Maine’s Top Gun Showcase

The Top Gun Showcase event was held last week in Portland. It was a great event with a lot of benefit for the participants, but it also provided evidence of incredible developments within the community.

It’s clear to me that the program is having a very positive effect on the growth mentality of Maine’s entrepreneurs. This change is a powerful development for long-term job growth and increased economic benefit for the Maine.

As background, the showcase was an opportunity for the 18 entrepreneurs in the Top Gun Program to pitch their businesses to a very interested audience of almost 300 attendees consisting of advocates, evangelists, resource providers, investors, bankers, and others.

The crowd, with folks from the County to southern Maine, was one of the most impressive groups of people who support the growth Maine’s entrepreneurship, innovation and start-up community. It also demonstrates the value of partnership since the program is a collaboration between the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, Blackstone Accelerates Growth and the University of Maine.

Don Gooding, Executive Director of MCED, guided us through the evening’s three 15 minute sessions of pitches in two different rooms at the Abromson Center & Hannaford Hall at the University of Southern Maine. Each session had three entrepreneurs give a five-minute pitch of their business and then 3 minutes of feedback from one of the pre-selected panelists.

The substance and quality of both the pitches and the feedback was diverse with very interesting perspectives. Most importantly, all of the entrepreneurs I spoke with enjoyed the feedback and felt it useful, but they also got great value from hearing the feedback given to other presenters that they watched. An additional benefit that came directly from the way the event was designed.

In the presentations I watched, it was evident that a new mentality towards growth was present in these entrepreneurs. Instead of the traditional model among Maine entrepreneurs of “go-it-slow” growth, I heard the presenters really describe how their ideas would be game changers in the market.

Over and over again, they put their market opportunity in the context of a market larger than simply Maine, a growth model beyond a “lifestyle business.” It’s not that I think that model is wrong, but this new growth model is an important change for Maine. The optimistic, market-wide approach, thinking your product can be a national or world market-changer is a fundamental attitude of vibrant start-up communities.

Maine’s traditional humble approach is evident in many of the folks I talk to across the state. But for Maine to continue to transform its economy, we must see beyond our borders. Not only for welcoming new job creators, but also for supporting the growth of our Maine-trepreneurs in their pursuit of new markets and growth.

We need more Mainers believing that they can, and should, grow big and bold.  That’s how we get job growth and long-term economic improvement.

One of the critical tools in building that change was evident to me last week at the Top Gun showcase and it’ll be exciting to see where things go from here.

Jess Knox

About Jess Knox

Jess Knox is a former political consultant and high-ranking SBA official who is passionate about entrepreneurship and Maine. These days he helps companies manage growth through his firm Olympico Strategies.