After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Gorham Savings Bank hosted its eighth LaunchPad competition and on Tuesday awarded the top prize, a $50,000 grant, to HighByte, a Portland-based software company that specializes in managing and modeling industrial data.

The LaunchPad competition aims to foster the growth of Maine’s economy by providing a boost to small businesses in the state.

HighByte was chosen from a pool of roughly 150 applicants, including five finalists who pitched their businesses to a panel of judges during a virtual livestream event Tuesday afternoon. The panel included Catherine Cloudman, president and CEO of CHC Investors and a member of the bank’s board of directors; Kate McAleer, founder of Bixby & Co. and the winner of the 2014 LaunchPad competition; and Ed McKersie, founder and president of ProSearch and a corporator of the bank.

The other finalists were Brave Foods, Erin Flett/Studio e Flett, Hüga Heat and Vintage Maine Kitchen.

Steve deCastro, president and CEO of Gorham Savings, said applications this year were comparable to previous years despite the pandemic and the competition’s virtual format.

“Coming into this year, we had some trepidation just because we were planning the event when we were really at another spike in terms of (COVID-19) cases and we just were not sure how much business formation and growth had happened,” deCastro said. “But between our selection committee and leadership team and the bank, we decided to give it a go. I was really positively impressed with the number of applications we got, the variety of applications and the strength of the applications.”

HighByte, a technology company, differs from many of the past recipients of the grant, many of which are consumer goods companies. Because of this, co-founder and chief marketing officer Torey Penrod-Cambra had her doubts going into the competition.

“In some ways I felt like we almost didn’t have a chance, just because I think the history of entrepreneurship in Maine or at least what’s been most visible – through either the LaunchPad forum or across the state at other companies that are funded – is a lot of incredible consumer packaged goods and direct-to-consumer brands and a lot of lifestyle and food, and they’re hugely successful,” Penrod-Cambra said. “So I think coming in with a product that’s not just tech but deep tech and used in manufacturing, an environment that most people will never step foot in – I just felt like that was going to be a hard message for people to wrap their heads around.”

However, the competition is always seeking to diversify, and the judges found Penrod-Cambra’s pitch focusing on expanding technology jobs in Maine compelling.

“It’s a different industry than maybe we’ve seen in prior award winners, but I think that’s good,” deCastro said. “We want to see a diversity of companies that show success in our market and also within the LaunchPad program.”

Penrod-Cambra said her pitch emphasized that the grant money would be used to supplement salaries in order to make positions with HighByte more attractive to new talent, allowing Maine’s technology industry to compete nationally.

“I think everyone at the end of the day could understand how hard it is to recruit really good talent,” Penrod-Cambra said. “At the end of the day, it’s not a technology story, it’s a people story, and we need people.”

For Penrod-Cambra, the win for HighByte signifies a shift in the tech industry as a whole.

“The tech startup scene has changed so much in the last five years, and having an opportunity to even be a finalist in this and then winning, it’s just very validating that there is a real movement happening within technology in Maine,” she said. “It was awesome to get to be the face of that yesterday.”

In the Emerging Business Award category, the bank also awarded a $10,000 grant – supplemented by an additional $1,000 from an anonymous donor – to C. Love Cookie Project, an organization that employs immigrant women and donates a portion of its cookie sales to nonprofits supporting immigrants.

The bank also honored Zootility, a Portland-based design studio, with a new $10,000 Business Agility Award recognizing perseverance through the pandemic.

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