In a Year of Tumult and Challenges, There’s Much to be Thankful for

Brian Whitney MTI President

2020 has unquestionably been rife with health, economic and societal challenges unlike any most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. And, while the past year is one that many would like to forget, it is prudent that, with the Thanksgiving holiday at hand, we reflect and appreciate how well we as a state and nation adapted, innovated, persevered and transcended.

The year certainly started off on a high note when David Roux announced a $100 million investment to create a graduate education and research center in Portland. His bold vision for the Roux Institute will help shape talent and venture creation across Maine for years to come. We thank him for his intrepid generosity and foresight. MTI looks forward to closely collaborating with the Roux Institute as it delivers its new model of graduate education and research that will “spur innovation, build talent, and drive economic growth” in the State of Maine.

Once the coronavirus crept into Maine, there was an obvious chill that gripped the business community due to the uncertainty. However, as Mainers often do, our entrepreneurs and businesses responded with vigor. Over the past year, there have been innumerable examples of Maine’s dreamers and doers stepping up to tackle the formidable challenges. MTI portfolio companies like STARC Systems, Flowfold, JAX and Hyperlite Mountain Gear, to name just a few, pivoted their operations to help meet the needs of their fellow Mainers during the pandemic. They deserve our recognition and appreciation.

In early October, the Harold Alfond Foundation announced that it was making an unprecedented $500 million investment in Maine and its institutions to “enhance the skills of the state workforce, promote innovation and entrepreneurial solutions, and strengthen the state’s infrastructure.” The funding was allocated across eight entities including the UMaine System, Roux Institute, University of New England, Thomas College, FocusMaine, Colby College, Waterville Creates, and JAX. We applaud the Harold Alfond Foundation for its transformational commitment to Maine and its future.

Speaking of Maine’s future, the members of the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee, an impressive assemblage of private and public sector leaders, has been meeting regularly since the spring to develop recommendations that will help Maine’s economy stabilize, sustain and grow. I commend them for their extraordinary efforts and thank them for the prudent recommendations they released this week. I was pleased and encouraged to see that the recommendations focused on innovation, entrepreneurship, talent development and talent attraction called for “bold, strategic, and consistent investments in next-generation technology and innovation.” MTI looks forward to helping the state fulfill these goals.

The Maine Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD), Maine’s smallest and most agile department, has done incredible and generally underappreciated work since the early days of the pandemic. The department’s employees have worked diligently with the business community to provide information and business-related answers to questions about COVID-19 restrictions and requirements. They also administered nearly $200 million in direct financial relief to businesses through the Maine Economic Recovery Grant program. I am thankful for the amazing public servants that work there under the leadership of Commissioner Heather Johnson.

I also want to take a moment to express my gratitude to MTI’s amazing Board, staff, contractors, volunteer subject matter experts, and valued partners.

MTI’s Board of Directors, led by Donna Cassese, have been incredibly responsive to the needs of entrepreneurs and technology-based organizations during the pandemic. They immediately altered MTI’s funding process in March to allow us to quickly bolster innovative Maine companies. They instructed us to liberally offer loan deferments and restructures to existing clients, encouraged the infusion of new funding into Maine entities, and initiated an expedited decision-making process for COVID-19 mitigation solutions. All those policies had meaningful impacts on preserving Maine jobs and companies. My gratitude goes out to each member of the MTI Board for giving so freely of their time and talents.

Finally, I want to thank MTI’s wonderful staff and contractors, all whom shifted to work-from-home arrangements in mid-March and continued to capably serve Maine innovators without missing a beat. The staff, despite adversity, helped ensure another strong year of MTI investment, surpassing the previous fiscal year totals (ending June 30). And, perhaps most importantly, they helped ensure that MTI delivered services and financial assistance when our portfolio needed it most. Kudos to MTI’s staff. I am so thankful for their many contributions to, and passion for, MTI and its mission.

MTI’s E-Resident team also recently took on the responsibility of helping DECD develop and administer the Phase II Economic Recovery Grant program and, in doing so, spent 30-45 minutes with each new business applicant to help determine eligibility. The challenge was daunting given the volume and tight timeframes, but they met it with aplomb and helped infuse $7.4 million in grant funding to 193 businesses and non-profits that are less than a year old. I deeply appreciate their amazing efforts.

Without question, 2020 has been a challenging year. However, in the face of all the adversity, we should take time to appreciate the contributions that Mainers have been making to help us persevere and overcome.  From the individuals and organizations mentioned previously, to the many essential frontline healthcare, public safety, manufacturing, retail, transportation and food producing workers, we are grateful and thankful for your efforts.

Happy Thanksgiving.