AUBURN — The Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development is looking for the next batch of 12 to 15 local start-ups for its Top Gun program, and it’s looking for a new name.

With the movie “Top Gun 2” in production, “we don’t want Tom Cruise to get mad at us,” joked Executive Director Tom Rainey.

The guest speaker at the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday, Rainey said 171 companies have gone through its Top Gun program since 2009. Designed to give a boost to young companies with intensive workshops and mentors, 154 of those companies are still in business.

It came to Lewiston-Auburn for the first time this year. Grojo out of Turner walked away from the statewide pitch-off finals in June with $120,000 in prizes from Microsoft.

Applications will start for the next local round in December.

Rainey said he’s hoping to further expand Top Gun to Brunswick and Waterville.

With the number of co-working spaces and incubator programs, “there’s never been a better time to start a new company in Maine,” he said.

Chamber President Beckie Conrad encouraged members to consider becoming mentors and possibly instructors in the program next year. 

“Your expertise, your stories, your ability to come through everything you’ve done to bring your business to life, or expertise you have in your organization, is valuable,” she said. “Stay on top of this program — this is going to be how we build our future.”

Outside of Top Gun, Rainey said Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, in its 20th year, started a pilot program one year ago to work with six companies on the challenges of scaling up after spotting a trend of companies growing up to $1 million in sales and stalling out.

“They kind of hit the wall because the skills that you need to develop a company when you start as an entrepreneur are very different than the skills you need to scale up to the next level,” Rainey said. “They were really aspiring to grow and double in size. They had compelling business opportunities, but they didn’t have the internal management capability to do that. We go in and do a deep dive on those companies and come up with a road map.”

The center also is working with Coastal Enterprises and Focus Maine to soon launch a “dedicated accelerator program focused on food, beverage and agriculture companies alongside of our mixed-portfolio-scale initiative and Top Gun,” Rainey said.

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Tom Rainey

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