Dianna Pozdniakov pitches her idea of a direct-to-consumer luxury stand-up handbag to the Top Gun L-A 2017 judges Wednesday night at the Ramada Inn & Conference Center in Lewiston. Pozdniakov plans for the bag to be manufactured in Lewiston-Auburn.

Jared Pinkham pitches his idea of a remote indoor gardening controller and monitoring system geared toward marijuana cultivation to the Top Gun L-A 2017 judges Wednesday night at the Ramada Inn & Conference Center in Lewiston.

LEWISTON – If Jared Pinkham was nervous, he hid it extremely well.

On stage before a crowd of dozens Wednesday night, the Turner man pitched his company Grojo Inc., an intelligent gardening system for indoor growers that could conceivably generate millions in profit.

“We want growers to concentrate on growing,” Pinkham told the audience. “And we want Grojo to worry about the details.”

In his company T-shirt, cargo pants and sneakers, Pinkham looked a bit like a young Tom Cruise — ironic, since this was the Top Gun entrepreneurial competition, with the same name as one of Cruise’s starring-role films. 

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Pinkham and his Grojo team were named one of two winners Wednesday night, earning their way to the June 7 statewide pitch-off with its grand prize of $10,000.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” Pinkham said after the winners were announced. “I’m happy to see this kind of innovation coming out of Lewiston-Auburn.”

Also thrilled was Dianna Pozdniakov of Lewiston, whose pitch for her line of functional handbags likewise impressed the panel of judges.

“We are sick and tired of the daily schlep,” Pozdniakov told the audience in introducing her company SOFIA FIMA, which ultimately aims to set up a manufacturing base right here in Lewiston-Auburn.

The company’s handbags, presently produced in New York, had previously sold for between $1,300 and $3,000. Those price points might have made the judges squeamish, but Pozdniakov assured them that, by eliminating third-party mark-ups, she hoped to get her prices down as low as $99.

The judges were sold, which means that Pozdniakov, too, will head to the final competition next month.

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The Top Gun program is out of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, which partnered locally with the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council. Local men and women behind five different companies met for 10 sessions starting Feb. 8, covering topics such as 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,” said Chelsea Fournier, who managed Top Gun LA. “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.”

Each of the five competitors had five minutes to impress the judges in the second-floor theater at the Ramada Inn.

Also promoting their products Wednesday night were Susan Thomas, a Hallowell physician pitching a cloud-based medical filing system; Bates College student Benjamin Nussbaum, who had created an online system for used car sellers and buyers, and Ben White, of Auburn, who is out to increase voter participation by creating a mobile voting app that can guarantee the integrity of election results.


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