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Updated: March 31, 2023

Dirigo Labs' second business pitch competition will feature 11 startups

People listening to speaker at last year's pitch contest Courtesy / Dirigo Labs Dirigo Labs is hosting its second business-pitch competition May 4, from 5-8 p.m. in Waterville. Shown here is last year's inaugural event.

With more than a month to go until Dirigo Labs' second business-pitch competition, Skowhegan Savings Bank has renewed its sponsorship of the $25,000 grand prize, the Waterville-based business accelerator announced Thursday.

This year's pitch-off, scheduled for May 4 at the Maine Film Center in downtown Waterville, features 11 startups in the program's second cohort. The 12-week program, based at the Hathaway Creative Center, started in January with 12 participants, one of whom is a fellow and won't be pitching in the contest.

The 12-week program guides startups representing various industries through a targeted curriculum and helps founders execute their individual project plans. Each participating company is matched with a curated board of local and national advisors from various industries. Seminar topics range from capital planning to intellectual property evaluation.

The group represents industries including health care, manufacturing and clean energy technologies.

“Our foundation is pleased to again partner with Dirigo Labs to offer the pitch prize for their second accelerator program and pitch contest,” said David Cyr, president and CEO of Skowhegan Savings. “We feel that this program is in alignment with our values, by giving these start-ups additional tools to set them up for success in the future. Last year, we saw 12 very impressive Maine startups and look forward to seeing what this year’s cohort brings to the table.”

Susan Ruhlin, managing director of Dirigo Labs, told Mainebiz that her organization is thrilled to show off Waterville's beautiful downtown area during this year's competition, which will be held at Waterville Creates in the new Paul J. Schupf Art Center that opened last December.

"Also, this cohort, unlike last year’s, represents a few founders who will be submitting Small Business Innovation Research applications for phase one funding," she said. "We are partnering with the Maine Technology Institute to help spread awareness about using SBIR as a funding vehicle for certain research projects."

According to MTI’s website, the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer program is the largest source of early-stage, high-risk technology financing in the United States. 

'Spot on' advice

Last year's inaugural pitch competition winner was bluShift Aerospace, the Brunswick-based rocket startup whose founder and CEO, Sascha Deri, previously told Mainebiz that he got a lot of value out of the accelerator program.

“I went from doubting its usefulness to ‘Oh wow, this is incredible, this is really helpful,’” he said. Through the 60-member mentor network, he said, bluShift was able to connect with people “with specific knowledge of our pain points to give us advice. It was spot on.”

Ruhlin’s advice to this year’s contestants: “Focus on the story of the business, be authentic and clear about why you, why now.”

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