Wilton alum moving invention to production

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ORONO – A University of Maine business student and a recent engineering graduate have won a second major business plan competition, which provides a $25,000 prize to help launch a new company they co-founded.

William Sulinski, a senior from Dedham majoring in economics, and Matthew Rodrigue, a 2004 engineering graduate from Wilton, also received word that they have been approved for a $5,000 seed grant from the Portland-based Libra Future Fund.

The pair conceptually devised a new device to improve the efficiency of home heating oil delivery and have used at least two business plan competitions to hone their presentation and marketing skills.

In late March, they captured first place at the business plan competition held by the Center for Entrepreneurship at the School of Business at the University of Southern Maine. The prize was $10,000 cash and $15,000 in legal consulting and other services to help them develop and market their new product.

They recently opened an office in the university’s Target Technology Center on Bennoch Road in Orono to formally move their device toward production and begin talking with potential angels and investors.

They have applied for a patent on the device and are discussing a prototype design plan with Enercon Technologies engineering firm in Gray, said Sulinski, whose family owns a local heating oil distribution business.

In December, the concept won first prize and a $5,000 cash award at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Business Plan Competition in Fredericton, N.B., Canada.

In the South Portland business plan competition, more than 20 teams competed and five were chosen to present before three judges: a technical consultant, an angel investor and the manager of a major accounting firm. The competition was open to students from USM, Southern Maine Community College, University of Maine at Farmington and UMaine.

The Libra Future Fund is a new program of the Libra Foundation created to “combat youth out-migration by supporting initiatives that increase the number of Maine-based professional opportunities,” according to the Libra Fund Web site. Sulinski and

Rodrigue also hope to leverage the grant and prize money against a $10,000 seed grant from the Maine Technology Institute, which requires a 100-percent match.

As they move forward with the new company, Consumer Energy Research Corporation, Sulinski said, “My to-do list’ is just astronomical, but I think that’s what makes a successful entrepreneur.”

He intends to devote the summer to marketing and production planning. Rodrigue, an engineering consultant for Woodard and Curran engineers’ Dedham, Mass., office and a member of the UMaine Board of Visitors, will begin an MBA program at Harvard Business School this fall, but will continue with Sulinski as an adviser.

“We’re very excited about it,” said Rodrigue.

The partners’ “Heat-Safe 1000” is a wireless device that lets heating oil companies know when customers’ oil tanks get low. With a built in radio-signal warning device installed in a tank, consumers and businesses will run out of oil less often. That will reduce emergency deliveries and inconvenience for people who normally would wait without heat while oil companies make the deliveries.

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