The Maine Venture Fund held it annual dinner on Monday evening in Freeport, offering the fund a chance to thank its board and portfolio companies.
This year has proven significant for the fund as it has (so far) received a return on its investment in two separate companies: Coast of Maine Organic Products and Look’s Gourmet Food Co. were both MVF portfolio companies that were acquired this year, creating a liquidity event for previous investors.
This year’s dinner featured a special guest. David Roux, a Maine native who made a name for himself in the technology industry, first as an entrepreneur and then as a venture capitalist and co-founder of Silver Lake Partners, with $25 billion in assets one of the largest technology-focused private equity firms in the country. (Silver Lake, for example, partnered with Michael Dell to buy Dell Computer for $25 billion.)
Roux has recently increased his presence in Maine since moving back to the East Coast from Silicon Valley. (I broke the story of Roux’s investment in Portland-based Bristol Seafoods back in January 2014 when I was business editor at the Bangor Daily News.)
Roux spoke about entrepreneurship and the quirky nature of entrepreneurs, from their habit of being “risk-seeking missiles” to being bad employees and having problems with authority. Having worked and invested in the technology industry of so many years (he sold his first company, Datext Inc., to Lotus in 1988), Roux has personally known and worked alongside such famed entrepreneurs as Larry Ellison (Roux was an EVP at Oracle in the 90s), Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.
His talk was full of insightful gems like, “Be wary of the BIG-idea myth” and skip that MBA and just do as Yoda says: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” (Side note: I lack detailed notes from Roux’s talk because I had recorded the entire thing with the intention of transcribing it and sharing it with the wider community. However, I accidentally deleted the voice-memo file while trying to edit it on my iPhone.)
He also shared the three areas where he’s focusing his personal investments: quality foods, ubiquitous computing, and the life sciences. Of all those, Maine has an advantage when it comes to the food sector. Roux said the state should be doubling down on that sector and push our competitive advantage. As for life sciences, Roux expressed surprise there isn’t more activity in that sector happening in southern Maine given its close proximity to Boston, which is arguably the country’s epicenter for the biotech and life sciences sectors.
Asked what Maine needs to succeed, he said it needs a high-quality computer engineering school. He pointed out that all the innovation super centers—Silicon Valley, Boston, New York City—all have world-class engineering schools as part of their foundation.
The event also gave the fund an opportunity to hand out a few awards to portfolio companies.
- The Public Benefit Award, given to a company that has created jobs and given back to the community in other ways, went to Gelato Fiasco. Gelato Fiasco now has 50 employees and has returned more than $40,000 to the local community through its charitable program. It recently completed a $2.5 million expansion at its Brunswick facility, allowing it to continue to expand its reach. Its gelato is currently sold in 4,500 retail stores throughout the country.
- The Achievement Award went to Pika Energy of Westbrook for successfully executing a pivot from its original plan to sell residential-scale wind turbines. It is now focused on commercializing its smart-grid technology and is manufacturing a suite of power electronics for use in the clean-energy sector. It recently raised a $3 million Series A round led by Clean Energy Venture Group and received $875,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy to improve its inverter product.
- The Management Team Award went to Coast of Maine Organic Products, which received an investment this year from Massachusetts-based Gemini Investors that facilitated an exit for Maine Venture Fund, which invested $100,000 in the company after it was founded in 1996.