GORHAM — A panel of judges has selected 12 Maine businesses from among 130 applicants to vie for a grand prize of $30,000 in the second annual LaunchPad business plan competition.
The 12 semifinalists hail from Orono to Peaks Island and represent manufacturers, food producers and high-tech firms. The community is now being asked to watch video pitches from the semifinalists and select five to move onto the final live pitch event, which will be held April 10 at the University of Southern Maine.
Gorham Savings Bank designed and sponsored the inaugural LaunchPad event last year as a competition open to existing Maine businesses or promising new startups that can demonstrate a solid business plan and compelling need for the funds, which come with no strings attached.
Pika Energy, a Gorham-based company that manufactures residential-scale wind turbines, won last year’s inaugural competition, using the $30,000 to move the business from a founder’s basement to a commercial space.
For the 2014 competition, the bank received 130 applications, which represented a decrease from the 250 received last year, according to Katie Bellerose, a spokesperson for Gorham Savings Bank. However, Bellerose said the quality of this year’s applications improved from last year’s batch.
Seven judges selected the semifinalists based on the strength of their business plans and the criteria that winning the $30,000 would be “transformational” for the business and allow it to reach a goal that otherwise wouldn’t be obtainable, according to Bellerose.
Among the businesses selected as semifinalists is Flowfold, the Peaks Island-based business founded in March 2011 that manufactures and sells wallets and other “every-day carrying gear” made from recycled high-tech sail material.
“We’re super excited,” Devin McNeill, one of Flowfold’s co-founders, said Monday afternoon. “It’s definitely an honor.”
If Flowfold wins, McNeill said he and his co-founder, Charles Friedman, would use the majority of the funds to ramp up its e-commerce website. The business has seen rapid growth in its online sales on Amazon’s platform, but it could gain a wider profit margin if it was able to increase direct sales through its own website, McNeill said.
“I think what we need is some real technology online and e-commerce strategies and campaigns,” he said, “because we’ve proven we can sell this online, but it’s a lot of skills we don’t have.”
McNeill and Friedman are alumni of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s Top Gun accelerator program, an accomplishment they share with six other semifinalists.
Kerry Gallivan, CEO of Chimani, a Yarmouth-based business that designs mobile applications for national parks, including Acadia, is also a Top Gun alumnus and a LaunchPad semifinalist.
Gallivan is also a repeat applicant, having submitted a business plan to last year’s LaunchPad competition. He wasn’t successful last year at moving into the semifinal round, but said Monday that he felt much more confident this year in pitching Chimani’s business plan.
“When I think of the past year and where we were at and what we’ve learned, the quality was so much better when we applied this year,” Gallivan said. “It was great to get validation by being named a semifinalist this year.”
If Chimani wins, Gallivan said he’d use the funds to boost the company’s marketing efforts.
“One of our biggest challenges right now is getting the word out there and getting people to know about us,” Gallivan said. “We’re at that classic point of a startup where we have a good product and validation, but people need to know about us. From what I’ve read, so many people don’t get beyond this point because they don’t crack the code in terms of an effective marketing or customer acquisition strategy.”
The other 10 semifinalists are:
• Biovation, a Boothbay-based business that designs and manufactures the BootSAK, a product that will dry a pair of soaking wet combat boots within six hours.
• Bixby & Co., a Belfast-based organic chocolatier.
• Double Blue Sports Analytics, an Orono-based business that provides video analytics and technology solutions for athletes.
• Eepybird Studios, the Buckfield-based duo of Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz famous for their Mentos and Diet Coke viral video.
• Garbage to Garden, the Portland-based business that is helping people compost their kitchen waste.
• Introspective Systems, a Peaks Island-based business that is developing architectural software.
• Invisible Intelligence, a West Gardiner-based business that is developing software to help rural airports better manage communications.
• Litl’ Squirts, a Cumberland-based business selling all-natural beverages for children.
• The Holy Donut, which makes doughnuts with Maine potatoes and has two locations in Portland.
• Wag Rags, a Readfield-based business making dog toys out of recycled T-shirts.
Gorham Savings Bank will feature video pitches from each of the semifinalists on its LaunchPad website starting March 18. The community is encouraged to watch the videos and select five finalists who will pitch their idea at a live LaunchPad event on April 10 at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall.
The final pitch event is open to the public, but a panel of finalist judges will select the winning company, who will walk away that evening with the $30,000 grand prize. The judges will be Craig Denekas, president and CEO of the Libra Foundation; Paul Ferguson, president of the University of Maine; and Michelle Neujahr, entrepreneurial center director at Southern Maine Community College.
In addition to the grand prize, the Maine Technology Institute and Blackstone Accelerates Growth will present a technology award of $5,000 to one of the semifinalists that shows the best use of technological innovation as the basis for creating a new business in Maine.
McNeill said competitions such as LaunchPad are important elements of Maine’s entrepreneurial community.
“Whenever you’re forced to practice your pitch and define what you are as a company and where you are going, I think that’s always important,” McNeill said. “If we don’t advance to the next stage, that would be unfortunate. But we have a very good working document and plan of where we’ll spend our next $30,000, whether it’s through this grant or sales.”
Whit Richardson can be contacted at 791-6463 or at: