By Lori Valigra Bangor Daily News, Maine
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Entrepreneurs participating in the "Top Gun" training and mentorship program pitched some unique products before a panel of judges at the LA Metro Chamber of Commerce.
A Lewiston firm that plans to serve gourmet Belgian waffles from a food truck and a Winthrop company that makes electronic devices to help prevent falls by elderly people won a competition aimed at helping young businesses get their products to market.
The two companies were among seven that presented pitches on their businesses before a panel of judges at the LA Metro Chamber of Commerce meeting in Auburn on Thursday.
They are in Top Gun, a training and mentorship program for entrepreneurs. Top Gun programs, which last 10 weeks, are held in Lewiston-Auburn, Bangor, Waterville, Rockland and Portland. This year a record 47 companies statewide were in the program.
The Lewiston-Auburn finalists were I-Tell alert of Winthrop and My Waffle of Lewiston.
My Waffle plans to sell gourmet Belgian waffles from a food truck named Sweet Melissa at various venues, initially around Lewiston-Auburn. The company will announce where the truck is located via social media.
Chef Kevin Cunningham and beer salesman Jason Bucknam started the company, which will sell a variety of buckwheat, gluten free and other types of waffles with toppings. A basic, 9-inch waffle is $7 with syrup and butter, and $10 with added strawberries and whipped cream.
"In the first year, we hope to sell 5,000 waffles by September to pay off the truck," Bucknam said. They plan to be at the local Memorial Day festival.
Cunningham said the target customer is a family of four with an income of $130,000.
The duo chose a truck to keep costs and overhead low.
I-Tell, the other finalist, is one of two companies in the group of seven Lewiston-Auburn Top Gun businesses that focus on products for elderly people.
I-Tell aims to prevent falls by seniors by using a sensor on a walker that communicates with a wristband sensor to remind them to use their walkers. The wristband will vibrate and show light flashes if the individual tries to walk without the walker.
Heather Desjardins, president and CEO of the Winthrop company, said there are 2.8 million injuries, 800,000 hospitalizations and 27,000 deaths each year resulting from elder falls.
Those falls cost Medicare and Medicaid $50 billion annually.
"Poor balance is the primary cause of elder falls," Desjardins said. "But many elders forget to use their walker. One in four people over age 65 will fall in the next year."
She aims to get first-year revenues of $850,500.
She is preparing to sell the device through Amazon and is starting discussions with Walgreens for sales.
The electronic devices will be made by AMI in Winthrop.
Desjardins said she also is talking with the Maine Technology Institute about funding.
One target market is assisted-living facilities. There are 930 of them in New England, she said.
Another elder care company in Top Gun that did not make the cut Thursday is Virtual Walkabouts of Portland. That company is making a virtual reality headset that shows nature videos to people who cannot walk outside easily.
Founder Michele Praught said the product, which she plans to launch in 2020 after completing a prototype this summer, can help people lower their blood pressure and improve their mental health.
Her target customer also is senior living facilities.
The other competitors were an app that helps with gift-giving, a marketing company, a Hawaiian spa company and a fashion company targeting women who must dress modestly.
The two Lewiston-Auburn finalists will compete for two, $25,000 prizes, against other Top Gun finalists in Portland on May 23.