Northeastern heads north to Maine

Whenever people in Boston get nervous about the local economy, you often hear someone say that at least the bedrock of that economy — the colleges and hospitals — can’t pick up and move. But now Northeastern University is sort of doing just that.

With a $100 million donation from David Roux, who was born in Lewiston, Maine, and made a fortune in Silicon Valley, Northeastern is opening a graduate school and research center in Portland, Maine. It’s a bold economic development play by a savvy investor who is betting that a tech ecosystem centered around artificial intelligence for life sciences companies can be built from scratch in Maine’s largest city.

Northeastern doesn’t have a location for the Roux Institute yet, but it hopes to enroll 65 students this fall in temporary digs and then keep growing — 1,000 students in five years and 2,600 within 10 years. All of the students will pursue master’s degrees or Ph.Ds in digital technology and advanced life sciences.

Corporate partners are being recruited who will enroll students at the school and collaborate on research and professional training, as well as participate in Northeastern’s famed co-op student employment program. The 10 founding corporate partners include Maine-based firms such as L.L. Bean, Bangor Savings Bank, the Jackson Laboratory, Maine Health, WEX, and IDEXX, as well as companies such as PTC and Unum.

Roux and his wife spent close to two years searching for the right university to partner with. They settled on Northeastern in December. At the announcement in Portland on Monday, Roux called the Northeastern venture an “opportunity machine disguised as an educational institution and research center.”

He said the school will give the state the opportunity to compete in the global tech economy.

“The real problem is that we are underperforming against our potential,” Roux said. “We live in an innovation economy, but we are not participating fully.”

Joseph Aoun, Northeastern’s president, said tech ecosystems elsewhere (think Boston) have typically grown where some seeds were already planted. In Portland, he said, “our opportunity is to launch this ecosystem and shape it. That’s why it’s going to be transformational.”



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