The University of Maine hosted the seventh annual Maine Business Challenge on March 31. The challenge is presented by Business Lending Solutions, a company that provides loans to Maine business owners. The company hosts a selected group of aspiring entrepreneurs who compete for the $5,000 grand prize. The competition is open to all Maine college or university students but this year, all of the five finalists were from UMaine and presented ideas ranging from agriculture technology to dog nutrition. The chosen finalists were paired with mentors who helped them along the way.
This year’s first-place-winning entrepreneur was graduate student Patrick Breeding and his team, who created Zephyrus Simulations. Breeding’s winning submission was a medical simulator that he started developing while he was an undergraduate at the university.
“[My partners and I] were all bioengineering undergrads here at UMaine,” Breeding explained. “For our capstone project, we initially built a simulator that mimicked a child breathing in different emergency situations… [but found that] although we were solving a problem and addressing a need, there were much larger ‘needs’ in medical education.” Breeding and his team then went back to the drawing board and eventually came up with a smartphone-based augmented reality platform for medical education.
With the $5,000 that Breeding and Zephyrus Simulations were awarded, they plan to use this summer to develop new prototypes of the apps used in their platform, conduct customer testing and eventually try to launch a final product in the summer of 2019.
Fourth-year student Nicholas LaJoie took home the honor of second place at this year’s challenge. LaJoie’s business, which he called IoTato, is centered around a technology that he developed to aid potato farmers in monitoring their storage facilities. Describing how he came up with the idea, LaJoie spoke of how he grew up on a potato farm in Northern Maine and “was often so exposed to the problems that my dad, uncle and grandfather faced on a daily basis.”
LaJoie became interested in the UMaine Business Challenge during his first year here at the university. However, he never entered until this year because he just hadn’t had the right idea yet. His waiting seems to have paid off, seeing as he not only earned the second place honor, but also the $10,000 Innovation Prize.
“By winning the Innovation Prize, I’m now fully convinced that this product is worth investing my time in,” LaJoie expressed. Similar to Breeding, with his prize earnings, LaJoie plans to work toward a full-scale prototype which he hopes to later distribute to farmers to begin testing this upcoming fall.
When developing your ideas, Breeding emphasizes finding something that you’re passionate about. “[Find] something that makes [you] excited to get up in the morning and doesn’t feel like work when you’re doing it,” Breeding suggested. And “don’t start with the ‘what’ or ‘how’ [when it comes to your ideas] — always start with the ‘why,’” LaJoie echoed.
For more details regarding next year’s business challenge, visit http://www.umainebusinesschallenge.com.