North Spore of Westbrook, which produces specialty mushrooms, mushroom-growing kits and mushroom spawn, won the top prize at Gorham Savings Bank’s 2018 LaunchPad competition, taking home a $50,000 cash prize.

The company was chosen from among five finalists that pitched their small business concepts Tuesday night to a panel of independent judges in a packed Hannaford Hall at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

North Spore was a returning LaunchPad finalist from 2017.

Competition judges Winxnet co-founder and CEO Chris Claudio, Pro-voke founder and CEO Steve Campbell and Village Fertility Pharmacy co-owner and Chief Financial Officer Catherine Cloudman said North Spore rose to the top by explaining how it could double production capacity and greatly increase efficiency with special machinery it planned to purchase with the $50,000 grant. The judges also said they were impressed with the company’s year-over-year growth and strategic thinking.

The other four finalists were American Roots, a family-run manufacturer that makes American-made customized apparel; Bangs Island Mussels, a family-owned and operated sustainable aquaculture company; Blue Ox Malthouse, a returning LaunchPad finalist from 2016 that turns raw grain from local farms into malt used by craft breweries; and Wallace James Clothing Co. of Portland, which provides the ability to design, develop and produce garments all under one roof.

“Tonight, Gorham Savings Bank was able to help another Maine business reach the next stage,” Gorham Savings President Steve deCastro said in a news release. “The competition was so competitive that I could envision each finalist rising to the top. Our judges made a tough decision and we are thrilled for North Spore.”

The North Spore gang in the fruiting room in Westbrook. Front row, from left: Co-founder Eliah Thanhauser and employee Jason Barton. Back row, from left: Co-founders Matt McInnis and Jon Carver. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Gorham Savings also honored another business on Tuesday with its Emerging Idea Award. From a group of five finalists selected from LaunchPad applicants, Cape Elizabeth-based NavigatER, a software platform designed to improve the patient experience by removing barriers to communication and allowing patients to anticipate and understand their own clinical course, received the award along with a $10,000 cash prize and $10,000 worth of marketing, business development and public relations services from iBec Creative, Creative Imaging Group, Grove Marketing, Philbrook PR and Pro-voke Strategy and Culture.

In addition, thanks to a partnership between Gorham Savings and Junior Achievement of Maine, middle school students from King, Memorial and Bonny Eagle participated in LaunchPad Junior for the first time through Junior Achievement’s “It’s My Business!” entrepreneurial education program.

A video pitch from each class was shown and the student representatives from each school were invited on stage to answer several questions about their idea and what they learned through the program. The students’ work was rewarded with a $1,000 donation from Gorham Savings to each school.