WATERVILLE, Maine — A lot of Maine industries are becoming more innovative. Many of these new companies are relocating, or starting up, in southern Maine, but there has been new growth in the Waterville area.
Dirigo Labs is an accelerator program that launched last year. Companies took part in a 12-week program where they worked with mentors to expand their company, raise money, or do whatever was best suited for them.
“Anyone who has the privilege to work with entrepreneurs is so lucky," Dirigio Labs managing director Susan Ruhlin said Thursday.
The next round of applicants can start applying to the accelerator program on Monday. The companies will begin working in Waterville in January, and the program culminates with a pitch competition in front of potential investors in May.
Ruhlin said the first cohort was comprised of businesses from a wide range of industries in Maine.
Emalee Couture is the program manger at Dirigo Labs. She said the first wave of companies she worked with gave great feedback on ways the program can be improved for the next cohort and beyond.
“For the most part, we’re excited we did a lot of things right," she said. “We’re going to use [more] mentors with more startups and kind of have a more flexible way [of] dealing with that.”
Couture is a walking example of the new start-up ecosystem forming in the Waterville area. She is from central Maine, went to college at the University of Maine, lived in Boston, and now lives near Dirigo Labs.
“It’s funny how often I hear people say, ‘Oh, you really picked the right time to move back to Waterville,'" she added.
According to Ruhlin, this is the right time for innovative companies and businesses to move to central Maine. Dirigo Labs is also working with Colby College and Thomas College, both in Waterville, to keep students in the area after graduation
“From a workforce development pipeline, I think that's a wonderful partnership for us to have," she added.
Before potential applicants apply, Ruhlin shared a helpful tip.
“Coachability is the No. 1 criteria [for acceptance], honestly, someone who is receptive to advise," Ruhlin said.