ELLSWORTH — What’s in a pitch? For five Hancock and Washington county entrepreneurs, their pitches would decide who would win cash to grow their business. With a $3,500 judges’ prize and a $3,500 audience prize on the table in the first annual Downeast Business Boot Camp & Pitch-off Nov. 5, Ellsworth’s Fogtown Brewing Co. won both with its proposal to bring its wood-fired pizza oven out of the beer garden and inside the taproom.
“Beer’s on us,” co-owner Jon Stein quipped when learning through the live stream that Fogtown had won $7,000.
The event found Fogtown competing against Gott Island’s Dolce & Rugosa, Steuben’s Sarah Brandon Custom Handlettering, Ellsworth’s Poppy & Polka Dot Boutique and Hancock’s Maine Maker 3D.
All five businesses first spent two weeks learning the business pitch ropes, as it were, from a team of 17 advisors. Boot camp collaborators included Machias Savings Bank, Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at CEI, Heart of Ellsworth, the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce, Mount Desert 365, College of the Atlantic and The Abundance Cycle.
“It’s precisely the type of collaborative effort our state and region need,” Machias Savings Bank President and pitch-off judge Larry Barker said.
Coastal Enterprises CEO Betsy Biemann and Mary Bentley of the Maine Business Department rounded out the judges’ table. Pitches were graded on the demonstrated market need for their product, management team strength, financial model, potential impact on the local economy, clarity of “the ask” and potential benefit of the award.
There were also 179 votes cast by audience members.
For Fogtown’s pitch, Stein and Carter Light of Ellsworth sausage company Colvard & Company talked up their wood-fired pizza collaboration at the Pine Street brewery.
Three years after opening, Fogtown’s taproom was shut down under COVID-19 restrictions, so it turned to its beer garden, and to its online presence for curbside pick-up and home delivery.
“But really what’s needed is food, a way for people to come in and have dinner,” Stein said.
Under COVID-19 restrictions, taprooms must offer food in order to stay open, with restaurant spacing and masking requirements in place.
Biemann gave a verbal round of applause to all the contestants.
“Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of courage, and I think you’ve showed your courage today,” she said. “We really were inspired by your presentations, and it was difficult to make our final decision.”