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Updated: May 9, 2024

Oyster grower takes top spot in Lewiston-Auburn entrepreneur pitch competition

3 people standing in a line on a deck Photo / Courtesy, Ryan Captures Life, LA Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce From left, Sarah Chadburn, Jacqueline Clarke and Lorie Costigan took top honors at the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s 8th annual Top Gun LA Regional Pitch-Off Competition this week.

Reflecting the recent growth of oyster farming in Maine, Jacqueline Clarke and Sean Corcoran of Nor'Easter Oyster Co. emerged as first-place winners at the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s 8th annual Top Gun LA Regional Pitch-Off Competition this week.

They launched the startup in 2022 on the Johns River in South Bristol — one of the latest additions to a thriving industry that has grown from just a few operations 40 years ago to about 150 oyster farms today.

Based in Portland, Clarke is a food, travel and lifestyle journalist and consultant for the aquaculture industry and for SoPo Seafood. According to her blog, dubbed the Briny Babe, her professional career started as a litigation attorney in Michigan. But her interest turned to oysters during a trip to Maine.

“We view Nor’Easter as both a community and a business, with the shared goal of managing our resources for current and future generations,” Clarke and Corcoran say on their website.

oysters and hands in blue gloves
Courtesy / Nor'Easter Oyster Co.
The founders of Nor'Easter Oyster Co. said they want to show consumers that oysters can be malleable in the way they’re prepared.

The business partners earned recognition this week for their innovative concept and compelling pitch. 

“We want to show people that oysters can be malleable,” they wrote. “They can be enjoyed on the half-shell with a squirt of lemon, a dollop of caviar, or naked as they came. Or they can be poached in a creamy chowder, smoked on a pizza, or grilled in a bath of chipotle butter.”

Lorie Costigan of Glendarragh Lavender secured second place, and Sarah Chadburn of Garden Bevy was named as the alternate winner.

Glendarragh Lavender uses lavender buds grown in Appleton, combined with oil, to make home goods and bath products. The Glendarragh Farm Lavender Store is in Camden.

Garden Bevy, based in Sabattus, has been working in Maine since 2017 to provide landscaping services for residential properties in Androscoggin and Cumberland counties, according to its website.

“These remarkable entrepreneurs exemplify the spirit of innovation and perseverance that defines our region,” said Shanna Cox, the LA Metro Chamber’s president and CEO. 

For the first time this year, female entrepreneurs outnumbered their male peers in the Top Gun program, which is run by the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs in Ellsworth, Houlton, Lewiston-Auburn, Machias, Portland and Waterville.

The competition, presented by the city of Lewiston, brought together a diverse array of early-stage companies that showcased presentations that culminated a rigorous 12-week entrepreneurial development program. 

Participants benefited from expert guidance on business development, including market analysis, team building, financial planning and branding strategies. The program, designed to foster the growth of local businesses, received support from the cities of Lewiston and Auburn, 75 Park and other regional sponsors.

Lewiston-Auburn's first combined business incubator and coworking space, 75 Park — located at 75 Park St. in downtown Lewiston — is itself a startup that opened late last year.

The competition is part of a broader effort by the chamber to support and empower local businesses. Through initiatives like the Top Gun program, the chamber says, it aims to nurture a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem that drives economic prosperity and community development.

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