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November 16, 2018

Dirigo Food Safety, Unity College win innovation challenge

Courtesy / New England Food System Innovation Challenge
Courtesy / New England Food System Innovation Challenge
A team from Unity College took home a first place prize of $2,000 in the College Track at the 2018 New England Food System Innovation Challenge, held at Saint Joseph's College in Standish last weekend.

Dirigo Food Safety of Yarmouth and a team from Unity College won top honors in the 2018 New England Food System Innovation Challenge, held at Saint Joseph's College in Standish last weekend.

Dirigo, a food safety consulting group led by President and CEO Dr. Michele Pfannenstiel, won in the Enterprise Track category, receiving $5,000.

The second prize of $2,500 went to Haul Inc., a Portland-based startup that aims to revolutionize hyper-local, last-mile delivery service for food producers.

Unity College received a first-place award of $2,000 in the College Track, while College of the Atlantic won $500 for second place.

Teams receiving professional services awards include Eve & Mathieu Oat Milk, Pasture Pops and Fresh Start Food Gardens.

Ten teams from Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island participated in the weekend event, during which contestants spent time with 10 advisors who gave them expert advice.

On Sunday, they made their pitches to a panel of judges, all with experience in food and agriculture, startup businesses, finance, law and business development.

Contest with a mission

Courtesy / New England Food System Innovation Challenge
Courtesy / New England Food System Innovation Challenge
Dirigo, a food safety consulting group led by Michele Pfannenstiel, won in the Enterprise Track category, receiving $5,000.

Bill Seretta, president of the Sustainability Lab, a Yarmouth-based nonprofit, and Tom Settlemire of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust created the Challenge in 2015. Its mission is to encourage entrepreneurs to create new, sustainable enterprises that improve the production, distribution, aggregation and processing of locally raised food and seafood, expand consumption and create jobs.

Besides receiving cash prizes, winners receive processional services including legal marketing and business development to help them develop their business idea and get their enterprise off the ground.

In a phone interview with Mainebiz on Thursday, Seretta said he thought his year's contestants were among the "most innovative and creative" group ever, and said the main value for participants is getting instant feedback and advice.

"This whole idea of try and fail often is really important," he said. "This is not a pitch contest, it's not speed dating, but it has those components and more."

On a related note, Seretta said things were going well so far with Fork Food Lab in Portland since the Sustainability Lab came on as an investor in October.

Seretta said that already eight new members had joined the shared commercial kitchen and food startup business incubator in the past six weeks to bring the total to around 35, with more in the pipeline.

He also said his team was working on getting tax-deductible contributions for Fork Food Lab before the end of the year.

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