The second annual UMaine Business Challenge for student entrepreneurs recently awarded thousands of dollars in cash and consulting services to a University of Southern Maine student and three UMaine finalists.
Tom Myers, a USM mechanical engineering student from Gray, Maine, won the grand prize of $5,000, as well as the $4,000 technology prize and consulting services donated by sponsors to promote his business, ABC Firewood.
Spencer Wood, a UMaine communications and human development double major from Salisbury, N.H., won the second-place prize of $1,000, as well as patent and law consulting for his business, Body Guard Fitness.
The other finalists, Henry Bonneau, a UMaine civil engineering major from Skowhegan who owns Bonneau & Son Excavation, and Matthew Hodgkin, a UMaine animal science major from Colebrook, Conn., who co-owns LobsteRX, won consulting time with sponsors and judges.
The UMaine Business Challenge (UBC) was started by 2010 UMaine graduates Owen McCarthy, James Morin, Matt Ciampa and Sangam Lama to support and promote new businesses started by UMaine students and to improve Maine’s economy. This year, the team was joined by marketing representative Hannah Hudson, also a 2010 UMaine graduate.
“We started UBC because we are passionate about UMaine and the state,” McCarthy says. “We saw this as an opportunity to pay it forward. It is our goal to see UBC alumni leading the state in economic growth and development while giving back to the university in their time, talent and treasure.”
The competition is sponsored by Maine Technology Institute, Blackstone Accelerates Growth, University Credit Union, UMaine Class of 1944, UMaine Class of 1980, UMaine Class of 2010, Maine Business School, University of Southern Maine, Opticliff ESQ, The Swanson Group LLC, Maine News Simply and WLOB Radio.
The four finalists were chosen after rounds of competition including an intent to participate stage, questionnaire and executive summary. The finalists were then asked to submit complete business plans to a panel of judges including James Page, University of Maine System chancellor; Jesse Moriarity, coordinator of UMaine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation; Jason Harkins, Maine Business School professor; John F. Burns, fund manager for Small Enterprise Growth, Maine’s Venture Capital Fund; Meredith Strang Burgess, president and CEO of Burgess Advertising & Marketing; Gregory Cavanaugh, program manager for external programs at University of Southern Maine; and Marc Brunelle and Brent Larlee, UMaine alumni and entrepreneurs.
The finalists share the same goal of promoting businesses in Maine.
Tom Myers, ABC Firewood
The idea for Myers’ startup business began when he came across a YouTube video of a commercially produced firewood processor.
“I was analyzing the production process and got thinking about all the inefficiencies in the design,” Myers says. “I thought about how I would do things differently and the idea grew from there.”
Myers, who will graduate in 2015, says he wants his business to be a leading provider in high-quality, affordable firewood in southern Maine.
“Through the use of innovative, custom-designed processing equipment we will be able to keep production rates and quality high while keeping costs down to a minimum,” Myers says. “We are also aiming to completely change the way firewood is sold.”
Myers says there is currently no quantifiable number as to how much heat a delivery of wood produces. ABC Firewood plans to use a new method for quantifying the heat output of a wood delivery to ensure clients are getting the most for their money and to help weed out dishonest suppliers.
Winning first place in the challenge as well as the technology prize through MTI and Blackstone will allow Myers to begin operations immediately through startup funds, establishing contacts and strengthening business skills.
“By winning, my business plan was suddenly backed and supported by many different people all vowing for its viability,” Myers says. “It gave me the confidence and knowledge necessary to get the ball rolling and start my own business. I think this is a huge obstacle to overcome for any entrepreneur, but an even larger one for a young entrepreneur.”
Spencer Wood, Body Guard Fitness
Wood, who graduated in May and plans to return to UMaine to get his master’s degree in human development, got the idea for his business while playing for the UMaine football team.
“I needed something to keep my body in peak physical condition that I could take on the road and use in the residence halls when I was living on campus,” Wood says.
He describes his business as “the first of its kind.”
“This revolutionary product in full-body fitness and mobility will transform the fitness industry and bodies alike,” Wood says. “It is a unique combination of push-up grip and resistance-band technologies that come together to provide a comprehensive and demanding full-body workout.”
Wood’s goal is for the Body Guard to become a household name and a familiar product in the fitness world. He wants his product to be known for giving users confidence.
Since the challenge, Wood has worked with some of the judges and the Foster Center and is confident the money and counseling he won will greatly affect his business.
“If my product is patentable, which it looks it is, the sky will be the limit,” Wood says.
Henry Bonneau, Bonneau & Son Excavation
Bonneau started his excavation business in May 2012 with a 4-yard dump truck, skid steer and backhoe to complete lawn and residential drainage work. By the end of the summer, he was able to purchase a bulldozer that allowed him to also clear land, put in driveways, dig septic systems and complete large-scale landscaping.
Bonneau says his advertising strategy and eagerness to find work helped him have a successful first year and allowed him to purchase a full-sized 18-yard dump truck.
Last summer’s jobs included septic systems and house lots, as well as larger projects such as working on a $350,000 residential reconstruction project and a land rehabilitation and repair project for Central Maine Power.
Bonneau, who plans to graduate in 2015, wants his company to grow and differentiate itself from other Maine contractors.
“I aspire to emphasize green and ‘low-impact’ construction while incorporating today’s most innovative construction methods and materials,” Bonneau says, adding he already has plans to construct a bioretention cell, or natural soil filter, and look into innovative materials such as tire-derived aggregates.
Bonneau believes the consulting services he won and connections he made from the UMaine Business Challenge will benefit his company.
“I suggest any and all entrepreneurs who are aware of this competition and are anxious to get their business off the ground [or in my case, develop it further] should take full advantage of this opportunity,” Bonneau says.
Matthew Hodgkin, LobsteRX
Hodgkin, who expects to graduate in May 2015, decided to start a business with his partners, Lobster Institute Executive Director Robert Bayer, Lobster Institute Associate Director Cathy Billings, and Stewart Hardison, a business partner from outside the UMaine community, after the four had a conversation about lobster industry waste.
“Our business is taking the lobster processing by-products and trying to find uses for them,” Hodgkin says. “So far we have had success in that we have come across certain antiviral and antineoplastic properties.”
Hodgkin and his partners aim to create products from lobster-processing industry waste. Their goal is to get more money to lobstermen and improve Maine’s economy.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.381.3747