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June 18, 2018

Startup Maine conference experiments with new brand and format

Photo / Renee Cordes
Photo / Renee Cordes
Andrew Kraus and Katie Shorey serve as vice president and president, respectively, of Startup Maine, whose eponymous conference will take place in Portland June 21-23.

Startup Maine is a startup in its own right, trying out a new brand, new format and an all-in ticket price of $48 for a three-day conference taking place in Portland from June 21-23.

It's been planned over the past few months by a group of dedicated volunteers who stepped in after sexual harassment allegations against a co-founder of Maine Startup & Create Week cast a cloud over the future of the annual gathering.

Determined to keep the summer business conference alive in some form, the group formed a nonprofit led by Katie Shorey of People's United Bank, established a board with defined roles and responsibilities, and rebranded as Startup Maine.

Startupmaine.org

Condensed from five days to three, the inaugural Startup Maine conference and networking event will feature evening and Saturday programs, partly to accommodate those unable to attend during regular business hours.

"We don't know how it's going to work out, but we're a startup, too," says Shorey, who also serves as chair of fundraising and sponsorships. "We're experimenting with this."

That experiment got off to a strong start, with 100 people expressing an interest in speaking or applying to lead a workshop, of which no more than 20% were accepted.

"We got a ton of applications," says Andrew Kraus, an attorney at Portland's Opticliff Law who is also Startup Maine's vice president and co-chair of programming. "We were blown away."

‘Lifting up’ stories of business success

Startup Maine, which like its predecessor will be fully staffed by volunteers, promises three days of cutting-edge content, applied learning and collaborative connections. Maine College of Art will serve as the main venue, with a handful of affiliated events happening elsewhere.

Entrepreneurs from around the state — including women, immigrants, those working in creative industries and older entrepreneurs — will share their stories.

"We want to be the partner that lifts up the stories," says Shorey.

Shorey, originally from Sweden in western Maine, moved back from out of state, and to Portland, after attending Maine Startup & Create Week in 2015 and joined the organizing committee shortly thereafter. Kraus, a Philadelphia native and college friend of Shorey, has lived in Portland since 2013.

Shorey and Kraus underscore that Startup Maine isn't just for startups, but also for larger employers like WEX and IDEXX, who are among the sponsors.

"Given the focus that we have on economic development," Shorey says, "there's a reason why those big companies come as well."

While it's hard to predict final attendance, Kraus says in the past it's been about 120 to 150 at keynotes and 30 to 40 at panels.

"I'm not yet sure what we're going to do if 1,000 people show up," he says.

Social highlights include Friday's "Battledecks" competition in which participants make a business pitch before a live audience, weaving a narrative as random slides appear in quick succession on a screen.

"It's meant to be hilarious," Kraus says.

On a more serious note, the Startup Maine team hopes to offer year-round content to businesses, including possible conferences this October and December.

Shorey says the group has been approached about partnering on various projects, and was surprised to get an email from someone in Pakistan asking whether the June event would be live-streamed.

"We don't have video capabilities yet," she says, "but maybe next year."

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