Top Gun, the startup accelerator run by the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, keeps getting bigger.

MCED on Thursday announced the Top Gun Class of 2015, which contains 35 companies spanning the manufacturing, aquaculture, food production and IT industries. That’s the most companies ever accepted into Top Gun, a result of the increasing number of quality entrepreneurs applying to the program, according to Don Gooding, executive director of MCED. Last year, 20 companies participated.

“It’s a combination of the surge in entrepreneurship in general across Maine first and foremost,” Gooding says to explain the growth in interest. “Secondly, I think we’ve done a better job in getting the word out, and third, the $10,000 prize offered at the showcase.”

MCED in October announced that for the first time ever it would offer a cash prize of $10,000 to the Top Gun participant who wins the final pitch contest, which will be held in June.

Another factor in its growth is that Top Gun has expanded to Rockland. Previously, the program was located in Portland and Bangor. The expansion is thanks in part to funding from Blackstone Accelerates Growth, a three-year, $3 million initiative of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation to grow entrepreneurship in Maine. Gooding estimates his organization has received $450,000 over the last three years from Blackstone.

The breakdown of where the companies are from: 8 are from the Rockland area, 11 from the Bangor area and 16 from the Portland area, according to Gooding. The program costs $500 per company.

“There’s no doubt we have the most business experience in this class of any group we’ve ever had,” Gooding said. “We’ll have some independent entrepreneurs who are extremely accomplished in their existing fields, but they feel like interacting with the larger community will help them with their current ventures.”

The entrepreneurs will take bi-weekly classes at the University of Southern Maine, the Target Technology Center at the University of Maine in Orono, or University College at Rockland depending on where they’re located. They’ll also work closely with mentors to help them apply the lessons and elevate their business to the next level. The Top Gun Class of 2015 begins January 3.

“We’re very excited,” Gooding says. “The amount of energy we’re going to see out of this class will really be propelling the Maine economy forward.”

The Top Gun Class of 2015 (minus two yet-to-be-named companies) are: