Maine Startup and Create Week, an innovation conference whose future was clouded since January when its co-founder admitted to inappropriate behavior toward women colleagues, has a new leader and a new name.
The new Startup Maine has appointed Katie Shorey, who was the fundraising chair for Maine Startup and Create Week, as president and board chairwoman.
The conference also will be cut from a week to three days, add evening events for people who can only attend after work and include innovators from throughout Maine. Startup Maine also is in the process of registering as a nonprofit corporation in Maine.
After the departure of Jess Knox, who co-founded the event in 2014, Startup Maine’s steering committee said it plans to focus on diversity within its volunteer staff and event participants. Because it already was considering shortening the event’s duration, it changed the name to Startup Maine. That also allows for more events with partner organizations to be held throughout the year, Shorey said.
Knox’s behavior came to light when one women complained about him to the board of directors of Venture Hall, which he co-founded in July 2016 to help startup companies grow. Knox resigned from Venture Hall, which was dissolved on Feb. 5.
“Once the incident with Jess went down, we met immediately,” said Shorey, who will keep her full-time job as community development manager at People’s United Bank. “We already had committees and volunteers who will continue with us.”
The three-day conference is scheduled for June 21-23 at the Maine College of Art in Portland.
In an email to the startup community Wednesday evening, Startup Maine explained the changes, and said it “has severed all ties with Jess Knox.”
“We respect and support the individuals speaking up about their experiences with Jess and acknowledge those who were affected but are not comfortable coming forward. We are committed to organizing an event in 2018 and beyond,” the email said. The event will focus on collaboration, diversity and inclusion, it said.
It also said Startup Maine’s board of directors will have “gender parity.” Shorey said the board is currently being formed.
Startup Maine will keep its predecessor’s hands-on workshops and panel sessions. One new focus will be on business basics for startup companies, which often have only a handful of employees and no human resources department, she said.
“We’ll walk them through what to do when they get a harassment claim,” she said.
And because so many people in Maine want to serve on a board of directors, she said Startup Maine will hold a session on equipping people on boards. Individual directors on a board can be held responsible if they know of harassment or discrimination in the company they’re affiliated with and don’t act on it.
“We’ll apply everything we’ve learned over the last few weeks. Companies can’t grow unless they have the fundamentals locked down,” she said.
One surprise she encountered in talking to entrepreneurs after Knox’s behavior became public was that while women said they’ve faced harassment during their career, a lot of men didn’t know about it.
While Knox was a well-known contact for Maine Startup and Create Week, Startup Maine is spreading the contacts around.
“That is so people are empowered to be part of the [innovation] community,” she said.
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