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May 28, 2019

Startups from Portland and Orono win 2019 Top Gun Showcase competition

Top Gun Showcase 2019 Courtesy / Claudia Dricot From left to right, Tom Rainey, executive director of Maine Center for Entrepreneurs, presents the $25,000 first-prize award to Kelley Dow, co-founder of Sticky Sweet, as Brian Whitney, executive director of the award's sponsor, Maine Technology Institute, looks on.

Neuright, a biotech spinoff from the University of Maine, and Sticky Sweet, Portland’s first shop featuring plant-based ice cream, are the winners of the 2019 Top Gun Showcase hosted by the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs on May 23 at the University of Southern Maine.

Ten participants from the Bangor, Lewiston/Auburn, Portland, Rockland and Waterville Top Gun classes, representing the semifinalists from their respective regional pitch-off events, competed for two $25,000 cash prizes sponsored by the Maine Technology Institute and the David E. Shaw Family Foundation. Entrepreneurs presented five-minute pitches to an audience of over 200 enthusiastic supporters and a panel of judges followed by a brief question-and-answer period. 

Scoring was based on presentation, innovation, scalability and feasibility.

Sticky Sweet is owned by Kelley and Ashley Dow, sisters who founded the company in 2017 and make frozen products without dairy, eggs, gluten, cane sugar, refined sugars or anything artificial at their location on Cumberland Avenue in Portland. According to their October 2018 Kickstarter campaign web-page, the sisters exceeded their $22,000 funding goal to purchase a commercial ice cream machine and other equipment to keep up with growing demand for their ice cream.

The company won the $25,000 first prize sponsored by the Maine Technology Institute.

David E. Shaw Prize

Top Gun Showcase 2019
Courtesy / Claudia Dricot
Tom Rainey, executive director of Maine Center for Entrepreneurs, present the $25,000 first prize for the David E. Shaw award to Magdalena Blaszkiewicz, co-founder of Neuright, as David E. Shaw, managing partner of Black Point Group and donor of the award from the David E. Shaw Family Foundation, looks on.

Neuright is a biotech spinoff company co-founded by Magdalena Blaszkiewicz, a University of Maine doctoral candidate and Kristy Townsend, assistant professor of neurobiology, to create and commercialize a medical device to more sensitively diagnose neuropathy in its earlier stages. The company is partnered with UMaine faculty, including lead bioengineer Rosemary Smith, neuroscientist Len Kass, and electrical/computer engineers Nuri Emanetoglu and Ali Abedi.

The Orono-based company won the $25,000 prize awarded for the first time this year by David E. Shaw, managing partner of Black Point Group and co-founder of the publicly traded Maine companies Covetrus and IDEXX. Shaw established the prize to support local entrepreneurship, and to coincide with the recent public offering for Covetrus as well as the 35th anniversary of the founding of IDEXX Laboratories this year. 

Magdalena Blaszkiewicz said Neuright competed in its first pitch competition through the 2019 Top Gun class in Maine, noting that participating in the Top Gun entrepreneur classes and honing its pitch across several months helped immensely in its successful competition for the Shaw prize. “Critical to our success has been the coaching and mentorship of the Top Gun team, especially pitch advice we received from fellow Orono entrepreneur Susan MacKay of Cerahelix,” she said. “Top Gun helps provide small start-ups like us with training and exposure that allows us to grow our company, and most importantly, will help us deliver a new medical device to patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy.”

Tom Rainey, executive director of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs, said the startup phase of any business can be “difficult and lonely for entrepreneurs.”

“Maine Center for Entrepreneurs provides critical training and mentoring and these companies need, and the Top Gun Showcase literally puts Maine’s most promising new entrepreneurs in the spotlight where they can tell their story and shine,” he said. “We’re proud of all of our client companies and congratulate Neuright and Sticky Sweet for winning the 2019 pitch competition.”

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