Don Gooding will step down this summer as executive director of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development.
In a resignation letter sent Tuesday morning to MCED’s board, and subsequently obtained by Maine Startups Insider, Gooding cites funding challenges and fundraising’s increasing demand on his time as reasons behind his decision.
“I have concluded that it’s time for new leadership at MCED,” he wrote. “I have spent many sleepless hours trying to think through the situation, but have come to realize that my own trajectory, skills and passions are part of the problem.”
In addition to fundraising woes, he also cited a shift in the board’s focus away from helping entrepreneurs start companies and toward helping already established companies scale up and grow quickly. It’s a shift Gooding said he agrees with, but which doesn’t match his interests.
“[A]s the board has emphasized scale-ups – which I agree is the right next step for MCED – my enthusiasm has waned, because I really am most passionate and skilled at startups,” he wrote.
MCED is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help entrepreneurs launch and grow companies. Gooding has led the organization since 2010, ushering it through a period of significant growth.
Gooding could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, though he did post a hint on Facebook.
He plans to remain in his position until June 17 to help the organization through the transition. He said he’d be open to assisting MCED, which manages the popular Top Gun startup accelerator program, in the future as a consultant.
MCED has faced funding challenges since Blackstone Accelerates Growth, an initiative launched in 2011 by New York City-based Blackstone Charitable Foundation that committed $3 million to help grow Maine’s entrepreneurial community, drew to a close. In a 2015 interview with me when I was at the Portland Press Herald, Gooding estimated that BxG had provided MCED with $450,000 over a three-year period. Those funds were used to expand the Top Gun program beyond Portland, to Bangor and the midcoast regions. A recent $390,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce will allow MCED to expand the program to Lewiston/Auburn.
Making up for the loss of that funding source has taxed Gooding.
In his resignation letter, Gooding said MCED faces a 2017 revenue hole of between $130,000 and $150,000 at current expense rates. Filling that hole “is a tall order,” he said.
“It will require someone to give their 110% at fundraising and committing to execution of a long term new vision. I have learned in the last year that fundraising isn’t how I want or like to spend my time.”
Catherine Renault, chair of MCED’s board, confirmed the news for Maine Startups Insider. She said the board did not play a role in Gooding’s decision and that his letter was a “complete surprise.”
“We definitely did not ask him to do this,” said Renault, founder of Innovation Policyworks in Brunswick. “On the other hand, he’s been with us six or seven years. Nobody stays still in this business for very long.”
Renault has served on MCED’s board since 2010. This is her second year as chair. While she acknowledged the organization faces some funding challenges she said the board is confident they will be successfully addressed.
“On the average, organizations like ours struggle with sustainability, and we’re continuing to try to figure out how to address that,” she said. “But I wouldn’t read too much into that. We challenged Don to fill the hole and it made him feel uncomfortable. We’re all confident that it’ll all be fine.”
Gooding doesn’t reveal in his resignation letter if he has immediate plans for what’s next, though he suggests he’ll remain involved in Maine’s startup community.
“I’m sure that I will continue to interact with many of you as I move into the next phase,” he wrote. “I won’t be disappearing, just stepping back a bit.”
Renault said the board would begin the process of searching for Gooding’s replacement.