it will be wonderful to hike without worrying about actual rattlesnakes for a change!