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Updated: November 28, 2022 On the record

On the Record: Roux Institute's Lars Perkins helps startups take off

Lars Perkins, seated, at the Roux institute in Portland. Photo / Jim Neuger Lars Perkins, managing director of the Roux Institute Techstars Accelerator in Portland, says he has found Maine’s startup ecosystem to be more robust than he had realized.

Lars Perkins, a former software entrepreneur, Google executive and certified flight instructor who once flew planes for lifesaving “adventure philanthropy,” is managing director of the Roux Institute Techstars Accelerator in Portland. Mainebiz sat down with him to find out more.

Mainebiz: What can you tell us about the current Roux Techstars Accelerator class?

Lars Perkins: This year’s class is the second cohort of 10 companies that we’ve invited to come here to the Roux for a 13-week program that culminates with Demo Day on Dec. 15. This year’s cohort consists of two companies that are based in Maine. Like last year, we have one company coming from Chile that hopes to relocate to Maine, and then we have some others from other parts of the world that we’re trying to show what a great place Maine is, and what a wonderful city Portland is to grow a business.

MB: And what are the benefits of doing business in Maine?

LP: The amazing one is the Maine seed investment tax credit, which is not that well understood, even by startups or investors, but provides significant financial incentives for investors either in state or out of state to invest in startups. It’s a program that provides tax credits and/or cash back to professional investors to invest in Maine-based startups. And then of course there’s MTI [Maine Technology Institute], who has been a strong supporter of many of our businesses, and the Maine Venture Fund.

MB: How would you characterize the current fundraising climate for startups?

LP: Anecdotally, there’s a lot of chatter about how challenging it is for early-stage companies, but I think that’s mostly Series-A kinds of investors, which for us, believe it or not, is later stage because our companies are raising pre-seed and seed. And there still seems to be a significant appetite for pre-seed and seed funding.

MB: For Demo Day in December, what are the key ingredients to prepping pitches?

LP: It’s funny that you bring that up, because today is actually the first Demo Day pitch run-through. Over the course of the next six or seven weeks, we will be meeting once or twice a week to run through the pitches — and it is a lot of fun. So much of fundraising turns into a lot of technical discussion of market sizes. For Demo Day, we just try to push the founders to tell their stories, and their stories this year are fantastic.

MB: On Demo Day, do some get calls from investors the next day, or is it more of a long-term thing?

LP: Demo Days really aren’t big fundraising events — they’re more teasers, getting people interested to start a process rather than investors coming and saying, ‘I loved your pitch, let me write a check.’ There’s still a lot of diligence that needs to go on, although last year I think it was kind of a validating experience for an investor in one of our companies. It’s a part of a process, but it’s usually the beginning of a process, not the end.

MB: What do you like most about being in this environment and doing what you’re doing?

LP: I’ve come through a pretty long career, starting and running software businesses, and then going to work for some fairly large companies like Google. What I have found during the course of my career that I love best is working with early-stage founders. When you can sit in a room like this, and in the course of a half-hour meeting, make a decision and start to act on a major strategic decision as opposed to the inertia and larger processes that larger companies have, this is where you can really make things happen in real time, and that’s super-exciting.

MB: Does this feel like a mini-Google campus?

LP: There are no free massages here, and no dentist or haircuts in the parking lot.

MB: That wouldn’t be very Maine-ish, though, right?

LP: No it wouldn’t, but Google did absolutely everything to make staying at your desk be the easiest place to be.

MB: What has surprised you most about Maine’s startup ecosystem?

LP: It’s more robust than I realized. I think the Roux is a big part of that, and I hope Techstars is a big part of that as well. A lot of our companies also say they cannot believe how supportive everyone is — just the friendliness and support from the local community. I think that’s a hallmark of Maine’s culture.

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