Workforce Innovation Summit participants gather in groups to discuss their pitch ideas. Courtesy photo/The Roux Institute

BIDDEFORD — Channeling a focused, determined energy, over 20 Maine professionals from different backgrounds spent last Saturday at the University of New England’s Biddeford campus thinking of ways to support the state’s workforce.

It was day two of the Workforce Innovation Summit, an event put on by the Roux Institute at Northeastern University, which culminated in a pitch competition, where seven teams presented project proposals to a panel of judges.

Think “Shark Tank,” the pitch-based reality TV show for budding entrepreneurs, but with a focus on Maine’s worker economy.

The winning pitch was a workforce residency program where new Mainers would be able to complete internship-like rotations at participating companies, setting them up for higher skill roles. The runner-up was a proposed app that would function as both a job search tool, a social media platform, and a networking site for users. The winning team received a $2,000 prize and the runner-up won $1,000 — cash that the Roux Institute hopes the teams will use towards making their project a reality.

Terra Dunham, the entrepreneurship education program manager at the Roux Institute, said her favorite part of the competition is watching teammates coalesce around a project that they could hope to realize in the real world.

The best part, she said, is watching the teams work together. “At the beginning of the day, everybody’s a little confused and it’s hard because they have to work with these new people. And (one person may have) an idea and now somebody wants to do something else. You go from this place of chaos to (people having) really solidified their ideas,” said Dunham.


The Roux Institute is a campus of Northeastern University that offers graduate-level courses in a variety of STEM fields, and places special emphasis on entrepreneurship. It has now put on nine summits across Maine that follow the same format. At each summit, participants can expect to meet new people, be put on a team with strangers, and tasked with solving a challenge together. The summit’s prompt is released to participants ahead of time — which in this instance asked attendees to think of a workforce solution that would benefit both workers and management.

Past summit themes have included enhancing coastal resiliency and using outdoor recreation to grow the local economy.

Last weekend’s summit was sponsored by Heart of Biddeford, the University of New England, the Main Technology Institute, and Think Tank Biddeford — where the event kick off took place on Friday evening.  The Friday evening session was focused on generating ideas for those participating in day two’s pitch competition. Samantha Dina, the Maine Department of Labor’s director of Special Projects, gave a presentation that walked attendees through some of the workforce challenges facing the state with the hope of sparking some inspiration for potential solutions.

Maine is experiencing a tight labor market — even tighter than what the rest of the country, according to Dina — with two jobs for everyone one job seeker. This is in part due to Maine’s aging workforce. As of last year, 37% of the state’s population was 65 years old or above, which is above prime working age. The state is hoping to offset this by encouraging workers to move to Maine. According to Dina, 35,000 people moved to Maine in 2021 and 2022 combined. That’s good news for the state, which three years ago released a target of attracting 75,000 new workers by 2029.

Dina encouraged summit participants to think of ways that Maine can provide housing, child care and transportation for the workers the state hopes to attract. She asked them to think of ways to simplify the online bureaucracy when it comes to navigating the state’s resources for workers. She also urged them to think of ways that the state can increase high quality employment for people historically underrepresented in those jobs, such as Mainers with disabilities.

It was followed by a panel that featured local professionals was moderated by Jeanne Hulit, the president and CEO of Maine Community Bank, who queried the panelists on sourcing competitive talent, retaining workers, and more.

With the success of this summit and previous summits, the Roux Institute intends to keep the event series going. The next one will be held in December, with the location still to be determined. Updates are available at:

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