BAR HARBOR — Two College of the Atlantic students are semifinalists for a $100,000 prize as part of a televised business startup competition airing this fall.
Grace Burchard ’17 and Anita van Dam ‘19 comprise the sustainability-focused [Re]Produce, one of 26 teams competing on Season 3 of the weekly TV entrepreneurial pitch contest “Greenlight Maine.” Burchard will make their pitch to the judges on Saturday, Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m. on Maine’s WCSH6 and WLBZ2.
“This is such a great opportunity for us,” van Dam said. “Even if we don’t win, there’s a strong chance we might connect with potential investors willing to work with us.”
[Re]Produce aims to freeze and sell precut fruits and vegetables from excess and cosmetically imperfect produce from Maine farms. The business focuses on increasing local food access, addressing food waste and creating extra revenue streams for Maine farmers, van Dam said.
The 1-year-old startup already has taken two titles in Maine, winning the Maine Food Systems Innovation Challenge in November 2016 and the UMaine Business Challenge in June this year.
Van Dam cultivated the idea for [Re]Produce in COA’s Sustainable Strategies course and worked on it with Burchard in a Transforming Food Systems course. The pair honed the idea in COA’s Diana Davis Spencer Hatchery Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator, which is run by Jay Friedlander, the COA Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business.
“[Re]Produce really exemplifies what’s possible when students are able to pursue their passions as part of their education,” Friedlander said. “Grace and Anita’s venture demonstrates how approaching a problem from an interdisciplinary perspective could produce effective, positive change in the real world. And their success so far shows that the time is right for this idea.”
COA’s Hatchery provides students with experts in business, public relations and other disciplines to inform their business, $5,000 in seed funding, office resources and an opportunity to develop a working business prototype. It allows students to follow their desire to solve thorny problems in the world – in this case, the fact that up to 50 percent of fresh foods can go to waste along the modern food chain, Burchard said.
“Food systems stand at the intersection of almost all sciences, human interactions and cultures,” Burchard said. “This is about taking our passions into the real world.”
The invitation to appear on “Greenlight Maine” came this summer, van Dam said. The pair was able to create a presentation together, largely working over Skype and Google while van Dam was home in Thailand for summer break. Van Dam was not able to attend the filming, but plans to present if the pair make it through to the next round. They’ll find out how they did when the episode airs Nov. 11.
All semifinalists receive mentoring from some of Maine’s best and brightest corporate, media and marketing executives, as well as extensive promotion across television, print, social and digital media, according to Greenlight.com.
“Greenlight Maine” is a statewide collaboration of entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, designed to promote and mentor the development and growth of business in our great state. It is produced by Portland Media Group.
“All of these innovative and bold ‘Greenlight Maine’ entrepreneurs have validated that our state is on the fast track to growing our next economy,” said show co-founder Brian Corcoran. “Through private-public collaborations with Maine corporate partners and other state and community leaders, we are pleased to provide necessary intellectual and financial capital necessary to be successful. We are Mainers helping Mainers.”
The COA Hatchery provides eligible students academic credit, professional services and access to seed funding to develop for-profit or nonprofit businesses. The Hatchery allows students to “walk the entrepreneurial high wire with a safety net and support.” Learn more at coa.edu/hatchery.