Maine isn’t short on independent spirit. We have a long history of artists calling Maine home, escaping to the woods and sea to find inspiration. Small businesses drive our economy, which has one of the highest percentages of self-employed workers in the country. But what makes the individuals on the following pages special isn’t just their self-reliance; it’s their drive to do what’s best for their communities, no matter the odds or expectations. They take action, even if they don’t know who will follow. In the process they make their communities healthier, more prosperous, more educated, more diverse, and more culturally rich. They’re creating world-class research institutions in the outer edges of the state. They’re focusing investment in neighborhoods and regions abandoned by past industries. They’re providing jobs and support to Maine’s most vulnerable populations. They’re doing this all for their communities, because if they don’t, who else will?
Dr. Kevin Strange admits that his decision to leave a tenured position at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine to lead an underfunded research organization was risky. “I’m driven by big challenges,” says Strange. He joined the small, “largely unknown” MDI Biological Laboratory in 2010 as an opportunity to transform a summer research station into a global mecca of scientific discovery. At the laboratory, he would be able to pioneer new approaches in regenerative medicine and develop new drugs to treat diseases and injuries without the bureaucratic constraints of a major institution. “Maine is attractive to people who like to blaze new trails and who want to make a difference,” says Strange. In seven years, the MDI Biological Laboratory has already developed potential therapies to activate the regeneration of damaged tissues and delay the onset of age-related degenerative diseases. In 2013, he cofounded a spinoff company, Novo Biosciences, and patented a new drug candidate that activates the regeneration of heart muscle damaged by a heart attack. Most recently, he launched the Maine Center for Biomedical Innovation, a technology incubator and innovation hub that trains students for STEM careers and provides startup companies with laboratory space, training, and access to expertise. The center also offers an opportunity to create technology leadership roles in Maine. “Biomedical research will and must play a leading role in Maine’s future and in helping modernize our economy,” he says.