Maine innovation on display at Colisee in Lewiston

Posted Oct. 18, 2012, at 10:01 a.m.
Richard Frost, left, of Maritime Applied Physics Corp., is shown part of the process of guitar-making by James Witkus, a luthier at Pantheon Guitars in Lewiston, on Wednesday during the Maine Technology Institute's mixer at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal
Richard Frost, left, of Maritime Applied Physics Corp., is shown part of the process of guitar-making by James Witkus, a luthier at Pantheon Guitars in Lewiston, on Wednesday during the Maine Technology Institute's mixer at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

LEWISTON, Maine — It was like the brainiest party you’d ever seen: Roughly 400 people crowded into the Androscoggin Bank Colisee to sip wine, eat cheese and exchange ideas.

Really big ideas.

For the first time, The Maine Technology Institute held its Innovation Economy showcase in Lewiston and the turnout was huge. Hundreds came to see and hear the latest in matters such as renewable energy, communications, biotechnology and manufacturing.

“It’s just amazing,” said MTI President Robert Martin, “the reach and breadth of what Maine companies can do.”

There was a lot of life-changing technology on display, but one of the busiest booths around was more in the realm of leisure. This belonged to Pantheon Guitars, a Lewiston company that had segments of its high-end acoustic guitars on display.

The booth was busy almost at once. Even the nerdiest people admittedly don’t know how a guitar is made.

“That,” said Pantheon CEO John D. Karp, “is part of the fun.”

Like all other businesses on display at the show, Pantheon has benefited from MTI, which since 2000 has awarded $142 million in grants and loans to Maine companies and research institutions.

“I’m a huge fan,” Karp said. “They really helped us to make advances in our processes.”

A few booths down stood the people of Falcon Performance Footwear, an Auburn company. It also has received grants from MTI to help with development. In response to that, it put on display a boot, sliced down the middle to show its many parts.

The booth was manned by Carl Spang. As Falcon president, he doesn’t get out to mingle very often with other innovators.

“It’s great to be out at a local show and to see all these people,” Spang said.

Around the corner was Packgen, an Auburn company that manufactures containers made from composite materials. It, too, benefited from an MTI grant and as a result, it expects to create a dozen additional jobs in the coming year.

The show was about innovation, but it wasn’t as tech-heavy as it could have been. Men in coats and ties mingled with women in power suits. They drank beer and wine and gathered in small groups, talking shop or discussing the state of innovation in Maine.

Which was precisely the point.

“We have these great companies in the state, but you don’t see them; they’re tucked away here and there,” MTI spokeswoman Deborah Cook said. “This is a chance for us to make all of this visible.”

Gov. Paul LePage, citing illness, failed to show to deliver a speech, but that didn’t quiet the enthusiasm of the gathering. Other speakers took his place, including David Kappos, undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and Desh Deshpande, a Boston venture capitalist and entrepreneur.

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