New UMaine initiative will leverage talent and innovation to help state’s startups and small businesses respond to lingering pandemic challenges

With $2.5 million in Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan funding, the University of Maine has expanded programming and services to help stabilize and support small businesses and startups dealing with ongoing pandemic challenges that are hindering their growth.

The Solutions for Maine R&D and Innovation Hub, based out of UMaine’s Foster Center for Innovation and run by the University’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, Innovation, Resources and Engagement (SPIRE), is designed to help Maine companies with fewer than 250 employees access no-cost services including technical assistance, counseling, and student talent to help their recovery and long-term growth. 

Businesses interested in receiving more information about the hub and being considered for eligibility, as well as prospective partners should visit the SPIRE website and complete the intake form

“The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged businesses of all sizes, but startups and small businesses are uniquely affected,” says Renee Kelly, associate vice president of strategic partnerships, innovation and engagement at UMaine. “Data show that they have particularly struggled to attract qualified talent and that financial uncertainty, supply chain disruptions and rising costs all have had an outsize impact on their operations and their ability to develop and launch new products. Left unchecked, these effects could be devastating in a small-business state like ours. The Maine R&D and Innovation Hub is designed to help early-stage companies and small businesses weather these challenges and emerge thriving.”

Through the hub, startups and small businesses will be able to access services, including:

  • Prototyping, testing, and manufacturing design assistance.
  • Training and coaching on how to reach potential customers to do needed market research.
  • Counseling from entrepreneurs-in-residence to support business planning and recovery from pandemic delays.
  • Support from a cadre of undergraduate and graduate students who will assist with key business development tasks.

Several aspects of the hub’s services — including the award-winning Innovate for Maine internship program and market-fit support for entrepreneurs — have been in place prior to the pandemic but will be scaled to serve more businesses and provide assistance year-round.

This initiative will simultaneously provide experiential learning opportunities that prepare students for success in Maine careers and strengthen business partnerships that spark new innovations for Maine’s economy.

Through the Hub, Wildwood Oyster Co. recently took advantage of the student support services. “Working with the [University of Maine interns] exceeded my expectations! My team was thoughtful, organized, efficient, and great communicators,” said Becky McKinnell, founder and designer of Wildwood Oysters. “They really listened to understand the problem I was trying to solve and in their final presentation they checked every box. Without their help, I would not have been able to have this research done so quickly and thoroughly.”

The Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan is Gov. Janet Mills’ plan, approved by the Legislature, to invest nearly $1 billion in Federal American Rescue Plan funds to improve the lives of Maine people and families, help businesses, create good-paying jobs, and build an economy poised for future prosperity.

Since the Jobs Plan took effect in October 2021, the Mills Administration has delivered direct economic relief to nearly 1,000 Maine small businesses, supported more than 100 infrastructure projects around the state to create jobs and revitalize communities, and invested in workforce programs estimated to offer apprenticeship, career and education advancement, and job training opportunities to 22,000 Maine people.

For more about Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, visit

Contact: Katharine England,