The end of the year is always a good time to pause and take a look back at the highlights of the past 12 months.

From major company exits to in-depth interviews with local founders, here are the stories from 2017 that garnered the most attention (measured by total pageviews) from Maine Startups Insider readers.

15. Vets First Choice raises $223M to fund global expansion

Ben Shaw, Vets First Choice’s co-founder & CEO

Vets First Choice, the Portland company founded in 2010 to provide online pharmacy services to veterinary practices, raised a massive round in July, cementing its spot as one of Maine’s most successful innovation-driven companies of the past decade. The company said the equity financing, which came from new and existing investors, would be use to fuel an international expansion. The round brought Vets First Choice’s total outside funding to $285.8 million. Read the story.

14. LePage’s budget would cut funding for business incubators, co-working spaces

This past year got off to a rough start when Gov. Paul LePage released his proposed two-year budget in January. Buried in the budget was a proposal to zero out state funding for three business incubators: the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development in Portland, the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, and Target Technology Center in Orono. The cuts did eventually go through, but advocates said the intention wasn’t to reduce support for Maine’s innovation ecosystem, but to streamline the way grant funding is administered. A related bill provided a mandate for the Maine Technology Institute to take over the responsibility to fund the state’s three business incubators. Read the story

13. Portland’s CashStar acquired for $175M

Ben Kaplan, CashStar’s CEO,

In August, it was revealed that Portland-based CashStar, a pioneer in the digital gift card space, had been acquired for $175 million by California-based Blackhawk Network. It was one of several major exits for Maine companies announced in 2017. Read the story.

12. Portland mapping software co. raises seed round

Will Mitchell, co-founder of NBT Solutions.

A Maine startup doesn’t need to raise a monster round to get noticed. NBT Solutions, a Portland-based mapping-software company, garnered attention over the summer for raising a seed round of nearly $800,000 to fuel the growth of a cloud-based mapping platform the company has developed for the telecommunications industry. Read the story.

11. Investor interest drives Redd to increase offering, pulls in $2M in oversubscribed round

Alden Blease, Redd’s founder.  (photo/Redd)

In August, Maine Startups Insider reported that Redd, the Brunswick-based energy bar company, had raised roughly $2 million in equity financing—approximately $500,000 more than it initially expected to raise. Redd CEO Peter Van Alstine said the investment, which came from a mix of angel investors and venture capital funds, would be used to fuel the company’s expansion into the western part of the United States. Read the story.

10. Founder Forum: Leo Corcoran of ClaimVantage

Leo Corcoran, founder of ClaimVantage

Over the course of the year, Maine Startups Insider did a series of Q&As with startup founders in Maine. The project, called Founder Forum, was sponsored by the Maine Technology Institute. For reasons unknown, some Q&As attracted more attention than others, including this Q&A with Leo Corcoran, founder and CEO of ClaimVantage, a Portland-based company that  provides cloud-based software for the insurance industry. The company flies under the local radar, but employs 35 people and posted $6 million in revenue in 2016. Read the story.

9. Female-focused coworking space opening in Portland

Heather Ashby, founder of CoworkHERS.

In October, Maine Startups Insider reported on Heather Ashby’s intentions to open a co-working space in Portland designed exclusively for women. The news attracted a lot of attention, and Ashby successfully opened the space, called CoworkHERS, in December. Read the story.

8. New coding school coming to Maine

Venture Hall, Thomas College, and Project Login announced in April that they had signed an agreement with Seattle-based Code Fellows to launch a pilot project in Maine to teach software development classes. The classes went off without a hitch in June and by all accounts there will be more coding classes offered through the program. Read the story.

7. Jean Hoffman launches family foundation, makes first angel investment

Jean Hoffman (photo credit/Sean Alonzo Harris)

In April 2016, Jean Hoffman sold her company, Putney Inc., for $200 million. In February of this year, Maine Startups Insider reported on her first foray into angel investing. She invested an undisclosed sum into MedRhythms, a healthcare startup based in Portland that has developed a medical device that combines sensors, neuroscience, and music to help people recover from neurologic injury or disease. Read the story.

6. Is Vets First Choice preparing for an IPO?

In April, I took a close look at Vets First Choice and raised the question of whether the Portland company was on the path to going public. While Ben Shaw, the company’s co-founder and CEO, didn’t confirm that this is the direction he or the board wanted the company to go, he did leave it open ended by stating: “I think Vets First Choice is capable of and prepared to operate as a public company.” However, three months after I published this article, the company announced its monster fundraising round, which dampens the idea around an impending IPO. If a company can raise $223 million from private sources, why would it expose itself to the scrutiny of public markets? Read the story.

5. Founder Forum: James Demer of DemerBox

James Demer (left) and Jayson Lobozzo, co-founders of DemerBox.

My Q&A with James Demer,  the co-founder of DemerBox, is another entry from the Founder Forum series that garnered some attention. In our discussion, Demer spoke about the challenges of finding work-life balance, admitted things that many entrepreneurs are hesitant to say out loud, and told the story of how a tiny, $0.07 part almost sunk the business. Read the Q&A.

4. Portland’s Certify acquired in $100M deal

Bob Neveu, co-founder and CEO of Certify

In June, the news broke in the midst of Maine Startup & Create Week that Certify, the Portland company founded in 2008 to provide cloud-based expense-management software, had been acquired by K1 Investment Management, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, in a deal worth $100 million. K1 subsequently merged three additional software companies in the expense-management space that it owned under the Certify umbrella, turning the company overnight into the country’s largest independent expense-management software company. Read the story.

3. Founder Forum: Jamie Nonni of Municipay

Jamie Nonni

In a Founder Forum Q&A published in March, Jamie Nonni, founder of two financial services companies in Portland (Nationwide Payment Solutions and Municipay), discussed his early entrepreneurial stumbles, the importance of surrounding yourself with the best people, and why every entrepreneur should be prepared to fail. Read the Q&A.

2. Fork Food Lab acquired by NY outfit

Neil Spillane (left) and Eric Holstein opened Fork Food Lab in September 2016 to help Portland’s food entrepreneurs scale their companies.

Fork Food Lab, the food-focused startup incubator launched in Portland in September 2016, quickly established itself as a major force in the local entrepreneurial scene. So, despite the fact it wasn’t the biggest exit of the year, its acquisition by Foodworks, a New York City-based company that operates two other culinary incubators in the northeast, garnered lots of attention. Read the story.


And the most-read story of 2017…


1. DemerBox acquired by Grammy-winning musician

James Demer (left) and Zac Brown, an Emmy Award-winning country musician and the new majority owner of DemerBox. (Photo courtesy/Demer)

The most-read story of 2017 was also one of the most bittersweet. In August, Zac Brown, a three-time Grammy Award-winning country musician and entrepreneur from Georgia, quietly acquired DemerBox, a Portland company known for its rugged, high-end, Bluetooth speakers. The deal was good news for co-founders James Demer and Jayson Lobozzo, but bittersweet for those of us who have followed the company since its successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014. If DemerBox grows into a major audio electronics company, it won’t be doing so in Maine. As a result of the acquisition, the core of the business has moved to Georgia. Read the story.

See you in 2018…