Portland entrepreneurs Jess Knox and Mike Sobol are seeking financial support for a nonprofit lecture series and summer boot camp aimed at aspiring executives of high-growth, high-impact ventures.

Knox and Sobol believe their new organization, called Venture Hall, will help raise Portland’s profile as a regional center for innovation and entrepreneurship. They hope to obtain donations and sponsorships from foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals.

“The main goal is job creation, talent retention and job retention here in Portland,” said Sobol, a business consultant and marketing strategist who has helped found a number of small businesses.

Sobol said he met Knox through mutual connections, and the two decided to work together on a nonprofit business-development initiative. Knox is well-known throughout Maine’s entrepreneurial community. He founded the annual Maine Startup & Create Week event, is the statewide coordinator for Maine Accelerates Growth, and is president of business consulting firm Olympico Strategies.

Also integral to the initiative is Nik Caner-Medley, a professional basketball player and entrepreneur whose new venture, a coworking center called Cloudport, is scheduled to open in Portland in mid-August. Knox said the decision to partner with Cloudport, which will have dedicated space for both training sessions and workers, made Venture Hall possible.

“We would not be announcing anything today without their support,” Knox said.


Venture Hall will develop a year-round schedule of training opportunities for entrepreneurs and will select eight to 10 businesses each summer to participate in a three-month business accelerator program, Sobol and Knox said. The first such program will begin in June 2017.

Sobol said the emphasis will be on entrepreneurial “teams” that demonstrate the best attitude and work ethic.

“What we’re looking at most is teams that are committed to the innovation process,” he said.

Unlike some accelerator programs, Venture Hall will not require participating ventures to give up a share of the company, Knox and Sobol said. Still, they will try to match participating teams with compatible mentors and investors.

“That’s part of what we intend to facilitate,” Sobol said.

Business accelerators, which provide small to mid-size companies with training, advice, mentorship and access to investors, have become a popular means of promoting job growth and economic development in Maine and around the world. Some even provide shared workspaces, known as incubators.

One recent example of an incubator in Maine is the Union River Center for Innovation in Ellsworth, which officially opens Tuesday. The facility will be run as a partnership between the city of Ellsworth and the Ellsworth Business Development Corp.

Venture Hall participants will have the ability to rent workspace inside Cloudport, at 59 Federal St., making it akin to an incubator.

“At Cloudport, this is exactly what we were looking for,” Caner-Medley said. “I think it’s going to be a really exciting partnership.”

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