LEWISTON — From waffles to apps to a Hawaiian-themed spa, the third class of Top Gun LA entrepreneurs is the largest and most diverse yet.

Scott Benson, director of economic development at the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the local Top Gun organizer, said on Friday that five of the eight participating companies are either based here or have Twin Cities ties.

“Growing from within, that’s what we believe this is about,” Benson said.

Top Gun LA is part of the larger Maine Center for Entrepreneurs’ statewide Top Gun program designed to help young businesses get off the ground and existing business prep for growth. Company heads, who are paired with mentors, meet weekly for classes on all things business starting in February, culminating in a pitch-off competition.

The top two local winners face winners from four other Top Gun sites across the state. Last year’s prize: $25,000. 

Benson said he’s excited about the level of interest this year and the participants.


• Sahro Hassan, Auburn — Fashionuji

Hassan started her line of bright and bold clothing while still at Lewiston High School.

“She’s graduated college and is back here in the area and beginning to make her mark,” Benson said.

• Misty Edgecomb and Brett Bisesti, Auburn – Oprezo

They’re developing an app that makes shopping for gifts easier, he said.

“Think about a child having a birthday,” Benson said. “You could go online and create a profile for that child. ‘This child is interested in these things or needs these things,’ almost a bit of a registry.”


• Zachary Pratt, Lewiston – Boba restaurant

Pratt and Keshia Thanephonesy started serving their Asian fare in 2014 out of a gas station and pop-up shops. Now on Scribner Boulevard, he’s been looking to expand.

“Zach’s at a point now where he’s going to use this program and look at the future, explore the possibilities for the restaurant, whether it might be multiple locations or whatever it might be,” Benson said. “He’s got a lot of great experience already so he’ll bring that to the table.”

• Kevin Cunningham and Jason Bucknam, Lewiston – My Waffle

They’re working on a food truck built around a waffle menu.

“Kevin is a super experienced chef,” Benson said. “Jason is a longtime friend who has real strengths in the sales field. Working together, they’re looking at this innovative food truck. Like Zach, they’re really super intent on using fresh ingredients, local ingredients. They’re in development with this concept so we’ll help them think more through that and hopefully be part of helping them get started.”


• Heather Desjardins, Winthrop – I Tell Alert

She’s working on technology that would remind people who use walkers to use them, minimizing the risk of falls, according to Benson.

“Think Fitbit, an appliance that’s worn around the wrist and that’s connected in some way to the walker,” he said.

• Carrie Mayo and Isaiah Singer, Portland area – MAYO Designs, Inc.

Mayo owns the company, Singer is an employee. The marketing and design business has been open for several years.

“They are using the Top Gun process to pivot the direction of the company,” Benson said. “They really want to work with companies and organizations that have kind of a social mission, sustainability of people and places.”


• Michele Praught, Portland area – Virtual Walkabouts

Praught’s hoping to target virtual reality experiences to people with mobility issues.

“She’s identified a need out there through her research of her target market,” he said. “It’s a nature-based, VR package and it’s really targeted to folks who wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience that sort of thing.”

• Elizabeth Conley-Leprene, Portland area – Spa Voyage

Conley-Leprene, an experienced massage therapist who has worked at high-end spas on the coast, is looking to open a spa around a Hawaiian theme. She’s also looking to offer a line of products she’s developed.

The feel would be “almost a little bit of a getaway,” Benson said.


For the first time, the regional pitch-off for all eight companies is planned for the May chamber breakfast.

“These guys, after all the work they’re going to put in, deserve to have as many people hear about their businesses as possible,” Benson said.


Boba chef Zach Pratt adds the finishing touches to a dish in 2017. Pratt is one of eight people participating in the new class of Top Gun LA entrepreneurs to grow his Lewiston business. (Sun Journal photo 2017 by Russ Dillingham)

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: