The growth in excitement and momentum surrounding Portland’s startup community has been undeniable the past several years, but if you ask Jess Knox and Mike Sobol what’s still missing, they’d point to one glaring void: a physical space to serve as a year-round hub for innovation.

On Monday, the pair, along with a small team of advisors, are announcing plans to fill that void with the creation of a new innovation accelerator.

Jess Knox, left, and Mike Sobol are launching Venture Hall to provide Portland with a year-round hub for innovation.
Jess Knox, left, and Mike Sobol are launching Venture Hall to provide Portland with a year-round hub for innovation.

Called Venture Hall, the new initiative will offer year-round training and events designed specifically for entrepreneurs and corporate teams that want to innovate and create high-growth, high-impact companies, according to Knox, who founded Maine Startup and Create Week.

In addition to the year-round programming, Venture Hall will be anchored by an intensive, three-month, summer accelerator program, which is currently scheduled to host its first cohort of companies in 2017. The hope is to leverage Portland’s burgeoning reputation as a startup hub, its affordability and quality of place to attract mentors and startups from around the world to participate in the accelerator, Knox said.

Throughout the year, programs on corporate innovation and building the best founding teams will be held, as well as classes, speakers and events focused on the skills and strategies needed to build large-scale solutions to important problems.

“Innovation is the critical key to create dynamic and job-creating communities,” Knox told Maine Startups Insider. “Maine needs more of that. We need agility. It is the future. Innovative doers are a particular group and, in order to grow them and their ventures, data has demonstrated the critical importance of proximity and the need for particular programming and community to assist them.

“This is what Venture Hall does. It will be the on-ramp to resources and networks, both in Maine, to those who visit Maine, and those outside of Maine who love it here.”

Knox founded Maine Startup and Create Week and is statewide coordinator for Maine Accelerates Growth, while Sobol is an entrepreneur and marketer. His current business, Content BLVD, helps companies get their products marketed on popular YouTube channels.

The pair’s team of advisors includes Thea Chase, director of Telluride Venture Accelerator in Colorado, and Sean Marsh, a general partner at Point Judith Capital, a VC firm in Boston.

Knox and Sobol’s original idea was to raise money to buy or lease space to serve as the home of Venture Hall, but a more feasible first step emerged as another new initiative got ready to start operations in Portland.

On Monday, Venture Hall is announcing a collaboration with CloudPort, a new co-working space in Portland under construction on the corner of Federal and India streets, at the base of Munjoy Hill. Cloudport is scheduled to open in mid August, according to Nik Caner-Medley, CloudPort’s owner.

“We love what the team behind Venture Hall is working towards for Maine and we’re excited to work together to build an incredible community inside our world-class space,” Caner-Medley said in a statement.

CloudPort will have a number of offices for small teams, as well as desks for floating members, the typical features of a co-working space. But it will also feature a classroom and training space, which was crucial to Venture Hall’s vision to provide year-round programming.

Venture Hall’s use of the space represents a $30,000 in-kind contribution on CloudPort’s part, according to Knox.

Knox and Sobol still envision Venture Hall as a standalone entity at one point, but launching in collaboration with Cloudport makes a lot of sense for now. The pair is currently approaching potential investors and corporate sponsors to raise the necessary capital to fund some startup costs and to eventually take the project to the next level.

“Talent and capital flow toward opportunity,” Knox says. “Venture Hall will be Maine’s locus of opportunity.”