PORTLAND, Maine — A walk down the aisles of the Maine Technology Institute’s annual showcase event, held on Wednesday and aptly named TechWalk, was a study in diversity.
Lining the aisles were big companies, small companies, companies from northern Maine, companies from southern Maine, high-tech manufacturers, biotech companies, Web-based startups, fish farms, mushroom growers. More than 60 companies were at the event, held in Portland, showing off their products and services.
Liam Sullivan, a mobile application developer at Liquid Wireless, a mobile advertising company in Portland, was walking up and down the aisles being surprised by the type of companies he was coming across.
“It’s amazing how much innovation is actually going on in the state of Maine,” said Sullivan, who recently launched his own startup called Hipster, which focuses on creating products that empower people. His first product, a Maine-specific job board for startups called www.startupsinmaine.com, just launched.
“Events like this really put faces to the names,” Sullivan said. “It’s cool to meet the Mainers behind the curtains.”
All of that is by design, according to Bob Martin, MTI’s president.
“TechWalk is the event that showcases MTI’s investment for Maine in innovative technology companies, bringing together entrepreneurs, business leaders, investors, legislators and business services from across Maine and New England,” Martin said. “It underscores the importance of Maine’s technology-based economic development.”
Well-established companies like CashStar and Ocean Renewable Power Co. were joined by small, innovative startups like Orono-based Cerahelix, Hermon-based Double Blue Sports Analytics, Portland-based LifeKite and Yarmouth-based Chimani.
Innovation isn’t just high-tech gadgets and web-based applications, either. Sea & Reef Aquaculture had a small aquarium to show off the ornamental fish it raises in Franklin at New England’s first marine ornamental fish farm, while Sanford-based Farming Fungi was giving away packages of its Mousam Valley culinary mushrooms.
Gov. Paul LePage was among the guests checking out the companies’ exhibits.
Offering the successful companies a chance to showcase their products and services is an important element to fostering Maine’s entrepreneurial community.
Earlier in the day, at a workshop on how to strengthen Maine’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Chris Rector, a former state senator and currently a regional representative for U.S. Sen. Angus King’s office, said Maine needs to talk more about its entrepreneurial successes.
“I think we have a history of inventiveness, but we don’t have one of celebrating our successes,” he said, offering as a culprit the ingrained New England penchant for modesty and unpretentiousness.
Alan Fitzgerald, director of engineering at CashStar, which now employs roughly 90 people at its headquarters in Portland, was there to network and help his employer connect with Maine’s entrepreneurial community.
“For me, it’s connecting all these smart people together,” he said. “There’s so much entrepreneurialism in the area.”
The networking is also helpful. Fitzgerald met someone he plans to recommend for a sales engineer position at CashStar.
Besides the event’s theoretical benefits of helping Maine’s economy, the value to the participating entrepreneurs also cannot be understated, according to Joe Michaud, a mentor in the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s Top Gun program and currently a consultant for digital news startups.
“One of the interesting things a lot of people don’t know about startups is it’s incredibly lonely work,” Michaud said. “There’s incredible value getting people together.”
Jasa Porciello, co-founder and CEO of LifeKite, a yet-to-be-launched online social tool that will help people track and share their life goals, echoed Michaud’s comment.
“When I’m working, I’m in my own life and I only bump into so many resources, so many people, so many perceptions,” Porciello said. “So an event like this gives me access to a whole new world.”
“There’s something about being an entrepreneur that can be lonely,” Porciello added. “But showing up at a place like this and seeing people that think this way” — she paused before finishing her thought — “It’s nice to feel accompanied.”