PORTLAND – The Maine Technology Institute has overhauled its business funding programs in an effort to better support the technology sector at a time when private investment remains scarce.

Technology companies and entrepreneurs in the state are struggling to find the capital they need to launch new products and expand their businesses, said Betsy Biemann, president of the nonprofit, state-funded Maine Technology Institute.

Biemann said the overhaul, which includes two new grant programs, will help ensure that the institute’s funds reach individuals and companies developing products that are likely to be commercially successful.

New programs will also help entrepreneurs pay basic startup costs, like those associated with market research, management training and creation of business plans.

Among the changes are new monthly TechStart Grants of as much as $5,000, which entrepreneurs can use to fund market research and concept planning. The institute also introduced Business Acceleration Grants to fund business growth.

The institute increased to $25,000 its Seed Grant program, which funds early-stage research and development, and revised its Development Loans, which are used to fund late-stage research.

Biemann said her organization made the changes after a recent annual evaluation of its programs showed startup companies are struggling to attract investment, even when those companies have promising products. Credit also can be hard to get for existing firms.

Biemann said the institute, established in 1999, distributes 93 percent of its annual revenue to businesses in the form of loans, grants and other investments. She said revenue in recent years has ranged from $6.5 million to $7.5 million.

In addition to program changes, the institute announced Thursday that it will move in late September from Gardiner to Brunswick and open a satellite office at the Target Technology Center in Orono. Staff members will be in the office on the first Thursday of each month to meet with business people.

Among the companies that have received funds from the institute in recent years are Yarmouth-based Fluid Imaging Technologies, Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding in Thomaston, Portland’s Sea Bags Inc., and the digital gift card company CashStar, also in Portland.

David Douglas Stone, CEO of CashStar, said his company received two loans from the institute, worth a total of about $550,000. Stone used the money to create an online platform for digital gift cards and to create an iPhone application. He has hired about 60 employees since the company launched in 2008, and has paid the loans back.

“(MTI) is providing Maine the opportunity to feed technology companies and retain and attract (staff) who could work in New Hampshire, Massachusetts or elsewhere,” said Stone.

He said the institute required CashStar to match the loans, so the company’s out-of-state investors contributed roughly $570,000.

“We aren’t Silicone Valley,” said Stone. “(MTI) allows us to bring money into the state.”

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at:

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