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LiteracyTech wins Top Gun LA pitch-off for entrepreneurs

Kathryn Lariviere (left) listens to business partner Michele DeBloise, of LiteracyTech Inc., make her pitch to members of the LA Metro Chamber of Commerce members, including President and CEO Shanna Cox (right).  LiteracyTech, created an online literacy-tracking app, and emerged the winner of the annual Top Gun LA pitch-off competition for entrpreneurs. (Tsukroff photo)

By Nathan Tsukroff

POLAND – Michelle DeBloise of LiteracyTech Inc. gave the winning pitch to beat three other companies competing for the Top Gun LA title at the LA Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting last Thursday at Poland Springs Resort in Poland.

LiteracyTech is getting ready for the commercial release of ReMo, a web-based application for K-12 students and  teachers that DeBloise described as “much like a CRM, contact-record manager.” The application is designed to document a student’s reading experiences and comprehension, and should help educators track the performances of their classes more comprehensively.

DeBloise is building the company with Kathryn Lariviere, and they live and work in Auburn and Lewiston as middle school teachers.

The Top Gun program was started by the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs of Portland in 2009 to mentor entrepreneurs and guide them in finding tools and resources to grow their businesses. The LA Metro Chamber created its local Top Gun program four years ago. MCE is “really the lynchpin for the whole program,” Scott Benson, the director of economic development for LA Metro Chamber, said. He led the local “cohort” or group for the chamber this year.

Also competing for the Top Gun LA title were Carolyn Delany of Journey Enterprises, Sophia Bailey of Caribbean Life Grocery, and Laci Barnett of Dog-a-holick.

The pitches were made in person under a large tent set up in the field beside the historic chapel on the grounds of the Poland Springs Resort. This was the first in-person breakfast for chamber members since March, due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The chamber conducted its monthly breakfast meetings virtually via Zoom sessions over the summer.

Chamber members were seated four to a table under a 40-by-80-foot tent, and food was served individually to avoid chances of cross-contamination. Other chamber members joined Thursday’s event virtually, with video and audio provided by HPA Production Services from Turner.

Journey Enterprises launched Journey Magazine in 2019 with a focus on making recovery from addiction visible. Journey shares stories of local community support and resources, and articles to help those in or seeking recovery.

Caribbean Life Grocery and Gift Store is a direct-sales retail store that emphasizes authentic Caribbean products and gift items. Bailey said her company is looking to expand into online sales, and plans to work with a technology company to create a system to accept orders to be delivered locally and across the country.

Dog-a-holick has big plans for the future, Laci Barnett told chamber members. The company plans to add an indoor dog park, a self-serve dog wash, dog-training and events, and a beverage garden with food trucks, to its existing dog-grooming salon business.

Besides the local Top Gun group, there are cohorts for any type of company in Portland, Bangor, and Waterville. This year, there are also two special cohorts meeting in Brunswick, one just for aquaculture companies and the other just for craft beverage businesses.

Top Gun is an intense four-month program that generally starts in February and ends in May, Benson said. It involves weekly learning sessions that have traditionally been in person. Each week, an expert presenter speaks about a business related-topic, then works hands-on with the businesses to guide them on that topic. This year, they have had to pivot to virtual learning sessions, due to the pandemic.

Each business works on a five-minute pitch during their weekly meetings, Benson said. This pitch helps the businesses with presentations to other businesses, with requests for financing, with adding employees, and with creating business relationships with potential vendors and clients. “They’ve got to be able to speak in a very cogent way and tell their story and what their potential is as a company.”

“We were about halfway through our program this year when COVID hit, so we had to move online to a Zoom program for the rest of the year,” Benson said. The Top Gun program was extended in hopes of having in-person events similar to the chamber breakfast last week. However, the in-person events never happened, he said.

The local Top Gun programs end each year with a pitch to the local group, then the winner from each cohort advances to a state-wide showcase. This year, that event will take place on Sept. 23 in Portland as a virtual event. The winner of that showcase is awarded a $25,000 grand prices, furnished by the Maine Technology Institute, a non-profit organization funded in part by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

This is the fourth year for the LA Top Gun LA cohort, and a win DeBloise and Lariviere means LiteracyTech Inc. “would be our first-ever statewide winner,” Benson said.  

According to its website, MTI was founded and funded in 1999 by the Maine State Legislature, and “MTI offers grants, loans, equity investments, and services to support Maine’s innovation economy.” It is governed by a Board of Directors appointed by Maine’s Governor.

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