MTI: The Focal Point of Maine’s R&D Efforts

Earlier this month, the Maine Department of Economic Development and its independent consultant, Investment Consulting Associates (ICA), presented a “Review of Economic Development and Research & Development Investments” to the Legislature.

The review was the result of months of work and was designed to evaluate the cost/benefit of the state’s economic investments. As part of that initiative, ICA conducted a thorough examination of state-supported organizations like the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) to assess their impacts.

After reading the report, I identified three major themes that helped verify what I already believed to be true.

First, MTI is a vital lynchpin in Maine’s innovation ecosystem. You’ve heard me say it many times before but it is particularly helpful to get corroboration from an independent authority. ICA used MTI as a case study in its report and concluded that “MTI is the focal point of Maine’s R&D efforts,” it “encourages growth in an active, hands-on, collaborative way,” and is “true to its mission and mandate.” Additionally, they conducted a cost benefit analysis of MTI’s Development Loan (DL) program and determined that the “Development Loan effectively improves innovation, economic development, and the R&D environment while also providing a positive return on investment” for the State of Maine.

Second, MTI is much more than its Development Loan program. While the review contained a specific analysis of the cost-benefit of the DL program, it did not similarly evaluate MTI’s other funding and support programs. As we know, MTI is so much more than its DL program – which accounts for roughly 27% of MTI’s funding impact. MTI is also a leader, convener and collaborator. We have strong strategic partnerships with many entities like UMaine, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, SCORE, the Maine Small Business Development Center, Maine Accelerates Growth, Maine Startup & Create Week, and the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, to name a few. MTI also avails itself of the skills, talents and energy of over 100 volunteer subject matter experts who help the MTI Board of Directors review and evaluate its funding proposals.

MTI also invests across the entire research spectrum – – from inventors in garages all the way up to publicly traded companies. Our suite of funding programs includes grants of $5,000 for basic business groundwork, to $25,000 for proof of concept and prototype development, to $500,000 Development Loans, right up to Equity investments.

And, as the report acknowledged, MTI’s support goes way beyond money. The MTI team – – including its impressive Entrepreneurs-in-Residence – – makes a concerted personal effort to assist its portfolio companies and entrepreneurs and is viewed by many of our companies as family.

Third, MTI, while true to its mission and mandate, is sometimes seen as overly bureaucratic. The report concluded that all state investment and incentive programs, including MTI, should employ administrative processes that are “simple, clear and fair” and that feedback is critical for those applicants that do not receive awards. I absolutely agree that process improvements and fewer bureaucratic hurdles are a must and MTI is currently working to achieve a balance that simplifies our processes while also ensuring that the interests of Maine taxpayers are protected.

In summary, MTI fared exceedingly well in the evaluation and, while I am certainly not surprised, I am pleased that the independent assessment revealed that MTI is a focal point and shining star in our innovation ecosystem and our economy generally.

I want to close by commending those visionary leaders who designed and created this organization in the late 1990s. I also applaud our state lawmakers who continue to demonstrate their great faith and confidence in MTI through their continued support.

Have a great spring.

Brian