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MTI stakeholder engagement process sparks programmatic changes

November 08, 2018

While it has enjoyed a long history of success, the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) knew it was time to update its processes when it found itself hampered by long-standing practices. Founded in 1999, the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) is an industry-led, state-funded, nonprofit organization and among the nation’s oldest state-level technology-based economic development agencies. With a focus on diversifying and growing Maine’s economy by supporting activities around innovation and entrepreneurship, MTI has invested nearly $230 million across more than 2,000 projects in the state. Still, the organization sought improvement. In 2016, MTI embarked on a 15-month strategic planning process and met with more than 120 stakeholders across Maine’s innovation ecosystem. The work has culminated in a new guiding plan for the organization, as well as key changes to the structure and delivery of MTI’s programs and investments.

An integral part of the MTI strategic planning process was stakeholder engagement, which was aided by working with a facilitator. After identifying 13 stakeholder categories, including external groups such as private companies, universities and legislators, as well as internal stakeholders, like board members, staff, and entrepreneurs in residence, the facilitator conducted interviews and focus groups with more than 120 different people involved in the state’s innovation economy.

This process led to several significant themes for MTI to consider. Feedback validated MTI’s primary role as a funder of activities that grow the state’s economy. Responses displayed a desire for MTI to play the role as a network navigator that is able to leverage relationships and resources throughout the state’s innovation ecosystem. There was consensus in the conversations on the metrics for success: the number and quality of jobs created and retained, funds awarded and leveraged, and revenue from portfolio companies.

The engagement process also revealed two opportunities to change the way the organization’s programs and investments are structured. Numerous stakeholders encouraged MTI to streamline the process, systems, and decision-making structurers within the organization to reflect the dynamic needs of fledgling innovation companies. Stakeholders also indicated a desire for MTI to be more strategic in how it makes investments, with a focus on impacts, as well as investing in innovations that move along the innovation continuum.

Since developing the strategic plan, MTI has been working on implementing these strategies and operationalizing them. An article in last month’s Portland Press Herald  calls the changes a “seismic shift.”  For example, as opposed to a rigid schedule with strict deadlines for specific grant and loan programs, entrepreneurs work with MTI staff to determine their venture investment readiness and allocate the appropriate resources on a rolling basis. To ensure impact, companies must still be Maine-based, have a one-to-one financial match, and be involved in key sectors: aquaculture and marine technology, biotechnology, composites and advanced materials, environmental technologies, forest products and agriculture, information technology, and precision manufacturing.

As of right now, it is unknown exactly what the impacts of these changes will be. Regardless, the desire to step back and re-examine its activities and procedures and engage in the strategic planning process with a keen focus on stakeholder engagement is a testament to MTI’s willingness to make positive structural and programmatic changes for the betterment of Maine’s innovation economy.