Foster Center for Student Innovation

Maine companies infused with innovation all summer long

UMaine Foster Center for Student Innovation on June 23, 2014 by Jennifer Hooper

There were long days.  It was intense.  But they say it was worth it. 

Who?   Fifty-two college students accepted into the 2014 Blackstone Accelerates GrowthFellows program. Each student has a link to Maine, either by attending a Maine institution of higher education or by being a Maine resident attending college elsewhere.  The students come from diverse backgrounds; they are as varied as their majors, which range from mechanical engineering, marketing, and marine science to MBA candidates and Economics grad students.  Some of them are international students.

What was it?  A one-week bootcamp at the University of Maine Foster Center for Student Innovation focused on innovation and entrepreneurship.  The students learned about Innovation Engineering, conducted market research, attended a ropes course, learned how to use social media to promote businesses, and shared breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week long.  They also attended the Top Gun entrepreneurship accelerator showcase in Portland.  The fellows program is supported and funded by Blackstone Accelerates Growth.

How does the program work?   Each student went through a rigorous application process that included a series of essay questions and videos of themselves promoting their skills, experience, and reasons for applying.  Companies, too, applied and pitched meaningful, innovative projects that interns could tackle (no data entry or coffee-fetching projects accepted)!  Not all students and companies were seleted.

Then what happened? The students and companies were paired in a complex match-making process that took many factors into consideration: college major, location, interest, and experience, on both sides of the equation.  After bootcamp, the students were dispersed across the state to apply what they learned at their matched companies.

How's it going?  The students have been placed at their companies for 2-3 weeks now. The experiences have been positive all the way around.  Students are already raving about their participation so far.  Here's what a few of them are saying:

  • “I am now equipped with a starter pack of innovative tools to solve challenges I may face with any startup or established company. I also have a lot of confidence that I can make a meaningful impact over only a few short weeks as an Innovate for Maine Fellow. I plan to apply the lessons I have learned when I enter the workforce after college, and hope to share the plethora of great resources I have come across to keep Maine ‘s small business environment vibrant.”  

  • "The Innovation Engineering boot camp really changed the way I approach problem solving, and it's now so much easier to come up with meaningfully unique ideas.  This has propelled me into completing some high-powered business development accomplishments that are helping the company stand out and get noticed in Bangor and beyond." 

  • "Working with an early stage startup is a unique experience, there is so much to do, and the scope of your work is so wide and diverse that sometimes its very hard to define.  It's pretty scary sometimes. Innovate for Maine gave us some great tools to use to chip away at this intimidating mass of work through the bootcamp. Since joining this program I have had the opportunity to work along-side and observe entrepreneurs who are able to navigate the most amazing obstacles.  I feel more prepared to venture into business having just watched these people do their great work."  

The experiences are going equally well from company's point of view: 

  • Thank you for [our intern] - you could not have found a better fit.  If he’s willing, I think he’ll grow with the company, he has endless energy and is always brimming with ideas!"

  •  "I just wanted to let you know that we are very pleased with our new intern. He seems like a great fit for our company, and though it's still early, he's doing an excellent job."

  • "Having a Blackstone intern is like having a consultant, a cheerleader, and extra pair of hands, and an objective third party all in one. I appreciate the insight, energy, ideas, and actual work that is coming out of this program. Even part way through this process, they are not only more than I expected but better than I could have imagined."

With such a promising start, we can't wait to see how the rest of the summer unfolds!