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Updated: January 10, 2022 2022 Economic Forecast

2022 Forecast: Waterville startup hub Dirigo Labs to showcase central Maine’s appeal

Dirigo Labs is a new startup incubator and innovation hub in Waterville with high aspirations.

Set up by public-private economic development corporation Central Maine Growth Council, Dirigo Labs was funded in part by close by $600,000 in federal money and $300,000 from Maine Technology Institute; Dirigo also received $125,000 from Colby College it plans to use to hire to Colby alum as a third staff member.

Susan Ruhlin portrait head and shoulders.
File photo
Dirigo Labs Managing Director Susan Ruhlin

Dirigo’s accelerator program is slated to begin this March with 10 to 12 companies and a “very robust curriculum,” says Susan Ruhlin, managing director of Dirigo Labs. She was previously with Portland-based startup Dynamic Grid and the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs, where she managed the Top Gun accelerator program for eight years.

Ruhlin says that while the Dirigo Labs accelerator program will cover a wide range of topics from rapid prototyping to artificial intelligence, sessions are also planned on site planning, state and municipal incentives, understanding opportunity zones, and various grant programs.

“In my experience the municipal and state incentives aren’t typically built into accelerator programs but are vital to a startup’s success,” she says.

In preparation for the incoming cohort, Dirigo Labs is working with partners including Thomas and Colby colleges and Kennebec Valley Community College as well as the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs to build a robust pool of mentors. Additionally, a partnership with the Hartland, Vt.-based Center on Rural Innovation will give cohort members access to a national mentor pool.

“We’re going to have a big tent of industry experts and entrepreneurs as mentors, and you’re going to see a convergence of fantastic ideas and businesses that are going to launch out of Dirigo Labs. Stay tuned — I’m very optimistic.”

Ruhlin adds that Dirigo Labs aims to complement Northeastern University’s Roux Institute in Portland, which runs the annual Roux Techstars accelerator program.

“We consider Roux a partner, and we’re very supportive of what they’ve done,” she notes. “They do have a big megaphone for the state of Maine, and they use that very effectively to showcase everything Maine has to offer. We would like to follow up on that and show what the central part of the state has to offer.”

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