Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

May 18, 2021

Maine Venture Fund's new director has a solid background in startups

John Burns and Joe Powers COURTESY / MAINE VENTURE FUND Joe Powers, right, will take over from John Burns as managing director of Maine Venture Fund.

Maine Venture Fund, a key financing arm in Maine’s startup community, has a new managing director with a solid background at startups — including Tesla, where he helped launch the company's first electric vehicle. 

Joe Powers, who has been a principal at the Maine Venture Fund for two years, will take over from longtime director John Burns, who plans to retire.

Powers, 38, is a native of Salisbury, Vt., and a Middlebury College graduate who also has an MBA from the Tuck School of Management at Dartmouth. 

He has been involved in a range of startups, serving as founder of Ripso LLC, a digital marketplace for sustainable production and consumption; as senior manager of operations for Zoox Inc., a San Francisco-based maker of self-driving electric vehicles; and as director of business development at Clean Marine Energy, a low-carbon shipping concern. 

Perhaps most notably, he spent six years at Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA), starting in 2006, focusing on sales and marketing and retail development, and working with founder Elon Musk. He was there when the company launched its first production vehicle. 

“When I got there it was 100 engineers in a garage” in San Carlos, Calif., Powers said. By the time he left in 2012, Tesla had 4,000 employees and had moved to Palo Alto, Calif. 

He still clearly remembers driving in an early prototype.

“From the first acceleration, you felt the electric drivetrain. It felt completely different. Tesla is a product-forward company. It showed me that if you can make a product better than anything else out there,” there’s a place for it, he said. “It gave me an appreciation for the intense focus it takes to build something novel and new.”

Maine Venture Fund role

Powers, who starts his new role July 1, sees the same entrepreneurial spirit in some of the Maine Venture Fund's portfolio companies, including Hyperlite Mountain Gear, a Biddeford manufacturer that’s making “gear that’s lighter and stronger … They bring the absolute cutting edge to products,” he said.

He also praised Atlantic Sea Farms, which has been a pioneer in bringing edible kelp to the market, while providing fisherman an alternative source of income.

Maine Venture Fund, which was launched in 1996 and is based in Newport, has invested some of Maine’s startup success stories, including Sea Bags, Gelato Fiasco, MedRhythms, Defendify, HighByte, Hyperlite, Maine Craft Distilling, R.E.D.D. and Cerahelix. 

“We owe that mostly to John Burns, who has been at the helm for 21 years,” Powers told Mainebiz.

Burns, who will continue as a strategic advisor, plans to travel with his family. 

“I learned a lot under John’s wing,” Powers said. “Maine Venture Fund is a unique entity. No other state is doing it exactly like this.”

Maine's startup network

From Powers’ perspective, Maine’s startup ecosystem works like this: A startup gets off the ground by going to Maine Technology Institute for a grant. As it grows, it may take out a loan from MTI or at some stage get a loan guarantee from the Finance Authority of Maine.

“When they get to the commercialization stage, looking to accelerate, they come to Maine Venture Fund,” Powers said. “We are doing equity investment, for the next five to 10 years.”  

Sign up for Enews

Related Content


Order a PDF