Elisa O'Donnell named UpStart Maine's ecosystem builder

As a senior business leader and coach focused on scale, Elisa O’Donnell encourages her clients to innovate by shifting their mindset and looking at their approach with fresh eyes. “It’s about creating opportunities for ‘bumps’ outside and across the organization – the more speculative the better! What new circles can you connect to? Who can you bring in as a different kind of expert?”

UpStart Maine, a local innovation hub looking to innovate within their own business model, understands the wisdom of Elisa’s advice. So much, in fact, that they reached outside their regional circles to hire Elisa to fill the newly created “ecosystem builder” role.

Elisa, who lives in Kennebunkport and was also recently hired as a faculty member at the University of Maine Graduate School of Business in Orono, is eager to leverage her broad professional network from across the country, and the globe, to build out the UpStart Maine ecosystem “in compelling ways that lift us all.”

UpStart Maine’s Search Committee Chair, Bruce Nickerson, noted, “Elisa’s relevant experiences with innovation and change management, her thoughtful, circumspect approach to our RFP, and her broad network of out-of-region contacts and resources deeply impressed the Search Committee and helped her stand out as our most compelling candidate. We are pleased to have the grant funding support of the Maine Community Foundation and Rural Development to make it possible for us to engage someone of Elisa's caliber and put her talents to use assisting Bangor region and State of Maine with our entrepreneurial ecosystem building efforts.”

By definition, an ecosystem builder is someone who works to build, grow, support, and nurture the whole network of people, programs, and resources within a community by connecting the dots between people in an entrepreneurial system.

Elisa’s career as a connector and catalyst has led her to work across many different types of organizations, primarily in the greater Boston area, including large established corporations, leading academic institutions such as MIT, and nonprofits like the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) where she provided localized innovation expertise and support to corporate sponsors.

Elisa is of the mind that Bangor should not try to compete with Portland. With her set of fresh eyes on this new opportunity, Elisa is taking a close look at what ingredients make up Bangor’s “unique special sauce,” as she likes to call it.

“Bangor has UMaine, with its research and development focus areas, and other great academic institutions. It has its own branch of angel investors such as Bangor Angels. Bangor has proximity to Canada, to the coast, and our great outdoors. It has it own blend of corporate partners like Jackson Lab and Northern Light, each with their own motivations and needs to engage and support innovation.”

She points out that Governor Janet Mills recently declared Bangor an emerging hub of innovation, with collaboration strengths and assets such as academic institutions, strong work force, and research.

Elisa has high praise for the important and essential work UpStart Maine has already done for the greater Bangor region. Founded in 2016 with an all-volunteer leadership team, “Upstart has worked hard to bring key pieces of the puzzle together. They provide a point of contact for people and organizations who want to be part of the innovation movement. They focus on supporting the entrepreneur on their journey from initial idea to initial commercial success and scaling.”

What excites Elisa most about her new role with UpStart Maine? The people. “It’s human-centered. UpStart is made up of passionate people who believe in what we can accomplish together. Its programs already have a track record of successes from which we can build momentum.”

Upstart Maine’s coalition of programs and facilities consist of pitch competitions, business accelerators, professional coaches and advisors, lenders, technical training, incubation, office, manufacturing, and co-working spaces. The coalition brings under one umbrella the independent yet like-minded ventures of Top Gun Entrepreneurship Accelerator, Scratchpad Accelerator, Big Gig, MaineStream Finance, University of Maine Foster Center for Student Innovation, Bangor Innovation Center, UpStart Center for Entrepreneurship, and CoVort Coworking.

Elisa sees her role as cultivating connectivity between all the wonderful assets across the coalition and the ecosystem at large, “knitting together people and resources in ways that enable them to innovate, grow, and learn from each other.”

While she acknowledges that COVID restrictions make it more difficult to foster the “random connections and collisions that can spark innovation,” Elisa is committed to bringing new resources into the UpStart Maine ecosystem and finding new ways to create the awareness and support for innovation across the greater Bangor region.

Elisa is helping the organization adapt to new ways of connecting, but with an eye toward the future when her help is no longer necessary. In her consultant role, she is building a cycle of engagement and vibrancy across the ecosystem such that the system can continually “reconfigure, grow, and ultimately be self-sustaining without someone like me to help shepherd it.”

Getting to know the existing UpStart Maine network and tapping into her own professional resources is just the beginning of Elisa’s work. She is eager to meet local business owners and would-be entrepreneurs to understand their needs, motivations, and challenges as she creates a “regional playbook.”

In an effort to ensure each innovator feels supported with the resources they need, including a welcoming community, Elisa has an open invitation to reach out. “Come to talk to us at UpStart! We will help connect you with people who will listen and mentor you to find your own path.”

Elisa welcomes readers to reach out to her directly at elisaodonnell@gmail.com and learn more about UpStart Maine online at UpstartMaine.org

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