Q: What was the impetus to form MxG?
A: MxG builds off of four years of work MCED, MTI and the University of Maine did together as the Blackstone Accelerates Growth initiative. BxG, funded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, was responsible for the expansion of Top Gun, the establishment of the Innovate for Maine Fellows internship program and for the development of several great event opportunities that build entrepreneurial culture and community like Big Gig, PubHub and House of Genius. BxG partners and organizations worked to create a new model for building prosperity across Maine. New collaborations arose, new lessons learned, and new talent was developed to start, expand and grow companies and talent across the state.
As the Blackstone Charitable Foundation support was coming to a close, the BxG team recognized the value of working together, for the ecosystem as a whole. We also recognized that after four years of working together for one funder from outside of Maine, that it was time that Maine took hold of its own destiny. Thus, Blackstone Accelerates Growth morphed into Maine Accelerates Growth. This new effort takes the lessons learned from both the success and challenges identified during the BxG years and applies that to a new and innovative model of collaboration.
Our mission is to accelerate the growth of companies, communities, and talent by funding, creating, and leveraging high impact entrepreneurship and innovation programs and events through a collaborative and complementary network of organizations and individuals propelling prosperity across Maine.
We study emerging best practices to continuously improve our approach to creating an extraordinary future for Maine.
Q: What makes MxG different?
A: MxG is a complementary network, but it is also a funding mechanism. The Maine Accelerates Growth Fund at the Maine Community Foundation is a vehicle for anyone who wants to contribute money to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Donations are matched by a challenge grant from Maine Technology Institute. Organizations can raise money “to and through” the fund, with the matching challenge grant dollars going into an undesignated pool for the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Donors don’t have to choose to give to MCED or MxG – it is a donation to MCED AND MxG.
MxG can move quickly to invest both knowledge and resources into an opportunity to grow the ecosystem. It has the freedom and flexibility to follow the rules of innovation and experiment with new products and programs and get rapid feedback without the drag of bureaucracy and historic expectations.
For donors approached about new programs and initiatives, it can provide objective due diligence and objective measures of success. And donations will always leverage a multiplier impact for the ecosystem.
MxG is open to all new ideas and "doers". If your idea is new or you're not an organization, that's okay – we want to find the best ideas and we'll work with you to make those happen.
Q: What organizations are involved? Can more join MxG?
A: Since launching MxG in August 2015, we have steadily added organizational partners to the MxG network. The original three statewide organizations from Blackstone Accelerates Growth - MCED, UMaine and MTI have stayed actively involved, as have the BxG Innovation Hub hosts, Midcoast Magnet, Engine and Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council. Maine Venture Fund, Our Katahdin, Thomas College, Greenlight Maine, Bangor Target Technology Center, Maine Startup and Create Week, and our newest partners, SCORE and University of Maine Business Competition have all joined as part of the transition from BxG to MxG and the growth of the network.
Together we have developed an organizational partner pledge that any organization who wants to collaborate can sign. The pledge includes a willingness to collaborate to achieve the MxG vision; to provide up to 10 hours of pro-bono work per month to support the MxG network and initiatives; to collect and contribute data for MxG's annual measurements of the ecosystem's strength; to substantially publicize and publicly acknowledge the MxG initiative and the collaborative community efforts of other members; to publicly celebrate entrepreneurs and innovators whenever possible; and finally, if the organization actively cultivates donors, commit a portion of their fundraising efforts through the MxG fund so that matching grants can be triggered for broader investment into the ecosystem.
Q. How does MxG interact with the Maine entrepreneurial ecosystem?
A: Part of MxG’s magic is the way its partners interact and support each other’s efforts within the ecosystem. The use of the term “ecosystem” is deliberate – an ecosystem is a wild and uncontrollable system, it is hard to tell what is a desirable plant and what is a weed, and just like in a real ecosystem, different elements compete and cooperate in various ways. MxG thrives on the value of “co-opetition” – an insistence on excellence, but the recognition that excellence may come from unexpected place and ideas. MxG does not control the entrepreneurial ecosystem, but it does celebrate it and functions as a deliberate network to improve communication, alignment and joint programming.
Q: What kind of projects can MxG funding be used for?
A: MxG has been working to establish guidelines for making fund distributions that reflect our principles and values. We have a draft version on our website to get feedback before we put a final version out. We think funds will be best used for projects, events and programs that focus on the growth of entrepreneurial and innovative companies, communities and talent (people). Initially funding will be awarded in two areas: (1) Programs and events that support increasing Maine companies’ access to talent, capital and markets; (2) Programs and events that build the community of entrepreneurs and culture of innovation in Maine.
We encourage people to take a look at the guidelines and complete our survey for feedback, or attend one of our “blue sky sessions” immediately prior to the Top Gun Regional Showcases in Portland and Bangor on May 18th. We want to make sure we are focused on the right areas and also have very clear guidelines that are accessible to all who have good ideas.
Q: In your wildest blue sky dreams, what are your aspirations for MxG?
A: I love MxG – it is the most exciting work I have been involved with. When I think about why – it is really the culture we are trying to build within our network – it is a culture of assuming positive intent and that all have something to contribute and something to learn; it is an insistence on excellence, but also supporting and pushing each other to get there; it is respect and honesty; it is a willingness to be uncomfortable and sit with the unfamiliar and unanswered; it is inviting, a recognition that we don’t have all the answers and that planning for MxG’s future needs more participation; and finally, it is shared ownership – I care whether our partners succeed or not and am committed to supporting them.
I have aspirations for MxG on several fronts – first, that we have a strong impact on Maine’s culture and community surrounding entrepreneurs that leads to more successes and in turn, makes Maine more prosperous for all her citizens; second is that MxG’s model of co-opetition and complementary network becomes the culture of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Maine with organizations working together to be as effective as possible; and third, that our structure breaks down the silos between all the various types of organizations and people who work to make Maine a better place – philanthropists, investors, non-profits, private interests, economic development professionals, educators and just plain old citizens. We often tend to “stay in our own lane” and can’t always see how thinking more expansively and creatively, taking more chances, can help connect the dots.
Of course, I also hope that MxG does an excellent job in its execution, enough that we bring in many new donors and investors into our entrepreneurial ecosystem and that we are able to fully develop our evaluation system to prove out what are the most important elements we need to support within the ecosystem to helpentrepreneurs make the difference in our economy.
Martha Bentley has been Program and Operations Manager of Blackstone Accelerates Growth, and then Maine Accelerates Growth since March 2013. She has worked with the Maine Technology Institute in a variety of capacities since 2002, currently also managing the Cluster Initiative Program and the Maine Technology Asset Fund. In addition to her work with MTI, Martha manages the Big White Barn, LLC.
Martha received her B.A. from Davidson College cum laude with honors in history, and her M.A. from the University of South Carolina. She has held a variety of positions relating to non-profit management and philanthropy, including grants manager for the Public Welfare Foundation in Washington, DC, and director of programs at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.