Lift-off at Bixby & Co.

Lift-off at Bixby & Co.

For Bixby & Company in Rockland, Maine, “reinventing chocolate” was the inspiration for bringing to market a healthy and wholesome array of better-for-you candy bars. Though founder Kate McAleer already has succeeded in making and marketing her line-up through Whole Foods Markets and other large retail outlets, she recently came face-to-face with an entrepreneur’s daydream/nightmare.

Having recently secured a meeting with one of the nation’s largest wholesale distributors of natural food products, Kate made her pitch to get onto their list of suppliers for just a small share of their regional distribution. Even though her pitch went straight over the plate, the answer she received was unexpected – yes, they wanted her Bixby & Co. chocolate bars for nationwide distribution.

With that story in hand, last week Kate stood before several hundred people at the University of Southern Maine as a finalist for the second annual $30,000 Gorham Savings Bank LaunchPad Award – an amount of money that would enable her to ramp up production to meet demand for her organic confections.

Her initial application, along with 129 others, had been reviewed by a cast of highly qualified judges before becoming one of a dozen finalists for the cash award. The stories of the dozen young companies were then posted to the Gorham Savings Bank LaunchPad web site where friends, family, customers, advocates and just-plain-interested folks could review all the companies’ pitches and vote for their favorite.

Bixby & Co. would have to go head-to-head with four other finalists:

  • Chimani, developers of a computer app for outdoor enthusiasts. The young company has completed downloadable apps for several national parks that offer travelers a chance to plan, navigate and understand the history of the parks in ways that make a visit far more enriching. The cash would be used to leverage additional funding to expand the offerings about other national parks.
  • Flowfold, a manufacturer of ultra-light wallets and totes produced from pre-consumer waste. They needed the cash to take their online and distributor sales to the next level.
  • Double Blue Sports Analytics, an advanced video and metrics platform for optimizing athletic performance. The brain child of a former professional hockey player, the initial application helps goalies track shots-on-goal and, therefore, train for the shots that come their way. The technology also has applications for tennis players and others who compete in a defined area against talented, but now more predictable, opponents. They needed cash to hire more programmers.
  • Garbage To Garden, a highly integrated composter of biodegradable household and commercial waste. This company not only is reducing the waste stream that would otherwise be bound for precious landfill space but also uses bi-products to fuel their vehicles and wash their reusable buckets. The cash award would help implement a software route-management program to expand their business.

Gorham Savings Bank inaugurated the competition last year in an effort to “help fund the launch of a business idea that may not otherwise take flight. One of the biggest barriers for entrepreneurs can be the lack of funding. LaunchPad not only celebrates great ideas but provides the resources to help bring these ideas to life.”

The live event allowed three judges to listen and query the presenters. Their decision was based on the business model, the need, the passion and the viability of the competing companies. In the minds of the judges, Kate’s pitch once again came straight across the plate and was rewarded with a home-run by the judges.

As new companies aspire higher, all need to have an involved conversation with an insurance agent about the risk associated with running the business, their services or the making of the products. For example, consultants need professional liability; premises need property/casualty coverage; and manufacturers need product liability to name just a few of the coverages to be discussed and understood.

With an economy that is slowly recovering, more and more Maine entrepreneurs will be bringing their best ideas to market. Be sure a risk analysis is in place to protect your journey into the exciting stratosphere of a successful enterprise. Three, two one….LAUNCH!

Note: Gorham Savings Bank is a minority shareholder in Clark Insurance.

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