Maine Venture Fund, a key funding arm in the Maine startup community, has a new CEO with a solid background in startups – including Tesla, where he helped launch the company’s first electric vehicle.
Joe Powers, who was director of the Maine Venture Fund for two years, will succeed longtime director John Burns, who plans to retire.
Powers, 38, is from Salisbury, Vermont and a graduate of Middlebury College, also with an MBA from Tuck School of Management in Dartmouth.
He has been involved with a range of startups, as the founder of Ripso LLC, a digital marketplace for sustainable production and consumption; as Senior Director of Operations for Zoox Inc., a manufacturer of autonomous electric vehicles based in San Francisco; and as Director of Business Development at Clean Marine Energy, a low carbon shipping company.
Perhaps most notably, he spent six years at Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA), starting in 2006, focusing on sales and marketing and retail development, and working with founder Elon Musk. He was there when the company launched its first production vehicle.
“When I got there, there were 100 engineers in a garage” in San Carlos, Calif., Powers said. When he left in 2012, Tesla had 4,000 employees and had moved to Palo Alto, California.
He still clearly remembers driving in a first prototype.
“From the first acceleration, you felt the electric transmission. It was completely different. Tesla is an innovative company. It showed me that if you can make a product better than anything else, “there’s a place for it,” he said. “It gave me an appreciation for the intense focus it takes to build something new and new.”
Role of the Maine Venture Fund
Powers, who begins her new role on July 1, sees the same entrepreneurial spirit in some of the Maine Venture Fund portfolio companies, including Hyperlite Mountain Gear, a Biddeford maker that makes “lighter, stronger gear … They bring the absolute tip to the products. ,” he said.
He also praised Atlantic Sea Farms for being a pioneer in bringing edible kelp to market, while providing fishermen with another source of income.
Maine Venture Fund, which was launched in 1996 and is based in Newport, has invested some of the successes of Maine startups including Sea Bags, Gelato Fiasco, MedRhythms, Defendify, HighByte, Hyperlite, Maine Craft Distilling, REDD, and Cerahelix.
“We owe this mainly to John Burns, who has been at the helm for 21 years,” Powers told Mainebiz.
Burns, who will continue to be a strategic advisor, plans to travel with his family.
“I learned a lot under John’s wing,” said Powers. “Maine Venture Fund is a unique entity. No other state does it exactly like this. “
Maine Startup Network
From Powers’ perspective, the Maine startup ecosystem works like this: A startup takes off by going to the Maine Technology Institute for a grant. As it grows, it can take out a loan from MTI or, at some point, get a loan guarantee from the Finance Authority of Maine.
“When they get to the commercialization stage, looking to accelerate, they get to the Maine Venture Fund,” Powers said. “We are investing in stocks for the next five to ten years.”