WATERVILLE — A high tech executive with a Maine firm told students, staff and aspiring entrepreneurs gathered at Thomas College on Friday that the state’s economic environment has “amazing potential,” and some budding entrepreneurs may get the opportunity to fulfill that potential in the Green Light Maine Collegiate Challenge.

Rodrigo Meirelles, vice president, new business ventures, partnerships and product innovation for Portland-based WEX, which provides information management and payment processing services to commercial and government vehicle fleet entities worldwide, delivered the keynote address at Thomas College’s third annual Converge and Create Weekend.

Rodrigo Meirelles, of WEX, delivers a keynote address Friday during the third annual Central Maine Converge and Create weekend at Thomas College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

The conference offers panel discussions, networking opportunities and brainstorming sessions centered around technology, innovation and entrepreneurship and features a pitch session on Saturday that gives student entrepreneurs a shot at winning $25,000 in the Green Light Collegiate Challenge.

Josh Devou, a program coordinator with Thomas, has played a key role in organizing the convention the past three years.

“The event began because we wanted to show people what’s happening in innovation and to create a forum to talk about it,” Devou said. “It’s a very interactive event. We always make sure to have time for a question and answer at the end of the presentations. It brings people together to learn as much as they can.”

Meirelles, a native of Brazil, began his career in software development and has worked with multiple companies such as Visa, Nokia and Terra. He’s been with WEX since 2016.

Meirelles’ presentation was focused on the question, “Where is technology taking innovation?”

“Growing up in Brazil, if you saw one of your friends with a computer, that was really cool because they were expensive… Today we treat internet like electricity,” Meirelles said. “Technology is helping support and transform innovation.”

Meirelles touched upon several points in his address including an overview of WEX as a company, the importance of company culture in innovation and techniques necessary to adjust to the ever changing world of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

“The word innovation comes from the Latin word for new,” Meirelles said. “In the era of progress, you can always be better, faster, cheaper. Innovation is about exploring something and in the journey, find the lessons and implement them.”

To Meirelles, the state of Maine has potential for innovation.

“People asked me why I moved here, and the answer is that you guys are in an amazing position,” Meirelles said. “The economic environment here has amazing potential. You have a lot of space, and when you assess successful innovation belts, it’s measured by population. All of the metrics are very promising.”

The convention is expected to host more than 100 people over the course of two days, according to Devou.

Breakout Sessions Friday afternoon addressed the use of artificial intelligence and funding to pay for innovation.

The afternoon pitch session for the Greenlight Maine Collegiate Challenge highlights Saturday’s session. The competition is expected to go to 6 p.m. as 30 or more full- and part-time college students pitch their ideas before an independent panel of judges to win one of 26 spots on the next season of Greenlight Maine: College Edition. The 26 will then pair off against one another over 13 televised competitions. The field of competitors will be narrowed down to a final three who will vie for the grand prize of $25,000 in cash.

The Converge and Create Weekend was organized by the Harold Alfond Institute for Business Innovation at Thomas College, Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, Central Maine Growth Council, Waterville Creates!, Waterville Public Library and Bricks Coworking & Innovation Space.


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