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Portland-area companies among 5 vying for $30K windfall

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Portland-area companies among 5 vying for $30K windfall

PORTLAND — Five Maine independent businesses will pitch their products and services next week to a panel of judges for a chance at $30,000.

The final round of Gorham Savings Bank's Launchpad competition will be held April 10 at 6 p.m. in Hannaford Hall on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine. The public is invited to attend, free of charge; registration runs through April 8 at 5 p.m. and is available at gorhamsavingsbank.com/launchpad.

The finalists are Garbage to Garden, a Portland startup that offers weekly compost pickup and fertilizer delivery; Flowfold, which originated on Peak's Island and makes wallets from used sails and other recycled materials; Chimani, a Yarmouth-based company that designs mobile apps for outdoor destinations and National Parks; Bixby & Co., a Rockport business that makes organic chocolate bars, and Double Blue Sports Analytics, of Orono, which hopes to revolutionize sports video analysis through wearable sensor technology and cloud sharing.

The contest, now in its second year, seeks to help fledgling entrepreneurs whose businesses may not "take flight" without an influx of cash, said Katie Bellerose, a marketing professional with Gorham Savings Bank.

The pitch event will be emceed by Don Gooding, executive director of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development. The judges are University of Maine President Paul Ferguson; Craig Denekas, president and chief executive of the Libra Foundation, and Michelle Neujahr, director of the Entrepreneurial Center at Southern Maine Community College.

The contest's winner will be announced at the conclusion of the event. In addition, a $5,000 Maine Technology Institute/Blackstone Accelerates Growth Award will be presented to Invisible Intelligence LLC for excellence in technological innovation. The West Gardiner company, which develops radio recording products for general aviation airports, was one of the competition's 12 semifinalists.

Over 8,000 votes were cast online to determine the five finalists.

During a seven-minute presentation, each company will be responsible for explaining how exactly they would use the prize money. Some plan to develop their own company infrastructure, while others are focused on gaining visibility.

"What we'd want to do is focus on developing an e-commerce marketing strategy," said Devin McNeil, co-founder of Flowfold. "We want to drive traffic to our website and improve on how our website converts visitors to sales."

Tyler Frank, a founder of Garbage to Garden, said they would use the award in part to install a commercial conveyor washing system for their compost buckets that would cut their water and natural gas costs by 60 percent.

All five companies have one thing in common: They're at a stage in their lifespans where $30,000, and some free public relations, are a pretty big deal.

"We've been in operation for less than two years, and it's been entirely bootstrapped," Frank said. "It's been a very unconventional, grassroots way to start something. So a $30,000 award would make a huge difference."

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.