UMaine Business Challenge Announces Winners of the 8th Annual Pitch Competition

The UMaine Business Challenge, presented by Business Lending Solutions, awarded $16,000 in cash and prizes to collegiate entrepreneurs last weekend at the University of Maine in Orono. Started in 2011, the Maine Business Challenge has now awarded over $100,000 to more than 20 college students over 8 years of competitions. Maxwell Burtis from the University of Maine won both the 2019 first place prize of $5,000 and the $10,000 Innovation prize with his company Ferda Farms LLC. Isabel Adler and Lily Hogan from Colby College took home the second place prize of $1,000 with their outdoor company Ruggette.

In addition to winning the $5,000 first place prize, Maxwell Burtis, a Freshman Mechanical Engineer student at UMaine, also won the $10,000 Innovations Prize generously sponsored by UMaine alumni Bruce Fournier, and the Fournier Family Foundation. The innovation price is specifically designed for companies presenting a new innovation or technology as part of their business model. Maxwell is currently working on a patent-pending technology that will reinvent the traditional hopper used during the oyster harvesting process. With this prize, Ferda Farms LLC will receive $5,000 up front and then an additional $5,000 upon the completion ofmilestones set by Max, Bruce, and the UMaine Business Challenge Advisory Board.

“These prizes are huge for the expansion of our oyster farm and continued innovation along Maine’s coast”, says Max. “The competition is giving Ferda Farms the opportunity we have long dreamed for; to buy more cages, quahog seed, and solar panels, allowing us to continue to improve Maine’s waters, and revitalize Maine’s changing fisheries with aquaculture.” Other members of his team include Chris Burtis, Sam Dorval, and Max Friedman, along with advisors from the UMaine Foster Center for Student Innovation, the Maine School of Marine Sciences, the Maine Sea Grant, and Mere Point Oyster Company.

Wild fisheries are dying and aquaculture in Maine is struggling to meet the demand. Ferda Farms aims to solve this problem by farming oysters and other species using innovative automation devices to increase efficiency and quality. Ferda Farm’s mission is to improve aquaculture in Maine through research and innovation and they hope to use these prizes to get one step closer to accomplishing that goal.

Ruggette, a woman’s outdoor company led by Isabel Adler and Lily Hogan, took home the $1,000 second place prize. Isabel and Lily, sophomores at Colby College in Waterville, are avid adventurers that discovered a  problem with woman’s outdoor gear through their own experiences. The problem, they discovered, is that there isn’t enough woman’s outdoor gear on the market and they have often had to shop in the men’s section in order to obtain high-quality outdoor gear.

“Our mission is to support empowered women in the outdoors by providing women with the high quality, environmentally sustainable gear they deserve,” says Isabel Adler. “ Receiving the support of the UMaine Business Challenge, both financially and through mentorship, will help us to scale Ruggette and grow to our full potential.”

Along with the monetary awards and the advice Ruggette took away from the competition, they also gained validation for their work thus far. “It has been incredibly encouraging to receive support for the direction Isabel and I have taken the company,” says Lily Hogan.

There were many talented students competing in this year’s UMaine Business Challenge, something Don Smith, with Business Lending Solutions noticed right away. “It was a privilege and great honor to be a part of the UMaine Business Challenge again this year. I was again amazed by the incredibly talented and gifted young students,” Don says. “What a great event that I hope to be a part of for a long time to come.”