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November 30, 2015

Ellsworth technology startup incubator finds home with a riverfront view

Courtesy / The Ellsworth American
Courtesy / The Ellsworth American
The city of Ellsworth is closing on the sale of the Community Health and Counseling Services building on Water Street in Ellsworth to convert it into the Union River Center for Innovation.

The city of Ellsworth is buying a building along Union River to house a technology startup incubator, a collaboration between the city and its nonprofit development corporation.

The Union River Center for Innovation, due to open in February 2016, has already attracted two startups and possibly a third, all from outside the Ellsworth area.

Over the past two years, the Ellsworth Business Development Corp. had been examining the possibility of building an incubator before the building at 415 Water St. went on the market.

"We'd love to have a million-dollar building, but who can afford that?" said Ellsworth Development Coordinator Micki Sumpter, the city's liaison with EBDC.

The city is buying the building near Ellsworth Waterfront Park for $125,000 from Community Health and Counseling Services, which has been in Ellsworth for decades and is selling the Water Street property to move into a larger building. The sale is expected to close by Jan. 1.

City councilors approved the purchase, along with spending up to $30,000 to make improvements and up to an additional $25,000 for first-year operation costs, at a Nov. 16 meeting, according to the Ellsworth American. The up to $180,000 total will come from the proceeds of the recent sale of the former Collier's Rehab and Nursing Center on Birch Avenue, the paper reported.

Once the incubator space is filled, the Ellsworth Business Development Corp. plans to expand to a second facility, either an existing structuring or building a new one, with more of a laboratory component and other resources. The organization's board is also working to establish an investment group to support startup companies.

The city established the development corporation in 2013 to attract new businesses to the city and work with existing businesses to expand their operations.

Sumpter said the development corporation saw the Water Street building as the perfect opportunity to open the incubator.

The 5,000-square-foot concrete building, built in the 1970s and equipped with up-to-date systems, is sturdy and essentially move-in ready, she said.

The names of the companies that committed to the incubator could not yet be released. One has five employees and is expected to need at least 1,000 square feet, Sumpter said.

With The Jackson Laboratory expanding into Ellsworth at another site, the research arms of the University of Maine and other higher education institutions not far, the incubator fits into an overall vision of Ellsworth as a center of high-tech and innovative businesses, Sumpter said. There are also potential intern partnerships in Ellsworth or Bangor, she said.

The incubator is not merely a footprint, Sumpter said, but a place where forward thinkers can come together in an entrepreneurial culture. There are also nearby educational organizations that will be mentoring the startups, and the incubator will benefit from the development corporation's effort to construct a three-mile-long fiber optic broadband route in the city, Sumptor said.

"We did not build something and hope they would come," she said. "We purchased this knowing there were companies available and wanting to be in this area because of all the connections. Our goal is to support these small startups and this younger generation of entrepreneurs. It's going to be a sustainable win-win for all."

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