Many of Maine’s most innovative products are the result of people’s desire to improve the world around them. 

But what it takes for them to turn those ideas into businesses is far from simple, often requiring not just time and money, but technical specialization, business savvy and a bit of luck. 

Understanding how, exactly, people become inventors can inform others pursuing similar paths or those trying to boost entrepreneurship on a broader scale.

New building methods are making wood construction competitive with concrete and steel, in a shift that holds potential for parts of Maine hit hard by the paper industry’s free fall.

The new type of engineered wood is already making its way into construction in the United States and Canada, but the Northeast market lags behind. As momentum grows, the question is whether the wider Bangor region can capitalize on the burgeoning growth to become the place that manufactures it.

Two decades ago, all of Hartt Transportation’s major customers were in the paper industry. That made Bangor the logical home base for a busy trucking company with lots of paper to haul out of state.

The 69-year-old company is still a busy trucking operation. But with none of the paper mills that lined the Penobscot River still operating, Hartt’s business has changed fundamentally.

The year 2009 was not the best to purchase a company that builds kilns that dry lumber. But despite a lagging, post-recession economy and depressed housing market, Ton Mathissen and a group of investors saw what Nyle Corp. in Brewer could become.

Many employees had worked for the company for decades and held the knowledge essential for manufacturing the only lumber-drying systems in North America that use an energy-saving, dehumidification technology. And Mathissen, now president of what became Nyle Systems LLC, saw that the technology could be used for more than drying hardwood, which meant the company could grow.

When Dr. Frederick “Fritz” Oldenburg, a Bangor-based pulmonary critical care physician, retired in 2012, he decided to look for something new to fill his time: starting a group in Bangor that would invest in startups. 

While he had been investing for decades, Oldenburg had never been involved in an angel group, which consists of people who invest their own money in an entrepreneurial company. Oldenburg was a key player in starting the Bangor angels fund, along with the help of two others — Bob Ziegelaar, the president of MainXPO, and Dr. Ben Zolper, the founder and medical director of Northeast Pain Management — who have managed the first two rounds of investing since the group formed in 2014.

Just after dawn on July 31, Brent, Joshua, Jacob and Caleb Buck put on their Carhartts and tool belts and began assembling a steel tank for storing barley at their farm in Mapleton, in Aroostook County.

“We kind of learn as we go,” said Joshua, who is 26. “The first time we put up a tank a few years ago, we winged it. Now we don’t even need directions.”

The Bucks, who own and operate a 1,000-acre potato and barley farm, were doing their part to overcome a hurdle standing in the way of Maine’s craft beer industry becoming a larger player in the state’s economy: building infrastructure.

The announcement came about 18 months ago: The growing, online home furnishings retailer Wayfair was expanding into Maine. It planned to hire 950 people to staff customer service operations in Bangor and Brunswick.

Today, 13 months after opening in a city-owned building near Bangor International Airport, the online retailer’s Bangor customer service center employs more than 200 people who help shoppers navigate the Wayfair website, answer customer questions via phone and email, resolve problems, and track the location of large items en route to customers’ homes.

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