Can the Roux Institute Turn Portland Into a Tech Hub?

By Will Grunewald

As Portland’s Roux Institute welcomed its first college students final summer season, the coronavirus pandemic was exposing the tenuousness of a neighborhood economic system closely reliant on hospitality and retail. But the institute — a graduate-studies and analysis heart targeted on synthetic intelligence, life sciences, pc and knowledge sciences, and digital engineering — goals to push Portland in a brand new, high-tech course. Lewiston-raised tech investor David Roux and his spouse, Barbara, donated $100 million to Boston-based Northeastern University to seed the institute, and the Harold Alfond Foundation has since given one other $100 million in assist. The New York Times referred to as the fledgling undertaking “a template for the many American cities struggling to share in the nation’s prosperity.”

Now, the Roux Institute has moved into an Old Port campus it shares with WEX, the financial-tech agency, and began partnering on analysis and scholar work experiences with corporations starting from small startups to L.L.Bean. We talked with chief administrative officer Chris Mallett about how the institute might form Portland’s prospects of turning into a mini–Silicon Valley.

How has this primary yr gone?

Our mission right here is to assist put Portland on a unique trajectory economically — not simply Portland however the entire state — and that’s clearly a long-term play. It takes a whole lot of time, assets, and technique to make that sort of impression. That mentioned, we’ve set an bold schedule, and we’re proper the place we anticipated to be on the finish of yr one. We’ve enrolled virtually 200 graduate college students and served roughly 200 staff of our company companions by way of various kinds of course expertise. We began with 10 company companions, and as we speak we’re working with greater than 30. The focus is to work along with these companions to search out methods to assist Maine.

How huge will the institute develop?

We’ll take it yr by yr, however the Alfond Foundation is funding 7,400 scholarships over 10 years, and our intention is to scale not less than at that tempo. At the second, all of our college students have the chance to be supported by way of the Alfond Scholars Initiative, to make this reasonably priced for Mainers and likewise to draw new expertise to the area. The imaginative and prescient that Barbara and Dave Roux had is that future financial impression worldwide goes to be pushed by know-how and life sciences. Cities and states that don’t have a core base of expertise in these fields are vulnerable to being left behind. The method Dave likes to say it’s that corporations will do no matter they need to do to get entry to expertise, together with shifting divisions or entire corporations to a spot like Portland.

One of our targets is to ensure Maine college students don’t have to go away within the first place.

But how do you begin competing for brainpower in opposition to larger, established tech hubs?

We’re permitting folks to decide on to work as a part of a complete analysis college on a critically essential mission with the assets to do it and a mandate to do it. It’s thrilling. It’s significant. That’s what proficient folks wish to be related to, so we’ve been actually profitable in attracting management amongst our analysis and educating school. Usama Fayyad, for instance, is main our experiential AI initiatives, and he was extremely achieved in a wide range of methods: Microsoft Research, chief knowledge officer at Yahoo and Barclays Bank. And this spring, though it’s not prepared for a full public announcement but, one of many world’s main researchers in computational medication can be becoming a member of our employees.

What about attracting college students to a brand-new institute?

Our dedication to experiential studying actually seals the deal for many college students. That’s what Northeastern is understood for. They wish to examine in future-focused fields and apply that within the context of actual work by way of our co-op program and different alternatives. They’re very entrepreneurial and inventive in the way in which they consider their schooling. We need folks like that from around the globe to decide on to do their graduate schooling right here. But one among our targets can be to ensure Maine college students don’t have to go away within the first place. You can graduate from a Maine faculty or college, and we will create a piece and studying alternative on the graduate stage to maintain you right here. There’s a Colby grad from St. Louis in our data-science program, and he mentioned to me that due to the Roux Institute he had a motive to remain in Maine and form of guess on his Maine future.

So with colleges like Colby and Bowdoin and UMaine, you’ve got one thing of a built-in feeder system.

Yes, however we’re additionally attempting to make these relationships reciprocal and win-win. With Bates proper now, we’re offering a program that helps individuals who don’t have a STEM background develop the elemental abilities essential to do a graduate diploma in pc science. The win-win is Bates didn’t have a computer-science providing, and for them to ramp it up would take a pair years and vital funding. So we’re serving to by offering programming and school, and our colleagues at Bates are serving to us meet the fitting sorts of college students who may very well be involved in our graduate program.

Is there sufficient of a longtime tech base right here to offer your first cohorts of scholars with experiential studying?

Every firm as we speak is a tech firm, so I feel there’s. The corporations we’re working with already make use of hundreds of Mainers. These are world leaders of their fields — corporations like WEX and IDEXX. New England Marine Monitoring is a small firm however one other nice instance. They’re mapping fisheries, however so as to do it, they want machine studying and pure language processing and the flexibility to make fast selections utilizing knowledge science. What we’ve realized in our first yr is that our associate corporations are longing for and, in some circumstances, urgently in want of the expertise we’re creating.

There’s the truth that cities like Boston, at this second, are locations that not less than some individuals are fascinated by shifting away from, for various quality-of-life alternatives.

Apart from working with corporations that exist already, will Roux’s presence hopefully result in startups?

Research in larger schooling has all the time been answerable for the early concepts that turn into startups, and within the subsequent 5 years, we’ll rent virtually 100 PhDs and graduate college students to conduct analysis in collaboration with our company companions and thru federal grants and corporate-funded R-and-D initiatives. As a consequence, we absolutely count on that some discoveries will flip into startups. And so far as our technique for entrepreneurship, we even have a program to assist the small companies which might be already right here. We’ve simply chosen our first six resident startup corporations to affix us on the Roux Institute. They’ll collaborate with us on analysis and innovation that they should develop their enterprise. And later this yr, we’ll be bringing an accelerator to the Roux Institute, to serve extra mature startups and entice them to the area.

As Roux expands Portland’s tech scene, do you envision the town turning into a stand-alone hub or possibly forming a tech hall with Boston?

We undoubtedly see the potential to sort of join expertise with Boston, and there are different corridors, like San Francisco to San Jose, which might be apparent comparisons. Also, there’s the truth that cities like Boston, at this second, are locations that not less than some individuals are fascinated by shifting away from, for various quality-of-life alternatives and with the notion of distributed work permitting folks to reside the place they need. But I feel we’ll simply need to see to what diploma our presence generally is a catalyst for that. We’ll comply with the alternatives the place they lead us, and if in consequence now we have a hall impact take maintain, that may very well be wonderful. But I’m undecided you may engineer that as a lot as form of purpose for it.



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