Foster Center for Student Innovation

Brothers win UM business challenge, $5,000 prize

By Lauren Abbate, The Maine Campus
Posted on April 23, 2012, at 2:48 a.m.

brothersThe University of Maine Business Challenge held its first award ceremony on Saturday at the Wells Conference Center, with a team of brothers taking first place for their business project, Aerial Fly.

First-place winners Luke and Jake Thomas won $5,000 and start-up business support from the challenge’s contributing companies. Second place was awarded to Shannon Byers and her business, Best In Show Paws; she received a $1,000 prize.

James Morin, Matt Ciampa, Owen McCarthy and Sangam Lama, all 2010 UMaine graduates, founded the competition.

“In its simplest form, which doesn’t do it any justice, it’s a business concept competition involving a business plan and a business pitch,” Morin said.

The four final businesses were offered the opportunity to start on the right foot with the chance to win the top $5,000 prize and “a basic business starter kit, if you will, with legal services, consulting, advertising [and] product development,” Morin said.

The event’s supporting businesses will contribute these services to the winning pitch by the Thomas brothers, a company specializing in low-level aerial imaging using unmanned drones. Drones, known for their use in military operations, can also be used in photography where a person would have difficulty placing a camera, such as on a whitewater rafting trip.

Businesses partnered with these start-up companies understand the position these young entrepreneurs are in. Ry Russell, a partner in the VR Marketing firm, a competition supporter, knows how difficult it is to manage school and starting a business.

“The academic system and the business system need to coincide,” Russell said. “There needs to be more resources to let students go out and do their own thing. I think something like this will help maybe set some perimeters where students can still stay in school and actively start their own business.”

Luke and Jake Thomas tried the University of Southern Maine’s business challenge last year and were excited to get the opportunity again.

“I think it’s really good that it’s happening here,” Luke Thomas said. “I think a lot of college kids get in this zone where they’re focused on getting that job after college, but the economy has changed so much and it’s just as risky to go work for someone nowadays [as] it is to start up your own business.”

Their company uses unmanned aerial drones with a camera attached, allowing for new techniques in photography. Both brothers are at a senior standing — Luke is a marketing student at UMaine and Jake is studying outdoor recreation and business at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Byers, the second-place winner, submitted her company, Best In Show Paws, a mobile nail clipping service for dogs.

“The whole experience, from the very beginning to now, has been a huge learning experience,” Byers said.

All of the contestants agreed the competition gave valuable insight into the business world.

“The biggest thing this challenge has provided us with is an educational experience,” said James Beaupre, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering at UMaine and partner in the Stillwater Poster Company. “It made us bring everything together and make us formulate what we had in our minds.”

Beaupre and Nate Wildes, a fourth-year political science student, started their company to create an outlet for UMaine artists to sell their work, reconnect with alumni, and get their names and missions out to people.

The company Bio-Remediation shared that sentiment. Tory Stark, a second-year computer science student, and his wife, Kimberly Stark, submitted their pitch to produce a pellet form of natural gas as a heating element.

Though they didn’t win, the team said participating alone has given them valuable experience.

“We’re people who like to tinker around, and we have never had to take this and put it into the business aspect, so it opened our eyes about how to market this to other people,” Kimberly Stark said.