By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
Joe: Many times when investors are approached by companies that just have too high a risk profile for them, but there may be opportunity for them to work further on their technology or grow their businesses, we’ll get leads from private sector individuals who say, “As a venture opportunity, you’re too high risk for us, but the state of Maine has a great resource in the Maine Technology Institute. Why don’t you go work with them to try to get funding to take this a little further along the product development or business cycle?”
We do the regular publicity. We tend to do a lot of webinars on who we are. We send frequent press releases. So, some of our leads are phone calls that come in. Unlike, maybe, a venture fund, we’re very open. There is no hoop you have to jump through to sit down with MTI and pitch your idea. We really have an open and welcoming environment for entrepreneurs or growing businesses. Many of those will be cold calls that come in.
Irina: Is there a schedule of when to pitch, or any deadlines?
Joe: Well, there’s a schedule if you want to get in a formal process to receive money in the pipeline for evaluation. There’s a formal deadline we usually work from.
Throughout the year, there are a number of deadlines. But as long as you’re in our space, which is technology, research and development, product development, and process development, if you want to come in and talk about your business, we will absolutely make time to sit down and talk to you. This is for any entrepreneur in Maine or ones who have plans to come to Maine.
Irina: How long does it usually take for them to receive the money? What’s the process?
Joe: Some of the smaller grants [have a] relatively quick turnaround time – two or three weeks. For the $500,000 funding at the other end of the spectrum, entrepreneurs may take upward of three to four months to submit their original ideas, proposals, and applications for funding and investment.
Periodically, we’ll bring them in for interviews. We also go out for professional expert technical peer reviews.
And then, probably most important, during that four-month period, we tap into a team of about 87 to 90 volunteers across all of those technology sectors. That’s where the industry focus comes in. We use a vast majority of our internal, Maine-oriented reviewers who evaluate economic impact and business potential. That process can take about four months.
Irina: What is your process for getting peer reviews?
Joe: For the external technical and scientific peer reviews, that’s pretty easy. We use the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). They have a competitiveness program.
We’ve engaged them over the past couple of years to handle that process. After a deadline, we will send out all of our investment proposals and applications to a contractor peer review service [at AAAS].
Those folks do an excellent job of tapping into their membership, which is vast, to find the right folks to do the technical reviews. Once the technical reviews and external peer reviews are done, we’ll take the comments, scores, and insights and distribute them by sector, relative to the sector they’re in, to anywhere from 10 to 15 individuals who comprise each of the tech boards.
We’ll evaluate and score for economic impact on Maine. We get together in a room, over the course of a day or two, and vet those proposals, look at the technology, look at the business presentation and opportunity, and look at the economic impact potential for the state of Maine.
Once that’s done, we bring in the ones who have made the cut for interviews. [As] you might envision, that’s a typical 30- to 40-minute, or maybe an hour, presentation and question-and-answer period in front of a panel. Once that happens, the ultimate decision on recommendations will pass on to our board of directors for approval.