ORONO — [Re]Produce, a farm-surplus startup venture pioneered by College of the Atlantic students Anita van Dam ’19 and Grace Burchard ’17, won the sixth annual University of Maine Business Challenge. The win comes with a $5,000 cash prize courtesy of Business Lending Solutions, who also will provide the winners with an additional $5,000 of in-kind services.
“With this win, we got a lot closer to making this dream a reality,” Burchard said, adding that the prize money will help the pair launch [Re]Produce in Portland this fall.
This past spring, van Dam and Burchard performed a live pitch of their company, which addresses food waste in Maine by creating market value for farm surplus and cosmetically imperfect vegetables. The team competed against four other finalists, including graduate and undergraduate students from University of Maine and Southern Maine Community College.
“One of the judges said that our timing is ‘impeccable,’” van Dam said. “People are becoming more aware about food justice issues, and food waste is on top on that list.”
Burchard and van Dam were chosen for the UMaine Challenge out of 45 competition entrants. The billing follows their success in Nov. 2016, when they split for first place at the Maine Food Systems Innovation Challenge at Bowdoin College.
“We are excited to provide an outlet for consumers to know that they are helping to solve an external problem when they buy our product,” van Dam said. “We are not only a local operation but are helping farmers and alleviating food waste.”
Van Dam and Burchard are working with COA’s Sustainable Business Hatchery, where they have developed prototypes and tested their business plans.
“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 pair is eyeing a facility in Portland where they hope to launch the business this fall. Van Dam said the plan to target millennials in their marketing, because young adults have a passion for food security and climate justice issues and are willing use their food buying power to encourage change.
The six-year-old University of Maine Business Challenge, which is open to students from all colleges and universities in Maine, provides collegiate entrepreneurs with the support necessary to transform their business dreams into reality. The challenge’s mission is to contribute to the long-term growth of Maine’s economy while also supporting entrepreneurial and student development. The competition is presented by Business Lending Solutions and held annually in Orono.