When the Casco Bay Technology Hub opens in September, it will provide a new home for a number of area high-tech firms and is expected to create cohesion among the scattered companies.
"The tech community here is kind of fractured right now," says founding member Tom Hall, president of Hall Internet Marketing in Portland. "TechMaine is out in Westbrook. We're out on Riverside, where there's not a lot of tech going on. Being so close to the Old Port, the hub will be very visible and we'll see each other every day."
The hub will occupy the top two floors of a red-brick converted mill space at 30 Danforth St., which J.B. Brown owns and operates. The firm is in the process of renovating the space to be used by a number of technology companies and to create a coffee shop and a fitness center.
For now, the technology hub is member-funded, but Hall says that may change in the future as the Maine Technology Institute, Maine Centers for Enterprise Development and other organizations get involved. Other founding members include Integra Strategic Technologies Consulting, Human Business Works, Global Content Partners and Optimus Group Solutions. With the exception of Falmouth-based Optimus, all currently have offices in Portland.
In addition to member funding, CBTH has received support from sponsors J.B. Brown and Sons, Time Warner Cable, Hall Internet Marketing and Social Media Breakfast Maine.
The CBTH has unofficially been in the works for a while. About a year ago, when Tim Brooks, principal of Integra Strategic Technologies Consulting, was president of TechMaine's board of directors, the organization explored the possibility of leasing the converted mill space as a potential technology hub, then re-leasing it to technology companies. That plan never materialized, but Brooks never quite let go of the idea -- or a potential location -- for a tech hub in Portland.
"The idea was to have TechMaine go in there and then to attract a lot of other technology businesses, but the idea never really got off the table," he says. "I'm very fond of the building itself and the location, so it's something that's been on my radar for a while."
Over coffee a few months later, Hall says he and Brooks realized they had, independent of one another, similar ideas about creating a technology hub that would serve as a central, unifying presence for Portland's tech community.
"It just seemed like it would a fantastic idea to bring some other great technology companies together in the same building and create a collaborative space where businesses are working together, and business owners are talking and sharing stories with each other," Brooks says. "The driving force was really to create a synergistic environment where companies -- and even competitors -- are able to work together."
Both Brooks and Hall stress that CBTH is not a formal organization and therefore will have no membership fees or other associated costs. Rather, Hall says, it will be a group of companies that lease the same space and share common interests and business objectives. Even companies that aren't members can benefit from the hub, Hall says.
"The tech hub will provide resources and reasons to mingle with members and provide their insights and opinions, and benefit from ours. Even if there's some business overlap, companies will benefit from being part of the culture," he says. "It's like they say, 'A rising tide raises all ships.'"
According to Hall, as the CBTH's "informal advisory board" members discuss the future, they're planning to build relationships with a number of organizations to provide financial, educational and other opportunities to members and others in the technology community. Potential opportunities include collaborating with MCED to hold workshops and partnering with Southern Maine Community College to provide educational opportunities, as well as to make connections with potential new employees. Through events like seminars and after-hours networking events, companies, particularly startups, will be able to make connections that will help grow their businesses.
"There are tons of support organizations around, so we're looking at being able to tap into and connect people with them to showcase the resources available to them," Hall says. "We're looking to build momentum around the community and help technology entrepreneurs put their ideas into action and take their businesses to the next level."
While the major draw for companies, Hall says, will be the ability to collaborate and learn from like-minded companies and individuals, CBTH's location will also offer a number of fringe benefits.
"We're creating a culture in a space that's impressive to in-town clients and will also help recruit Mainers back to Maine," he says. "Those are motivations we all share."