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First-year student places first in Maine Business Challenge

The 8th annual University of Maine Business Challenge (UBC) took place during the first weekend of April in the Buchanan Alumni House. Winning both the first-place prize of $5,000 and the $10,000 innovation prize was Maxwell Burtis, a first-year mechanical engineering student at UMaine. Taking home the second-place prize of $1,000 were Colby College students Isabel Adler and Lily Hogan.

The UBC was created as a way to support college entrepreneurs and provide a way to help make business dreams a reality. The competition is open to all students attending a university in the state of Maine. The mission of the challenge, according to their website, is “to contribute to the long-term growth of Maine’s economy while also supporting entrepreneurial and student development.”

Hogan and Adler pitched “Ruggette,” their women’s outdoor company inspired by the noticeable lack of outdoor women’s gear on the market. With the prize money, they hope to grow their company to provide women with high-quality and environmentally sustainable gear.

Burtis pitched Ferda Farms LLC, an oyster farm business he started towards the end of his senior year of high school with two of his friends and his father.

“We’ve received a lot of support, pretty much everyone we asked has been willing to help us,” Burtis said.

Originally from Brunswick, Burtis said he has been digging clams with his friends since the age of 14 but noticed the constraints associated with the tides. Upon hearing about the idea of oyster farming in the local area, he and his friends looked into what went into the process and realized that it was very doable. Thus the concept of Ferda Farms was born.

“It’s been easy, but it’s been harder than I thought, there’s a lot more business things I didn’t know existed such as accounting, taxes and then there [are] even political challenges when it comes to leasing public water for private use,” Burtis explained. “So it’s not simply throwing oysters out on the water, there’s a lot to it”.

Burtis heard about the UMaine Business Challenge as it was recommended by the Foster Center for Student Innovation on campus, which he has been working with since his first few weeks at UMaine.

The UBC is the third business competition that Burtis has taken part in. He also participated in Big Gig and Greenlight Maine, where he made it to the final round. The UMaine Business Challenge was the longest time for a pitch he had been given, with 15 minutes for his pitch and 10 minutes for questions.

The innovation prize is sponsored by the Fournier Family Foundation and UMaine Alumnus Bruce Fournier. It is designated for companies that incorporate a new innovation or technology as a part of their business model. For Ferda Farms, they are working on a solar-powered oyster washer and sorter that works to increase efficiency on the farm.

With the prizes won in the UMaine Business Challenge, Ferda Farms will be working towards further growing their farm, investing in more oysters and working on getting a solar-powered machine.

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