At the conclusion of an inspiring live pitch competition held Tuesday at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall, a panel of three independent judges selected Fluid Farms of Dresden as the winner of Gorham Savings Bank’s 4th Annual LaunchPad Competition. The winner was presented with a $50,000 Gorham Savings Bank grant.
In front of a 200-person audience, judges Melissa Smith (President & CEO of WEX), Chris Claudio (CEO and Co-founder of WinXnet), and Michelle Neujahr (Director of SMCC’s Entrepreneurial Center) were tasked with selecting a winner from among five finalists: Blue Ox Malthouse, Fluid Farms, Garbage to Garden, Good To-Go, and UniteGPS. Contestants were judged on five key criteria: sustainability, viability, economic impact, presentation, and strength of management team. The judges described this year’s decision as extremely difficult due to the smart, innovative and charismatic qualities of all five presenters.
Fluid Farms, an aquaponic produce grower and tilapia fishery, prevailed with a compelling case for the integrated, sustainable, multi-trophic approach to farming it has pioneered. The company grows organic greens and freshwater tilapia (striped bass), and operates Maine’s only MOFGA-certified organic aquaponic greenhouse.
In a surprise plot twist just before the $50,000 winner was announced, each audience member was given the opportunity to cast their own vote. The first-ever Audience Choice winner would be awarded $10,000 in consulting services from iBec Creative, Chris Philbrook Inc., Creative Imaging Group, and Provoke. For that honor, the audience chose Portland-based composting innovator Garbage to Garden.
Garbage to Garden makes it easier for residents, schools, and businesses to divert their food scraps (including meat, dairy and bones) from landfills. Each week, participants leave their bucket of scraps curbside to be exchanged for a fresh, clean one – and, if requested, a bag of compost.
“All of our finalists truly deserved the recognition they received,” said Chris Emmons, President and CEO of Gorham Savings Bank. “Every year, talented entrepreneurs compete for our LaunchPad grant, and 2016 was no exception. Gorham Savings Bank is proud to shine a spotlight on all of these forward-thinking business owners, and to help seed the future of Fluid Farms. We’re looking forward to seeing the impact this funding has on their growth.”
While each of this year’s finalists operate in a different niche, common value propositions include environmental sustainability and added convenience in a busy world – and the remaining finalists appear poised and prepared to deliver on those values.
Blue Ox Malthouse of Lisbon Falls turns raw grain from local farms into malt used by craft breweries. And by linking farmers with brewers, this environmentally sustainable malthouse promotes economic sustainability, too.
Good To-Go, located in Kittery, is the first line of all-natural dehydrated gourmet meals catering to active adventurers. Designed to vastly elevate the trail food experience, each meal is handmade by nationally-recognized chef Jennifer Scism, who once defeated Mario Batali on Food Network’s Iron Chef.
Rounding out the finalists, UniteGPS of Portland aims to elevate a different, and sometimes less pleasurable, outdoor experience – waiting for the school bus. Their transformational GPS solution, CrossWalk, solves the problems of parents and students not knowing just when the bus will arrive each day.