ELLSWORTH — Todd Dehm and Michael Greene, co-founders of Genotyping Center of America (GTCA), were meeting in Bangor from opposite counties as they developed their fledgling genetic testing services company.
Former Jackson Lab scientists, they commuted for 18 months before Micki Sumpter, Ellsworth’s economic development director at the time, reached out to them about becoming an “incubator” business for the new Union River Center for Innovation on Water Street.
“One thing we learned as a city was that we had the building, we had the shell … but no expertise,” Sumpter said at the Sept. 16 graduation of GTCA from the incubator program.
GTCA became the center’s anchor when it opened in 2016, and Kat Taylor, who had joined GTCA as a co-founder, took the role of entrepreneur on-site.
Five years later, the center graduated GTCA as its first incubator program.
“Your success is really a success for the city of Ellsworth,” City Council Chairman Dale Hamilton told the co-founders and leadership who now make up GTCA, and their supporters.
The Center for Innovation is nearly full in its incubator, affiliate, office tenant and co-working spaces, with four incubator projects, two affiliates and six tenants, current Director of Economic Development Janna Richards said. The business affiliate program allows participants to take advantage of the center’s offerings without being physically based in the space. Four floating co-working stations are also available.
“[The center] spurs economic development and helps diversify the economy, especially for start-ups in tech and biosciences,” Richards said, as a small crowd gathered for the GTCA graduation.
With Jackson Lab and the MDI Biological Laboratory located in Hancock County, and the still-new Jackson Lab facility in Ellsworth, Richards said the center supports the larger economies spawned by the institutions.
“And we’re part of the greater ecosystem of incubators in Downeast Maine,” she added. “We are looked at as one of the incubators to help grow.”
The center was initially funded with city money but now it mainly supports itself through grants and tenant rents. One three-year, $125,000 grant came from Maine Technology Institute in 2020, and President Brian Whitney was at the center to celebrate its first graduates.
“We truly count [GTCA] as one of MTI’s success stories,” Whitney said.
The city purchased the Water Street property in 2015 for $125,000, set aside $55,000 more for physical improvements and first-year operation costs, and donated funds each year from tax increment financing (TIF) reserve funds. It runs the center in partnership with the Ellsworth Business Development Corp. (EBDC), which leases space at the Center from the city.
“Taxpayers are not paying a lot to fund this program,” Hamilton said. “It comes back to us tenfold, a hundredfold … It pays for itself.”
He added, “Economic development is more than just bringing business to the city, or all we’d need is Realtors. This is one part of an overall plan.”
GTCA co-founder Greene thanked the center and its supporters, while also speaking of the center’s reach. “All of the revenue we generate here today comes from outside the state, so that is money we’re bringing in [to Ellsworth].”
Now that the start-up has reached its five-year limit at the incubator — and may no longer be classified as a start-up — GTCA will lease space as a mentor tenant. At the same time, the company will look for a permanent home in Maine with room for its laboratory, now located in Waterville.
“The future is to be all in one place,” Taylor said.