Gov. Paul LePage late last week signed into law a bill that expands the Maine Technology Institute’s mandate and gives it tacit approval to take over funding for the state’s three business incubators.
With the governor’s signature, the bill will become law 90 days after the current legislative session adjourns, which it is scheduled to do on June 21.
The bill—LD 1324, An Act to Support Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Maine’s Economic Future—explicitly proffers certain powers onto MTI, including the ability to administer and support business incubators like the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, assist the University of Maine System and nonprofit research labs with technology transfer and commercialization, and create a program to replace the now-defunct Maine Patent Program.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Martin Grohman (D-Biddeford), co-authored it with Catherine Renault, a consultant and former director of the Maine Office of Innovation. Two Republicans—Sen. Garrett Mason, the Senate Majority Leader from Lisbon Falls, and Rep. Matthew Pouliot (R-Augusta)—co-sponsored the bill.
While Rep. Grohman and Renault began working on the bill in December, it gained extra attention after Gov. LePage released his proposed budget in January that included a plan to eliminate funding for the state’s Applied Technology Development Center system, which funnels money to the state’s three business incubators: the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, and the Target Technology Center in Orono.
Though the state’s biennial budget hasn’t been finalized, there’s a good chance that proposal will carry through to the final budget. This bill, however, will provide MTI a mandate to take over direct funding of these incubators.
Specifically, the bill grants MTI the power to “establish a program to promote and encourage the establishment, maintenance and operation of incubators and accelerators in the entrepreneurial support system by awarding grants and other forms of financial assistance to companies, nonprofit entities, economic development agencies, educational institutions, government agencies or other entities for programs that promote an entrepreneurial business environment or train or educate entrepreneurs.”
Brian Whitney, MTI’s president, said MTI’s board will likely address the components of LD 1324 as it operationalizes the organization’s strategic plan this fall. MTI’s board has already authorized $179,000 to fund the incubators in FY18, which begins July 1, 2017, in the event the Legislature does not restore the funding between now and the end of session.
“Then in early 2018, consistent with the statute, I expect we will flesh out and issue an RFP for tech center/incubator funding in future years,” Whitney said.
Another noteworthy aspect of the bill is its mandate for MTI to work with the University of Maine to create a program to help entrepreneurs and inventors with intellectual property issues and to replace the Maine Patent Program, which shut down in 2014.
Specifically, LD 1324 would give MTI the power to “establish a program in collaboration with the University of Maine School of Law to support the commercialization and manufacturing of innovations in the State by providing education and assistance with the patent process of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to companies, inventors and entrepreneurs in the State.”