The New York City-based business magazine Inc. profiled the Forest City this week in a story titled, “How this tiny East Coast city of 70,000 people is churning out fast-growing startups.”
Illustrative subhead: “Portland, Maine, has less than one-tenth of San Francisco’s population, but it’s home to multiple companies that have raised tens of millions of dollars in funding.”
We’re used to seeing national publications laud Portland for various aspects of its quality of life — the city’s coffee, beer, downtown, brunches, healthy living, restaurants, family friendly landscape, minor league sports, and on and on.
But mixed in over the years have been subtle mentions of how vibrant the city’s startup business community has become, too. The niche site NerdWallet just last month called Greater Portland one of the 10 best places in America for women entrepreneurs, and the former Techie.com called it one of the “10 most unexpected places for high-tech innovation.”
The city’s much ballyhooed quality of life and its burgeoning startup scene are, of course, not totally unrelated. As many economic development sorts have pointed out in recent years, with the advent of telecommuting, people can live wherever they want and still have access to big markets.
And with Portland being such a nice place to live, it’s natural that many people want to plug into the matrix from here.
Back to the Inc. story.
Inc. provides three primary reasons for what it considers Portland’s success on this front.
The breadth of state-level investment or business support programs
The magazine points to several capital investment, loan and tax guidance groups working to help businesses get off the ground, including the 20-year-old Maine Venture Fund, the Finance Authority of Maine and Maine Technology Institute.
“Entrepreneurs in Portland don’t find themselves running into the typical regulatory roadblocks that keep them from being successful,” Bob Neveu, co-founder and CEO of software company Certify told Inc.
The growth of local niche clusters
Inc. highlights Greater Portland’s cluster of animal-oriented veterinary businesses, from Idexx Laboratories to Putney Inc. to Vets First Choice.
The magazine doesn’t go any further than that, but that’s not the only business cluster starting to take root in southern Maine.
As we reported previously, the area is also home to a growing health informatics industry, with several thriving companies within striking distance of the city.
A creative culture
This one seems a bit more intangible than the previous two ingredients listed by Inc. Here’s how the magazine describes it:
“Over the past few years, Portland has become something of a haven for creative types — a group that includes many aspiring entrepreneurs. The city is home to numerous organizations for creative businesses, freelancers, and professionals.”
Inc. highlights in particular the creative culture fostered by organizations like socially minded venture capitalists CEI Ventures, local marketing group Factory Portland and nonprofit consulting firm Lift360.
“People here are interested in green jobs, future jobs, high-tech jobs, and the like,” Nat Henshaw, managing director at CEI Ventures, told Inc. “These small businesses bring a rich, fun culture to the city.”