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March 30, 2022

Maine Venture Fund pledges up to $750K for Roux Institute startups

Roux Institute campus interior showing people at computer screens Courtesy / Roux Institute The Roux Institute at Northeastern University is headquartered on Portland's waterfront.

Casting a vote of confidence in Maine's innovation potential, Maine Venture Fund has pledged to invest up to $750,000 in startups coming out of the Roux Institute in Portland and that plan to grow in Maine. 

Maine Venture Fund also plans to use Roux offices as a co-working base for days when Managing Director Joe Powers and Investment Director Nina Scheepers are "in the office," Scheepers told Mainebiz on Wednesday. The fund, which used to be based out of the Cloudport space on Federal Street in Portland, will keep its post office box in Newport.

The financial commitment consists of three annual payments of up to $250,000 over the next three years, according to Tuesday's announcement. 

Maine's largest state-sponsored venture capital firm said it expects to invest in companies that graduate from the Roux Institute Techstars Accelerator as well as the institute's Founders Residency Program.

“We see the Roux Institute as a catalyst for economic activity and job growth here in Maine,” Powers said. "The Roux Institute Techstars Accelerator is really a boot camp that gives companies a much better chance at success. To the extent that Maine Venture Fund can be a part of helping those companies to get rooted here in Maine, and to grow their companies here, that’s super important to us, and it represents a big opportunity for the state.”

With more than $27 million invested in Maine companies since its formation in 1997, Maine Venture Fund is a mainstay of the state’s early-stage funding ecosystem. Its ongoing relationship with the institute has included workshops on venture capital and counseling to Techstars startups in Portland.

Currently based at 100 Fore St. on Portland's East End, the Roux Institute has a 20-year plan to build a large campus on the site of the former B&M Baked Beans factory in Portland's East Deering neighborhood. The plan has raised concerns from some area residents.

“We are excited to have Maine Venture Fund supporting the institute’s mission of growing the Maine economy and startup ecosystem,” said Chris Wolfel, the Roux Institute's director of entrepreneurship. “They join a growing list of supporters, including Maine Technology Institute, Bernstein Shur, and TDF Ventures who make our work possible.”

Benjamin Chesler, the institute’s associate director of entrepreneurship, helped forge the partnership with Maine Venture Fund and noted that it's rare for an investment fund to commit to providing capital in advance.

“It signals a confidence in the Roux Institute and Techstars portfolio companies that MVF is willing to allocate money specifically for these startups,” said Chesler, an entrepreneur himself who created an online grocery store called Imperfect Foods before joining the Roux last year.

“It’s a strong show of force that two Maine-based institutions are coming together to show how we can support the ecosystem and network to make these companies successful here in Maine. And it’s appealing to prospective companies to know that they’ll have a greater chance of getting funding if they apply to and are accepted into the accelerator program.” 

'Innovation hub'

More than $200 million has been invested in Roux since the institute, a research and education arm of Northeastern University in Boston, launched two years ago. The initial funding was a $100 million investment from technology entrepreneur and Lewiston native David Roux and his wife, Barbara, who set out to create a regional "innovation hub" focused on technology and life sciences.

Members of the first Techstars Accelerator cohort, which wrapped up last December, include one startup from Maine and three others who relocated to Maine after the program. One of the companies that chose to stay is Circa, a fintech startup that aims to reinvent how rent is paid. 

Leslie Hyman, co-founder and CEO of Circa, has longstanding ties to Maine. She told Mainebiz in an "On the Record" interview earlier this year that she finds business leaders here to be open to discussions and working together to achieve goals.

"We feel welcomed and at home," she said. On Wednesday, she told Mainebiz that Circa will be based in Brunswick as of this week, and that Maine Venture Fund is among its backers.

The Roux Institute is currently seeking applications for the 2022 Techstars Accelerator program

Editor's Note: Story updated to clarify that the financial commitment consists of three annual payments of up to $250,000 a year over the next three years; the amount is not definitive. 

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