The Waterville program is designed to help startups and entrepreneurial endeavors in central Maine – Natural Self Esteem

Lindsay Kuhn, founder and CEO of Wingspans, based partly in Waterville, is seen center right interviewing a zookeeper. Kuhn coordinates job interviews with people in various professions so students can find a career they want to pursue. Wingspans was recently selected to participate in a Waterville program that works with startups to grow their businesses. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Kuhn

WATERVILLE — While teaching science at a middle school in Providence, Rhode Island, Lindsay Kuhn realized her students could benefit from learning from more diverse experiences to broaden their understanding of where their careers can take them.

“My students’ dreams and career aspirations have been shaped by their limited life experiences, and I created Wingspans to expand their vision of what is possible,” Kuhn, Wingspans founder and CEO, said via email Thursday.

Today, Wingspans is a growing startup company, based partly in Waterville, made up of journalists and filmmakers who interview people about their work and tell their stories. The company’s work includes software that helps match people with potential employers and offers a more personal dimension that goes beyond the standard interview process.

Wingspans is one of 12 companies participating in Waterville-based Dirigo Labs’ free inaugural 12-week startup training program aimed at highlighting the central Maine region as a hub for entrepreneurs serving companies in software technology, manufacturing, biotechnology and aerospace – and want to found aerospace and other fields.

Pictured from left are Garvan D. Donegan, Emalee Couture, Susan Ruhlin and Sabrina Jandreau at the Bricks Coworking and Innovation Space in Waterville on Thursday. Donegan is Director of Planning, Innovation and Economic Development for the Central Maine Growth Council; Couture is the growth manager for Dirigo Labs; Ruhlin is CEO of Dirigo Labs; and Jandreau is the Development Coordinator for the Growth Council. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Watchman

“We certainly hope that the companies participating in Dirigo Labs’ programs will look positively at this space to grow their business,” said Susan Ruhlin, chief executive officer of Dirigo Labs, on Wednesday. “We also want to be good stewards of the state of Maine and represent Maine as a whole.”

The Accelerator Class, in which the 12 companies are participating, is an initiative led by Garvan Donegan, Director of Planning, Innovation and Economic Development for the Central Maine Growth Council. It is intended to be part of a broader regional economic development plan.

“With world-class academic facilities and a geographic location within 60 minutes of the state’s major cities, Dirigo Labs is the premier entrepreneurship service provider between Bangor/Orono, home of the University of Maine, and Greater Portland, the commercial and commercial center of Maine startup activity,” says a press release from Dirigo Labs.

Three workshops will be held each week at Dirigo Labs headquarters in the Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space at the Hathaway Creative Center in Waterville starting next Wednesday and are available in person or virtually. Each company is assigned a temporary advisory board to guide operations, Ruhlin said.

“Because these are later-stage companies, they’re all going to have very unique needs that they’re trying to address,” Ruhlin said. “So it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for them.”

Winthrop’s Lon Cameron, who makes floating picnic tables, participates in a program at Dirigo Labs in Waterville that helps small businesses and start-ups expand. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Some of the 12 companies, which operate in software, aerospace, medical technology, food and more, are focused on raising money. Some are trying to implement production plans, and others plan to hire staff and expand, Ruhlin said.

The workshops will include guest speakers and will focus on customer acquisition, product development, legal and financial advice, marketing and more, she said.

Prospector Portal, partially based in Waterville, is another company participating in Dirigo Labs’ program. It uses artificial intelligence, which largely performs “natural language processing,” to collate publicly available data into a searchable database used primarily by mining companies and investors, COO John Godbout said Thursday.

He said the AI ​​simply reduces the time human researchers would have to spend sifting through technical data and reports, making it easier and less costly to collect, organize and identify relevant mining-related information.

The company hopes to expand its workforce, particularly in Waterville, from about 15 employees after passing through the Business Accelerator class, Godbout said.

“For me, working at Dirigo Labs is all about building a tech community here in Waterville,” he said. “This is about creating an environment that encourages people to come and work here.”

Over 40 entrepreneurs were surveyed to be eligible for the Dirigo Labs program. Some of the factors considered were whether the companies had an existing customer base, existing revenue and previous startup experience, Ruhlin said.

The program is free because it is funded by a federal grant and funding matches from the Maine Technology Institute and Colby College secured by Donegan from the Central Maine Growth Council.

Other companies in the accelerator class include Winthrop’s Maine Float, which makes motorized floating picnic tables, and Canaan’s The Good Crust, which makes dough with ingredients sourced from Maine grains.

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