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Updated: June 8, 2020

UNE 2020 grad wins 'Greenlight Maine' college finale with crab bait venture

Screen shot of winner and three judges Screen shot "Greenlight Maine College Challenge" season finale judges, shown in the bottom row from left, were Isla Dickerson of Bangor Savings Bank, Andy Nichols of Elmet Technologies and Briana Warner of Atlantic Sea Farms. They applauded the winner, Jillian Robillard, top, from the University of New England.

Jillian Robillard, a University of New England 2020 graduate in the school's marine entrepreneurship program, on Sunday was crowned this season's "Greenlight Maine Collegiate Challenge" for her Green Bait business venture.

Beating out contestants from University of Maine and Colby College in the final round of the televised business pitch competition, Robillard won $25,000 to expand her startup, for which she has developed cost-effective lobster trap bait using invasive green crabs that end up as unintended bycatch on commercial lobster boats.

Because lobstermen are barred from throwing the crabs back into the sea and have to find other disposal methods, the bycatch adds to the lobster fishers' costs.

Using unwanted crabs she buys directly from fishermen, Robillard created a proprietary bait blend she can sell back to fishermen at a reduced price. Besides providing a reliable, cheaper bait alternative, her product aims to preserve the coastal ecosystem as well as keep and create jobs in Maine's lobster industry.

Robillard, who developed her bait venture on the back of another business she started in her sophomore year, buying Jonah crabs directly from lobster boats and reselling the crabs wholesale. She is one of 250 students in the UNE School of Marine Programs and about 10 in marine entrepreneurship, according to UNE spokeswoman Sarah Delage.

"Jillian's work ethic, innovative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit are exactly the qualities we hope to install in our students," UNE President James Herbert said in a statement emailed to Mainebiz. "We are so very proud of her, and we can't wait to follow along on her journey as she grows her business."

In accepting her award, Robillard said it was "absolutely awesome" to win and added, "I'm looking forward to the future of how to utilize this money to better our state and our planet." 

Briana Warner, CEO of Atlantic Sea Farms and one of the judges in the finale, said on Monday, "I was so impressed by Jillian's innovation in this field. A healthy lobster industry is vital to our state, and Jillian is finding ways to lower the cost of bait while also combating invasive species. This is the type of leader, and type of business, that will help our coast continue to adapt and thrive."

'Excellent season'

A total of seven Maine colleges were represented this season, whose finale was taped from the homes of participants, judges and host Julene Gervais because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides UNE, Colby and UMaine, the season's roster included teams from Bates College, Thomas College, Saint Joseph's College of Maine and Husson University. 

"We had an excellent season," Gervais told Mainebiz on Sunday. "What I noticed and stood out to judges, the students are looking to solve the problems in an innovative and social responsible way."

The finale for the regular Season 5 will air next Sunday, and was also taped in a virtual format.

Finalists are Humphrey's BBQ Inc. of West Newfield, whose owners Chad and Nicole Humphrey were 2019 Mainebiz Next List honorees; i-Tell Alert, a Winthrop-based company founded and run by Heather Desjardins, which uses patented technology to remind older individuals to use their walkers consistently; and textile designer Erin Flett of Gorham.

They will compete for a $100,000 grand prize.

"As for the virtual finales," Gervais told Mainebiz, "we missed seeing our contestants, judges and supporters in a live audience setting, but our director Kris Bridges and executive producers Nat Thompson and Con Fullam did an outstanding job making the tapings a success."

The college edition of "Greenlight Maine," broadcast on NBC affiliate WCSH Channel 6, highlights business ideas from students in any stage of development, from the start of an idea to a more advanced business plan with ambitions to grow to scale.

Each episode during the regular season sees two teams competing against each other until the final round of three finalists going after the grand prize.

Portland Media Group

“Greenlight Maine" is produced by Portland Media Group, a custom content and production company founded by Brian Corcoran, CEO of Shamrock Sports & Entertainment; Nat Thompson, former producer and owner of WCSH; and Fullam, a television producer and music composer.

In an "On the Record" interview with Mainebiz published in January, Corcoran said the the group was giving some thought into changing the program's ownership and organizational setup. 

"The Collegiate Challenge has given us a new spark," he said, "but moving forward, should 'Greenlight Maine' become a 501(c)(3) and, as a result of such, become eligible for foundational grants and giving? Not that I would exit per se, but my dream for 2020, at least for Season 6, is: Do we find an executive director, and should we merge with Startup Maine or another entity that would also be better served by having a full-time leader?

He added: "We moonlight it, and we make it work because we love it."

The Season 5 finale is scheduled to air on Sunday, June 14, at 10 a.m.

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