Roux Institute teams up with Techstars to help incubate startups in Maine – News@Northeastern


Ten startup companies have moved into the headquarters of the Roux Institute in Portland, Maine, where they are engaging in an intensive 13-week partnership with Techstars that is designed to grow high-tech businesses that will attract investors and strengthen the regional economy.

The 10 companies were selected from a diverse field of applicants from Chile to Seattle and points in between. They’ve been enrolled in the inaugural Roux Institute Techstars Accelerator, an intensive entrepreneurship program that will help build their businesses and talent pipelines by accessing the networks and expertise of the Roux Institute and Techstars, a leading global platform to grow companies and help entrepreneurs succeed.

Their arrival adds to the momentum of the Roux Institute as it launches its second academic year in its expanded headquarters overlooking Portland Harbor. The accelerator program will help introduce the companies to a potential talent pipeline of graduate students who are studying at the Roux in addition to the benefits of working and living in Maine.

“We’re going to have 10 tech startups 20 feet from their classrooms,” says Chris Wolfel, director of entrepreneurship at the Roux Institute. “We’re integrating entrepreneurship, learning, and research in an experiential way that will have a massive impact on companies building scalable technology businesses and people studying for their master’s degrees by putting them all in one space.”

A view of construction on the Roux Institute at Northeastern University building in Portland, Maine. The new building, operated by WEX, one of 10 founding corporate partners of the institute, will offer 26,500 square feet of dedicated space with views of Portland Harbor. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

The companies were drawn to the program by the opportunity to gain three months of intensive training and hands-on mentorship from the Institute, researchers, investors, experienced entrepreneurs, and academic and industry advisers. The startups will receive funding while also learning how to grow their businesses by acquiring and serving new customers. The program will culminate In December when each company will participate in a Demo Day, to be attended by potential investors and stakeholders from across the Maine ecosystem.

The program is designed to help the companies establish connections and roots in Maine, which will drive business growth throughout the state and northern New England. A goal of the multi-year partnership with Techstars is to introduce the companies to potential partners and talent pipelines in the region.

“People are realizing they can build companies where they want to build them,” Wolfel says. “Our goal is that they build a deeper relationship with the state, the institute, and Northeastern, and they keep a portion of their team here.”

More than $200 million has been invested in the 20-month-old institute. The university launched the Roux Institute last year with a $100 million investment made by technology entrepreneur and Maine native David Roux and his wife, Barbara, who joined with Northeastern to ignite their vision of a Portland-based hub to educate generations of talent for the digital and life sciences sectors, and create new ideas through research. In October, the institute received a $100 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation, an investment that provides financial aid for graduate-level students, funding for post-doctoral research, and support for co-ops with Maine employers.

The 10 startups will undergo a three-step process that has been applied by Techstars to help scale more than 2,000 businesses since 2006; 84 percent of those companies are still in business or have been acquired.

In the first month, the companies will receive intensive feedback from a wide variety of experienced mentors, including Rich Miner, co-founder of Android; Ali Goldstein Norup, serial founder and head of VC and startup ecosystem Americas for Google Cloud; and Tate Ficker, vice president of Unum Ventures.

“This is an exceptional opportunity to support early entrepreneurs as they pioneer a new frontier here in the state of Maine,” says Ficker, who leads innovation and corporate venture capital at Unum. “I am thrilled to partner with the first-ever cohort of startups in the program, while also helping drive innovative and sustainable economic development in the local community.”   

The immersion of their initial weeks provides the startups with newfound perspective.

“It’s an incredible experience to be telling your story to 75 smart, experienced, technology people, either from the investment or operating side, and getting their unvarnished feedback,” says Lars Perkins, managing director of the Roux Institute Techstars Accelerator, who describes this phase as “the cornerstone of the program.”

By the second month, each company is working with two or three mentors who help identify obstacles and areas of potential growth. The final month culminates with the Demo Day presentations, when the startups will showcase their ability to tell and sell their stories while unveiling areas of improvement that have furthered their potential.

“Throughout the program, they’re still running a business,” Perkins says. “And so we don’t saturate them with 24-hour programming. But there are a lot of workshops on various aspects of fundraising, storytelling, press interactions, and how investors think about companies when they’re making investments.”

The startups will also benefit by sharing in these growth experiences, says Nancy Wolff, general manager at Techstars.

“As peers, their experience of starting the Techstars program at the same time will foster uncommonly strong bonds,” says Wolff. “They become very close, helping and motivating each other. We see bonds form quickly and deeply, and then intensifying well after the program is over.”

Wolff says that entrepreneurs commonly emerge from the program saying they would “do anything for teammates in their program.”  It is, she says, “one of the most special, unplanned outcomes of the accelerator.”  

The companies are:

  • Attention Exchange, a research platform that elicits reliable feedback from users to help brands grow.
  • Breathing.ai, a patented browser extension that offers simple break reminders and other benefits to improve users’ well-being.
  • Circa, a monthly rent-payment platform that improves a resident’s ability to pay and stay in a home.
  • Eskuad, a platform with offline capability that streamlines data collection and other easy-to-use services.
  • Group B Labs, creator of a portable baby bottle that stores and instantly warms milk or formula to a perfect feeding temperature.
  • ListedB, a personalized booking agent for beauty and wellness services that is customized to each user’s preferences.
  • MCSquared Health, a streamlined billing process that increases collections, reduces staff work, and improves patient satisfaction.
  • Omnic Data, which supports Esports organizations by using Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and proprietary Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) to extract data and provide advanced statistical analysis.
  • Phase Zero, which enables clinical research to be collected from a single interface with a focus on collaboration.
  • Wishroute, a messaging platform that enables companies to communicate with users to increase engagement, free-trial conversion and retention.

“When you see what the Roux Institute is doing as an anchor point in the emerging tech ecosystem, it really has echoes of Austin (Texas) 15 years ago,” Perkins says. “David and Barbara’s Roux’s desire to give back to the state where David grew up will have an extraordinary impact.”

For media inquiries, please contact Shannon Nargi at s.nargi@northeastern.edu or 617-373-5718.





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