In business, it's easy to fall back on sports clichés to describe progress, whether it's a product that's a "homerun" or a marketing campaign that's a "slam dunk."
But when Betsy Biemann describes the pace of innovation in Maine, it comes from a place rooted in understanding and patience, not worn analogies.
"It's a marathon, not a sprint," says Biemann, president of the Maine Technology Institute. "Through Maine Technology Institute-funded projects, it can take time to go from the initial award to impact."
In the same way it takes time for new businesses to get off the ground after securing financing, it took time for MTI to hit its stride. Created by the Maine Legislature over a decade ago to provide loans and grants for business development in the state, MTI is now responsible for funding more than 1,200 projects with more than $106 million. Those technology-based projects, covering areas like biotechnology, forest products and marine technology, have in turn generated an additional $173 million in private and public funds.
The growth of these businesses, as well as that of MTI itself, is due in no small part to Biemann's leadership, something that has not escaped national attention. In September, MTI was one of four national recipients of the Excellence in Technology-based Economic Development award from the State Science and Technology Institute for its Maine Technology Asset Fund.
Even so, Biemann deflects the praise on to the people around her and sees more work to be done.
"It's a kind of economic development that takes sustained investment in order to help accompany these businesses to a point where they are successful," she says.
The asset fund, a $50 million bond-funded award program approved by Maine voters in 2007, has helped companies finance capital projects and research. A more competitive program than MTI's seed grants, which total $12,500 or less for early stage work, the MTAF awards are typically upwards of $100,000 and go toward research and development, facility expansion or commercialization of products.
In this year alone, tidal energy company Ocean Renewable Power Co. successfully tested a turbine in Cobscook Bay and the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences broke ground on a new research facility in East Boothbay Harbor, thanks to support from MTI.
"They're an extraordinary example how one award can leverage and spur several others that really multiply the economic impact," Biemann says.
No small feat, MTI is responsible for creating new jobs and helping companies expand during a period of economic uncertainty. Biemann says that shows the importance of investing in emerging industries and research.
Biemann became the head of MTI in 2005 after almost 20 years working with underserved communities in the United States and abroad. Prior to joining MTI, she was an associate director of The Rockefeller Foundation, where she oversaw a grant program targeted at job creation in low-income areas.
MTI's work is important, she says, because it not only helps create jobs, but also leverages existing, underdeveloped industries in the state, which can have the effect of creating new markets for Maine products and services.
What makes the work rewarding is getting to work closely with Mainers who are passionate and driven to succeed. More than simply providing financing, MTI is there for the failures as well as the successes of many projects, she says. The goal, from the startup phase to expansion, is to continue to learn.
"We're privileged to have a front row seat as we're helping some of Maine's very innovative companies grow," she says.
French ascent | Jason Parent, president, Maine delegation to the organizing body of the 2014 World Acadian Congress, Madawaska; director of development and college relations, Northern Maine Community College, Presque Isle