Waterville is a city of 15,828 located in the heart of the Kennebec Valley, home to a unique mix of locally-owned shops, office buildings, eateries, and a $6.5 million downtown space for creativity and community interaction. With a rich history steeped in manufacturing, the city is now home to a robust and growing tech and innovation ecosystem powered by biotechnology, education, sustainable agriculture, and information technology startups. Waterville’s durable network of three-phase power, a coworking space, and free outdoor public Wi-Fi provide a compelling site profile for expanding businesses and early-stage entrepreneurs.
A variety of organizations are influential in the area’s digital economy ecosystem, including Bricks Coworking and Innovation Space, whose collaborative incubator, Summer Startup, provides students and entrepreneurs with formal training and active mentoring sessions with local experts and entrepreneurial speakers, and whose graduates include The Cubby. Thomas College‘s Harold Alfond Institute for Business Innovation provides comprehensive training platforms, mentoring, and access to talent and partners with the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs to host the Top Gun business accelerator program.
And Colby College has embarked on a revitalization plan to supplement robust community and economic redevelopment in Waterville’s downtown. The college has pursued several projects within Waterville’s Main Street corridor, including the construction of the Bill and Joan Alfond Commons, a residential student apartment and mixed-use facility; the Lockwood Hotel, a 43-unit boutique hotel; Front & Main, a restaurant located in the lower level of the Lockwood Hotel that features a farm-to-table menu with locally sourced produce and proteins; and the Schupf Center for the Arts, a contemporary and collaborative art and film center that combines a gallery, studio rooms, and a gathering space for both institutional and community use.
The Central Maine Growth Council (CMGC) is a public-private collaborative regional economic development partnership funded by municipalities and businesses who share a common vision of economic prosperity in their region. CMGC is committed to fostering a robust regional economy behind the belief is that the standard of living and quality of life of its citizens is best served by a vibrant, healthy economy, which is accomplished with a strong successful business community.
Powered by funds secured in the 2020 Build to Scale Venture Challenge, CMGC is launching its Dirigo Labs initiative in 2021, a regional tech accelerator intended to galvanize mid-Maine’s unique diversity of tech firms and educational institutions to develop a startup accelerator program. Dirigo Labs will catalyze a sustainable tech and innovation hub that powers a thriving rural economy by harnessing the power of and digital skills of the area’s students, graduates, academic facility, and business owners.
CMGC also produces a program, Tech Talk, that connects tech entrepreneurs and thought leaders to a virtual audience. Fostering the conditions for increased deal flow and access to Waterville’s high-quality educational institutions has contributed to a growing community of digital remote workers. Additionally, CMGC and the City of Waterville own and operate Maine’s only active Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ), an economic development tool that allows businesses to decrease overall costs, increase supply chain prices, and provide the FTZ user with a more competitive cost structure
"Innovation is everywhere in rural states like Maine, and some of the most compelling innovation-based business ideas are on lobster boats, dairy farms, or in repurposed manufacturing facilities. The missing element is critical mass and finding the right people and resources to bring ideas into commercialization. The Rural Innovation Network is the conduit that will enable organizations, such as ours, to connect people with good ideas to necessary expertise, resources, and infrastructure."
Susan Ruhlin, Accelerator Director of Dirigo Labs
Explore our Network
Today, these local leaders are focused on educating and training local residents in digital skills (especially those traditionally excluded from the tech industry), employing them in new economy jobs, and empowering them to launch startups that will drive a prosperous 21st-century economy. Diverse in geography, economic origin, and demographics, these communities represent the full spectrum of rural America.