Eddie Gonnella and Cody Rubner from the University of Maine pitch their business, Explore Maine in front of the other 4 finalists last Saturday April 11th at the University of Maine. Each of the finalists pitched their ideas in front of the UBC Founders and received group and individual feedback to work with prior to the final competition in two weeks, Saturday April 25th.

Eddie Gonnella and Cody Rubner from the University of Maine practice pitching their business idea in front of the other four finalists in the UMaine Business Challenge on April 11. Finalists will pitch at the final competition on April 25. (Photo/James Morin)

This year’s batch of finalists in the UMaine Business Challenge, the only statewide business plan competition for students, are tackling topics as diverse as underwater robotics, digital music-sharing, e-commerce application, tourism and advanced insulation materials. One of them will receive a $5,000 award to help develop that idea into a business when they compete in a live pitch context on April 25.

This is the competition’s fourth year, but the first in which students from any Maine college or university were invited to apply.

“Although the competition is called the UMaine Business Challenge it was always our intention to open to competition to all of Maine’s students,” said James Morin, one of the UMaine graduates who helped found the program as a senior in 2010 and now sits on its advisory board.

The competition has two goals: Supporting collegiate entrepreneurship and helping contribute to Maine’s economic growth.

“Opening up the competition helps us accomplish both of those,” he said.

The five finalists, which were chosen from about 20 applications, include students from the University of Maine, Bowdoin College and Colby College and range from freshmen to PhD candidates.

Those competing in the final pitch contest will be…

  • Patrick Kearon and Noah Safian from Bowdoin, who are developing a location-based music sharing mobile app called Nabbit that will allow users to anonymously share a short sound clip and text comment with everyone in the area;
  • Nadir Yildirim, a PhD student at UMaine, who wants to develop eco-friendly products for the insulation, construction and food-packaging industries;
  • Jordan Wanu, a Colby student who wants to take on Amazon in the e-commerce space by improving the online and mobile shopping experience with a desktop app;
  • Liam Wade, Nick Nelsonwood, Josef Biberstein and Travis Libsack, a batch of former Freeport High School students who are developing a submersible robot for underwater exploration and research;
  • and Eddie Gonnella and Cody Rubner from UMaine, who are developing an online platform to make it easier for people to organize and plan trips into the Maine woods.

Morin has been impressed year after year as the sophistication of the applications continues to grow.

“They are kids, in college, with ideas and the gumption to attack them,” he said. “It blows my mind.”

Morin is still heavily involved in organizing the event, but going forward he’s hoping to involve more current UMaine students so the competition becomes a perennial event with or without him. The Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at UMaine, which Morin and his co-founders were members of, has stepped up to take ownership of the event.

“The challenge is how to make it sustainable and get all the kids excited in the competition,” Morin said. “That’s my goal — to make it evergreen.”

The finalists will pitch their business ideas on April 25. Up for grabs is the $5,000 Fournier Family Foundation technology prize. That, coupled with a free entry into Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s Top Gun Prep program, brings the total prizes awarded to approximately $20,000.

Here’s a recent promo for the UMaine Business Challenge: