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PR: Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation Grant Funds Innovation-Based Opportunities in Waterville

July 7, 2020

WATERVILLE – The Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation has awarded grant funding to amplify the growth of Greater Waterville by strengthening the region’s emerging technology and innovation sector. The funding, awarded to a partnership between Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space, Thomas College, and Tortoise Labs, will support five elements of the growth strategy: innovation-based courses in product design; classroom space and infrastructure; the development of software prototypes for course graduates; dedicated coworking space for graduates; and scholarships to allow student entrepreneurs to remain in Waterville over the summer to continue their work. 

“This grant is the next step for us in our mission to make Waterville a place where entrepreneurs, founders, and creators want to be and want to grow their businesses,” explains RJ Anzelc, founder of Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space. The coworking space, located in downtown Waterville’s Hathaway Creative Center, will house the design courses and provide space for class participants and graduates to work on their business ideas, though all programming will be virtual until the need for social distancing subsides. 

The product design courses will be taught by Tortoise Labs, a software design and development company based at Bricks, in an eight-week format. The free program is open to all interested makers, whether student or non-student, with no technical or design experience required. Participants will receive personalized guidance on how to move their idea from concept to customer, incorporating applied learning of software design to enhance their products. 

“I am thrilled to continue introducing the principles of design to people of all backgrounds without prior experience,” explains Nick Rimsa, product designer at Tortoise Labs, who has taught product design at Colby College and CEI’s Women’s Business Center. “It has been so exciting to share our love of making things with others and to see students and community members using software as a medium to solve problems.”

Graduates of the product design course, as well as burgeoning entrepreneurs within the Greater Waterville community, will be eligible for the opportunity to develop a software prototype with Tortoise Labs. “There are so many great ideas that just never see the light of day,” states Mike Duguay, executive director of the Harold Alfond Institute for Business Innovation at Thomas College. “What invariably is missing is the process for getting ideas out of people’s heads and out into the marketplace. This program is that missing link.”

A second barrier to monetizing an idea or scaling a startup, particularly for students, is summer break, which forces students to leave the Waterville entrepreneurship ecosystem and lose valuable momentum. With the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation grant funding, Thomas College will provide housing to allow student entrepreneurs to remain in Waterville to continue their work. 

The grant funding arrives at an exciting time for Greater Waterville’s startup community. Student entrepreneurs at Thomas College and Colby College have recently received Maine Technology Institute (MTI) grant funding and appeared on the pitch competition Greenlight Maine, and Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space received a grant from Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development to bolster its innovation and entrepreneurship efforts focused mainly on local student entrepreneurs.

“Technology and innovation is a key growth sector for downtown Waterville and the mid-Maine region, and the infrastructure and resources offered by partners including Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space, Colby and Thomas Colleges, MTI, Tortoise Labs, and the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation is creating an innovation hub that attracts entrepreneurs and serves as their launching pad,” explains Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development at Central Maine Growth Council. “This nimble partnership that responds to the needs of startups is exactly what grows and sustains an economy in the 21st century.”  

The first product design course, which runs from July to August, is already full; the next available course begins in September.  Space is limited and residents and students in central Maine are prioritized; those interested may sign up for the waitlist at www.tortoiselabs.com.

Photo credit: Tim Greenway, MaineBiz

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Last modified: July 7, 2020

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