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Ibrahim Mohamed, left, Carrissa Hankins, Aaron Gould, Nick Planson, Narcisse Zo’o Evina, Michelle Nzwemfut, Abdikadir Hassan took part in the Top Gun competition Thursday at Lost Valley. Photo by Ryan Donovan

AUBURN — The LA Metro Chamber of Commerce’s seventh annual Top Gun competition has yielded two finalists and an alternate to advance to the statewide competition later this month with a shot at a $25,000 prize.

Carrissa Hankins, founder of The Sleep NP and Nick Planson, co-founder of Shred Electric, were selected as the top two finalists, and Narcisse Zo’o Evina and Michelle Nzwemfut, founders of Handitech, were selected as the alternates.

“The entrepreneurs this year benefitted from curriculum updates, and had the most rigorous learning to date,” said Shanna Cox, LA Metro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “Not only did each business grow over the course of Top Gun, but they are operating in a changing landscape of digital and (business to business) approaches, with a forecast of a restricted economy ahead.”

The pitch-off is loosely modeled after the TV reality series “Shark Tank,” on which entrepreneurs pitch their products or service ideas to a group of judges.

The winners of the regional pitch-offs — held this year in Portland and Waterville — move on to a state level competition May 25 in Portland, where one finalist will take home $25,000 to start up or improve their business.

The event is described as an entrepreneurial accelerator program, an intensive boot camp for business startups and early stage companies that have a business idea or a business model and are ready to launch or grow their company.


A full house of Chamber of Commerce members was on hand Thursday at Lost Valley as the competitors faced off. Each business had five minutes to make their pitch before the audience and three judges. But before they get there, they take part in a 10-week preparation course that includes pairing them with professionals and mentors who focus on business issues such as financing, marketing, legal issues, sales and honing their pitches.

Aaron Gould, a registered nurse and founder of Unbreakable Health & Fitness, was the first to pitch an expansion of his existing business based in Lisbon Falls. It’s a fitness and nutrition coaching business with an emphasis on working with people experiencing obesity, medical issues or injuries who want an alternative to gyms and are looking for training or coaching. His need for the prize money was to upgrade his software and a video resource library.

Sea Capt. Wayne Oxton spent 30 years in the Bering Sea and on the West Coast as a commercial fisherman. He is the founder of U.S. Oceans, based in Rockland, and his product line is frozen seafood packaged for home consumption. His ask was for help to make over his admittedly bland packaging and to be able to hire an administrative assistant.

Abdikadir Hassan and Ibrahim Mohamed — Somalis born at refugee camps in Kenya — want to start A&I Indoor Facility. They want to build an indoor sports arena with multiple fields, basketball courts and locker facilities where soccer, lacrosse, volleyball and pickleball can be played year-round. Their ask was to use the $25,000 for a facility location feasibility study.

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Carrissa Hankins, founder The Sleep NP, is a finalist in the Top Gun competition. Photo by Ryan Donovan

Carrissa Hankins, a family nurse practitioner, is focused on helping people deal with sleep apnea through her company The Sleep NP. It is an existing business, and she has considerable experience working with sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. Hankins’ business offers digital sleep health education, and she’s launching her first digital product this month. Her request was to use the prize money to hire a marketing firm.

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Nick Planson, co-founder of Shred Electric, is one of two finalists in Top Gun competition. Photo by Ryan Donovan

Nick Planson, co-founder of Shred Electric, is all about the outdoors. He wants to replicate what the cordless tool industry has done, with one battery that works in all of them and that you can swap out as easily as you do with your electric trimmer.


He has applied for a patent for his technology, which includes a “brain” to measure and regulate voltage. He wants the prize money for pricing market research.

Finally, Narcisse Zo’o Evina and partner Michelle Nzwemfut pitched Handitech, a company offering digital technical assistance for people with disabilities. It is a complicated business to pitch in five minutes, but essentially their mobile app connects people with disabilities with remote technology to improve their quality of life. They want to use the money for working capital and to recruit subscribers.

This year’s judges were Bill Tracy from Auburn Savings Bank, Christina Ramsdell from the Small Business Development Center and Brian Wood from the city of Auburn.

As for the level of competitiveness this year, Cox, who acts as head cheerleader and mentor in addition to driving the program, said, “They rose to these challenges, and you will be hearing more from these entrepreneurs in the coming months.”

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