News organizations love rankings because they offer a hook and usually some valuable data to add heft to a story. That’s the case with Inc. magazine’s annual Inc. 5,000 list, which it released Wednesday. There are nine Maine companies on the list this year, down from 14 last year.

But lists like this also require some explanation. The list claims to rank the fastest-growing private companies in the United States, but it’s not comprehensive because it only includes companies that apply and are willing to reveal revenue figures. Many growing companies choose not to reveal finances for competitive reasons. Take Portland-based CashStar, which I recently profiled in these pages. The company, which provides software for companies to manage digital gift card and incentive programs, placed No. 600 on last year’s list with 792 percent revenue growth between 2010 and 2013. But it’s not on the list this year. That’s not because it stopped growing, but because the company chose not to disclose revenues. Despite what he called record-breaking revenue growth, CashStar CEO Ben Kaplan said he’s decided “to hold that information a little closer to the vest.”

Another name that appeared very prominently on last year’s list is Auburn-based Provider Power (better known in Maine as Electricity Maine). Last year it ranked as the sixth fastest-growing company in the entire country with three-year revenue growth of 19,877 percent. But it’s not on this year’s list. Will Fessenden of Provider Power said Wednesday he didn’t believe the company applied for the list, but he had to check and wasn’t able to confirm by Wednesday evening.

This year’s list includes some familiar names. Six of the nine companies have appeared on the Inc. 5,000 list in the past: Argo Marketing Group, Vets First Choice, Apothecary by Design, Vision Payment Solutions, Winxnet and Tilson Technology. The three new members are MuniciPAY, a Scarborough-based company offering electronic payment processing services for municipal governments and school departments; Abierto Networks, an Eliot-based company that provides point-of-service technology for convenience stores; and BlueTarp Financial, which is based in Portland and manages the credit programs for building supply dealers.


Last week, I reported that Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, would be traveling to Portland in early October and while here would personally invest $100,000 in a Maine startup. It’s part of his Rise of the Rest tour, where he visits cities that don’t usually get attention from investors that places like San Francisco, New York City and Boston receive.

Since reporting the story, I’ve received some inquiries from people who want more details, especially how to pitch their startup to Case as part of the tour’s pitch competition. I spoke with Herbie Ziskend, who runs the Rise of the Rest initiative for Revolution LLC, the investment firm Case founded in 2005. (The following is excerpted from my blog, The Startup Line.)

For a chance to pitch, startup founders need to apply online at Eight companies will be chosen to give four-minute pitches to a panel of judges, including Case. To be considered, a company doesn’t have to be in tech, Ziskend said. There are really no limitations, except that participating companies have to be growth-oriented.

“It runs the gamut,” Ziskend said. “We often see a lot of tech companies, but it doesn’t have to be a tech company. We’re looking for a company that could scale and create jobs in or very close to the city we’re in.”

Companies are not required to be based in Portland. Technically, companies will be considered that are within “reasonable driving distance” from Portland. Bangor-based companies will be considered, Ziskend said. The deadline to apply is Sept. 13.

The $100,000 is a real equity investment from Case himself, as opposed to from one of Revolution’s funds. Ideally, Case’s investment would join a current or recent equity round (usually a Seed or Series A), but could also be in the form of a convertible note that would be included in the next financing round, Ziskend said. This means companies that apply should be in the process of, or plan to raise venture capital at some point. The winner gives up some equity, but consider the upside: You get Steve Case as an adviser and board member.

While it’ll be exciting to see which eight companies are chosen to pitch on Oct. 2, I’m just as interested to see how many Maine startups apply in the first place because it will provide a proxy for how many Maine startups are serious about big growth.

Case’s visit to Portland is a milestone in the city’s rising national profile as a place with a vibrant entrepreneurial scene. Case has visited 14 cities so far as part of his tour. As soon as Case and the Rise of the Rest team decided to come to the Northeast, Portland rose to the top of the list of cities they wanted to visit, Ziskend said.

The city was on their radar because of the buzz that’s been generated by things like Maine Startup & Create Week and other national outlets taking notice, like when Popular Mechanics named Portland one of the country’s top “Startup Cities” earlier this year.

“There’s a lot of momentum, and we want to bring it together and help it grow,” Ziskend said. “It was the potential of Portland that excited us.”