Five start-ups that include a voting app, remote-grow room technology and a new way to buy a used car online will face off Wednesday night in Top Gun LA’s inaugural pitch competition.

The businesses are vying for a spot in the statewide pitch-off June 7, and once there, for the $10,000 cash prize.

Top Gun’s program to boost entrepreneurship has been in Maine since 2009, but this spring marked its first time in Lewiston-Auburn.

“The Top Gun program is for any business that’s really at a place of scalability and growth, but it tends to attract technology companies,” said Chelsea Fournier, who managed Top Gun LA. “It’s really cool that we have a maker, that we do have some software companies, but one has a hardware component. It’s a really good, diverse group this year.”

The program is out of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, which partnered locally with the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council.

Local people behind five different companies met for 10 sessions starting Feb. 8, covering topics like strategic marketing, financing options and legal considerations.

“You have a great idea, you have a great product or a service and you say you want to get this out there — there’s so many things that you don’t know you don’t know, and so Top Gun really tries to immerse the entrepreneurs so they can figure out what phase are you really at,” Fournier said.

Another session covered human resources — important even in a company of one.

“A lot of entrepreneurs bring on interns and don’t start to realize what they need to do, legally, to have an intern,” she said. “It was good to help them think about before they just start willy-nilly putting together a team that there’s actually bigger costs associated with bringing on interns or part-time employees.”

One business, SOFIA FIMA, is already open. Two other participants, SpinDoc Inc. and Grojo Inc., are getting feedback from early-stage clients, she said.

The two others, Little Beaver Development and AutoLink, are in research and development.

Each will have five minutes to pitch their idea to judges Wednesday night at the Ramada Inn & Conference Center. From there, two finalists will go on to the statewide pitch with six other participants. The pitch is free to watch but advance registration is required and space is limited.

“I see a lot of dedication,” Fournier said. “There’s been a lot of pivots in the businesses by virtue of them learning and I’ve seen the ability to really communicate the value they want to bring evolve significantly. I think that we could have a couple winners of the entire statewide showcase in Lewiston-Auburn. We’re definitely rooting them on.”

In addition to vying for the cash prize, a representative from Microsoft will be at the statewide pitch to see if any of the finalists would be a good fit for its BizSpark program, a $100,000 suite of services.

Fournier said the plan is to hold Top Gun LA again next year. Last year, the application process opened just after Thanksgiving.

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Five entrepreneurs are headed into Top Gun LA’s pitch-off on Wednesday night. Two finalists will join six others at the statewide Top Gun competition in Portland on June 7, competing for a $10,000 cash prize to give their business a boost.

Members of Top Gun LA’s inaugural class:

Entrepreneur: Benjamin Nussbaum, Ridgefield, Connecticut (Bates College student)

Company name: AutoLink

In their own words: “AutoLink enables private parties to sell their vehicle online. By allowing sellers to obtain a free used car inspection report from a local mechanic and attach this report to their online listing, AutoLink can be used as a tool to promote true used car e-commerce.”

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Entrepreneur: Ben White, Auburn

Company name: Little Beaver Development

In their own words: “Little Beaver Development is helping to build stronger democracies through increased voter participation by creating a mobile voting app that can guarantee the integrity of election results. LBD is currently seeking both partners and investors to assist in the development of a minimum viable product.”

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Entrepreneurs: Aaron Hastings and Jared Pinkham, Turner

Company name: Grojo Inc.

In their own words: “Grojo is building an open, connected hardware platform that allows small scale indoor growers to control, automate and monitor their gardens from anywhere in real-time using any internet connected device. We give growers peace of mind and help them to use technology to protect their investment and increase yields.”

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Entrepreneur: Dianna Pozdniakov, Lewiston (originally from Massachusetts)

Company name: SOFIA FIMA

In their own words: “SOFIA FIMA’s mission is to offer women highly functional luxurious bags at an attainable price. This fall we’re launching a new collection at sofiafima.com designed to carry everything a professional working woman needs from morning to night. Our ultimate goal is to manufacture luxurious bags in our own facility in Lewiston.”

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Entrepreneur: Susan Thomas, MD, Hallowell

Company name: SpinDoc Inc.

In their own words: “Medical practices spend up to $2 per document to manually process and file mission-critical mail and faxes. SpinDoc’s revolutionary cloud-based solution automatically analyzes and sends clinical documents to the patient’s electronic chart at a fraction of the cost. We streamline patient care.”


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