Bookclubs, a social network and app for readers that makes it easy to start, manage, and join a book club, was named the 2023 winner of Gorham Savings Bank’s annual LaunchPad small business competition and earned its corresponding $50,000 no-strings-attached grant. The company was chosen from among five finalists—all innovative, local entrepreneurs—who pitched Tuesday evening to an independent panel of judges, as well as a live audience of over 200 family, friends, and supporters at the University of New England’s Innovation Hall in Portland.
Camden-based Bookclubs was a returning 2022 finalist; and in her pitch, co-founder and CEO Anna Ford impressed the judges with the company’s growth over the past year, not only in its user numbers, which have reached upwards of 600,000, but also in its potential to scale to different verticals beyond just literary groups – with other types of content-based clubs and even non-profit boards now using the app’s robust scheduling, polling, and messaging features to streamline their collaboration. Ford said the company would use the Bank’s $50,000 grant to hire an experienced UI/UX designer who could optimize the app for club activation and conversion to its premium paid version.
The other four finalists, all of whom delivered impressive and well-received pitches, were Bijou Build of Camden, Bonsie Skin to Skin Babywear of Brunswick, NKENNE of Portland (2022 Emerging Business Award winner), and Ocean Data Network of Portland. As an added benefit, Gorham Savings Bank CEO, Steve deCastro announced that the Roux Institute at Northeastern will grant all five finalists access to several of its curated, invite-only events, where they will be able to network and build connections with investors, fellow founders, and other key players in Maine’s startup ecosystem.
Gorham Savings Bank also honored an entrepreneur in its Emerging Business Award category. From another set of five deserving finalists, Amply Energy earned the distinction, which includes a $10,000 grant from GSB, $10,000 worth of in-kind marketing, business development, and public relations services from Creative Imaging Group, Grove Marketing, iBec Creative, Nu-Yar, and Philbrook PR, and an additional $1,000 from LaunchPad supporters and owners of Applewood Inn in Freeport, Jay and Jennifer Yilmaz. Based in Cumberland, Amply Energy enables heat pump contractors to swiftly generate improved proposals for homeowners, expediting the adoption of clean, efficient, and budget-friendly HVAC systems.
“This year’s finalists were incredibly diverse in terms of the products and services they provide, the industries they operate in, and the markets they serve,” said Steve deCastro, president and CEO, Gorham Savings Bank. “Each one is truly a standout in its own niche, and a testament to the innovative and supportive startup culture we’re fortunate to have here in Maine.”
Also testifying to the strength of the Maine business community – and to the power of the Bank’s decade-long LaunchPad program – were previous $50,000 grant winners Melissa LaCasse of Tanbark (2022) and Torey Penrod-Cambra of HighByte (2021), who reported back to the audience on their progress since winning the competition. Both companies not only delivered on, but exceeded, the high goals they set when pitching on the LaunchPad stage.
A special thanks to this year’s event judges: John Burns, Director of Corporate Engagement, UMaine; Kristine Delano, board member, Women in ETFs, and host of the WE Talk Careers podcast; and Kate McAleer, founder of Bixby Chocolate and 2014 LaunchPad winner.
Watch the livestream at gorhamsavings.bank/launchpad.
L to R: Gorham Savings Bank CEO Steve deCastro and Anna Ford of Bookclubs with Katie Grant, LaunchPad emcee and Commercial Banker at GSB
Melissa LaCasse of Tanbark, 2022 LaunchPad winner, presenting Gorham Savings Bank’s $50,000 grant check to 2023 winner, Anna Ford of Bookclubs
Eric Fitz of Amply Energy in Cumberland poses with the 2023 LaunchPad Emerging Business Award $11,000 grant they won.