UMaine Business Challenge announces finalists

The final contestants for the annual UMaine Business Challenge were announced last week. Three teams from UMaine, one from College of the Atlantic (COA) and one from Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) will be competing for up to $20,000 dollars and support through goods and services.

Students had from Dec. 16 to March 1 to enter the competition. On April 29, competitors will pitch their business plans to a panel of judges. First place receives $5,000, second place wins $1,000, the technology prize winner will receive $5,000 dollars and have the opportunity to receive additional $5,000, if the team meets development milestones in the six months after the competition.

The Finalists include:

UMaine graduate student Bradley Shepherd, with his video game company Boreal Games;

UMaine senior Benjamin Koehler and the Comfort Appliance team, who are developing a heating appliance to increase the efficiency of woodstoves;

COA student Anita Van Dam, who is the co-founder of [Re]produce, a sustainable produce processing company;

UMaine students Ian Shea and Paul Kurnick, who have created a product that combines lip balm with a lighter;

And SMCC student Michael D. Parks, who is the founder of Dionysus Management LLC, which is launching the Maine Beer Festival and the Maine Wine Festival.

Benjamin Koehler of the Comfort Appliance team is working with three other students: William Bauld, Justin McDermott and David Kelly. The team is developing a unit which would use heat from a wood stove to heat up wax, storing the heat in its liquid state. The unit can then be moved to another room, where the wax releases the heat as it changes back to a solid state. “It’s pretty cool getting to present my engineering and explore entrepreneur stuff,” Koehler said.

The UMaine Business Challenge was founded in 2011 by four members of the UMaine Class of 2010. The founders contributed their own money for the first competition’s prize.

The 2013 challenge expanded to include University of Southern Maine (USM) students. Tom Myers, a USM mechanical engineering student won the competition for his company ABC Firewood.

The challenge expanded to all colleges in Maine after the second year.

The first UMaine Business Challenge was held on April 21, 2012. The first winners were Luke and Jake Thomas of AerialFly. AerialFly is an aerial photography and videography company that uses drones to access scenic vantage points.

Over the years, the winners of the UMaine Business Challenge have brought mobile food delivery services, remote-controlled submersibles, excavation companies and more.

One notable success story is the 2015 winners, UMaine Ph.D. student Nadir Yildirim, an assistant research professor of sustainable bioproducts and Alexander Chasse, a 2013 civil engineering graduate.

Yildirim and Chasse’s project was Revolution Research INC., an Orono based company, which develops eco-friendly bioproducts for a number of different applications such as construction supplies. RRI has received grants from The National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency and the Maine Technology Institute.

In a letter on the UMaine Business Challenge website, the founders said “The UBC wants to continually be increasing its role in developing the state’s economy, while giving back to the University of Maine…we have found student entrepreneurs who are willing to risk their time and talents to build sustainable businesses for our state.”

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