WATERVILLE — The Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation has awarded a grant to help boost the Waterville area’s technology and innovation sector, taking particular aim at providing training, accommodations, the development of software and continuity to student entrepreneurs.
The funding has been awarded to a partnership that includes Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space, Thomas College and Tortoise Labs.
The award supports innovation-based courses in product design and 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.
The coworking space 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, which will include software design.
Nick Rimsa, product designer at Tortoise Labs, has taught product design at Colby College and CEI’s Women’s Business Center, including people from a variety of backgrounds with no prior experience in design. “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 and entrepreneurs in the Waterville area will be eligible for the opportunity to develop a software prototype with Tortoise Labs.
A second barrier to monetizing an idea or scaling a startup, particularly for students, is summer break, which forces students to leave the area. With the Alfond Foundation grant funding, Thomas College will provide housing to allow student entrepreneurs to remain in Waterville to continue their work.
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.
The first product design course, which runs from July to August, is already full. The next available course begins in September. Space is limited but residents and students in central Maine are prioritized.