Local leaders in technology, aquaculture, brewing, sports partnerships and mentoring received Ignition Awards from Propel, the next-generation business leaders group within the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, on Jan. 18 at DiMillo’s.

The award for Business of the Year went to Portland-based MedRhythms, an 8-year-old startup leveraging the power of music and technology to help patients with neurologic conditions like stroke, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease improve their mobility.

MedRhythms President Owen McCarthy said, “Our mission has always been clear: How can we impact patients’ lives around the world? How can we do it in a way that revolutionizes medicine and helps patients with innovative FDA-regulated technology?”

The Young Professional of the Year award went to Atlantic Sea Farms CEO Briana Warner, a seaweed farming company that sells to 4,000 retail locations nationwide and has removed more than 350,000 pounds of carbon from the ocean.

“Our 40 partner farmers – 35 who are here on the coast of Maine in Casco Bay and Penobscot Bay – are farming kelp in their off-season, developing a more resilient coastal economy by diversifying their income in the face of climate change,” Warner said. “Lobstermen are currently the leaders in the most climate-friendly food on the planet.”

The Entrepreneur of the Year award went to Tom Ruff, founder of Portland’s first dedicated gluten-free brewery, Orange Bike Brewing Co., which opened in November 2023 on Diamond Street.


“We’re making world-class beer that happens to be naturally gluten-free using buckwheat, millet, quinoa and brown rice versus barley and wheat,” Ruff said, adding that there are only 21 dedicated gluten-free breweries nationwide. The only other one in Maine is Lucky Pigeon in Biddeford.

Gabe Hoffman-Johnson, president of USL to Portland, was named Community Leader of the Year in recognition of his successful effort to bring the United Soccer League (USL) to Maine. A team will be based out of Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium beginning in 2025.

“I consider this project a platform and a catalyst for social good and an investment in the future of economic and cultural vitality of the city and state I love so much,” Hoffman-Johnson said.

Ignition Awards guests voted in person on Nonprofit of the Year, which went to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine, which mentors youths ages 7-17 in Cumberland and York counties.

“This award shows that everyone in this room understands the importance of mentoring and supporting our youths,” said Eileen Veroneau Brown of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “In 2023, we supported just under 300 youths. But there are 53 kids currently on our waitlist; 43 of them are boys. We need all of you. These kids need us.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at amyparadysz@gmail.com.

This story was updated at 9 a.m. Jan. 28 to correct the date of the event.

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