One of the many hidden gems in Maine is the Maine Technology Institute (MTI), a MSF sponsor and partner. MTI was created by the Maine State Legislature in 1999, and is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to provide “early-stage capital and commercialization assistance” to individuals, businesses, and educational institutions’ research groups across Maine. At this past year’s MSF, the first three speakers at our 5 Minute Genius event each mentioned the support they had received from MTI, and how it was critical to their research and work. Another MSF friend, Chuck Donnelly of Rock Step Solutions has said, “MTI has been critically important to our company; I can say unequivocally we would not be here had we not gotten funding from MTI.” MTI has been critical to the success of many MSF partners, and a leader in technology and innovation funding for Maine.
In our continuing mission of uncovering and highlighting Maine’s hidden gems, we asked Martha Bentley, Director of Innovation Infrastructure at MTI, to talk to us about MTI and what they are doing for Maine.
MSF: What exactly does MTI do, and are there specific areas of science, engineering or technology that you are focused on?
Martha: MTI’s core mission is to diversity and grow Maine’s economy by encouraging, promoting, stimulating, and supporting innovation and its transformation into new products, services and companies. MTI is a part of the State of Maine’s strategy for building an innovation economy and works across seven broad technology sectors – from Advanced Technologies in Forestry and Agriculture to Biotechnology to Marine Technology and Aquaculture.
MSF: Why are you focusing on those areas?
Martha: I always jokingly say that when MTI was started, someone looked at all the critical areas of Maine’s economy and added the word “technology” to them. What has changed since MTI was founded almost twenty years ago, is that technology has become ubiquitous and innovation often occurs at the intersection of sectors, not always squarely in one sector or another. So, we generally say that MTI supports “technology-enabled” projects and companies.
MSF: What is your role at MTI?
Martha: MTI’s work can be roughly split into two areas – first is the direct support for private companies developing new products, services or business models that they are bringing to the market; second is the infrastructures – both physical and human – that supports innovation and innovators in Maine. I work closely with the second area. If the innovation economy is a tree, I work in the space between the leaves.
MSF: Can you give us some examples of companies or organizations who have received MTI funding and are now thriving in Maine? Are there any that our readers may be surprised about?
Martha: What is often surprising to many is how many different companies and organizations that MTI has touched over the years – directly and indirectly. The Gulf of Maine Responsibility Harvested label you see in Hannaford’s on some of its seafood was developed with MTI funding through a Gulf of Maine Research Institute project through the Cluster Initiative Program. Clink – the green bagging system you use to return bottles – was funded by MTI. There is a good chance that oysters or mussels you order in a restaurant were farmed using technology developed with MTI funding. If you had to have brain surgery, the probe cover used on your surgeon’s tools may have been improved using funds provided by MTI.
MSF: MTI has been around for almost 20 years, and yet many Mainers have never heard of MTI or the work you support. If you could have Mainers come away from this interview remembering only one thing about MTI, what would it be?
Martha: MTI is the mechanism by which the State of Maine invests in a forward-looking economy. We invest in all counties and in companies and organizations large and small – from sole proprietors to the biggest employer in Hancock County. MTI wants to encourage Maine’s dreamers and doers, so if that is you, please get in touch!
MSF: If our readers want more information about MTI, what’s the best way to reach out to you?
Martha: A great first step is to sign up to get our enews and to check out our website. The events list on the website is top notch. But of course, you can always call and get a real person – 207 582-4790.