June 22, 2018
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Falmouth native has winning business idea. What would get his business to Maine?

DrinkSavvy's plastic drinkware detects whether a drink has been drugged and changes color. The product was developed by Falmouth native Mike Abramson, a patent attorney in Boston.
By Matthew Stone, BDN Staff

Entrepreneur Mike Abramson has a winning idea. “It’s a cause to make drug-facilitated sexual assaults a crime of the past,” he said.

The Falmouth native is well along the path of transforming his cause into a line of marketable products. By the middle of next year, he said, plastic drinkware from his company DrinkSavvy is expected to hit the market.

The product line includes plastic cups, straws and stirrers that look like any others but are equipped with sensor strips that alert someone drinking at a bar or club if he or she is about to sip a drink that’s been drugged. If someone slipped a common date-rape drug such as GHB or Rohypnol into a drink in a DrinkSavvy cup, stripes would appear along the sides. The company’s straw would change colors.

Ultimately, Abramson said, the DrinkSavvy line will also include glassware, bottles and cans. The goal is to release the products on the market at prices comparable to any other drinkware. Abramson said he already has heard from bars and clubs around the world interested in his product.

It sounds like a product that could take off and form the basis for a successful business. For now, though, the Falmouth High School graduate has been developing his product not in Maine, but in Boston, where he lives and works as a patent attorney.

“Even being from Maine, it never even dawned on me to go there for my business,” he said. “It always seems the places that are most beneficial are those that are best with taxes — New Hampshire or Florida or Texas.”

So what would it take to entice Abramson and entrepreneurs like him to make Maine the place to start and grow their businesses?

‘A cause more than a product’

Abramson’s drive to create DrinkSavvy grew out of personal experience.

“It was a cause that was particularly important to me because of the fact that I had gotten drugged a few years back,” said Abramson, 31. Some friends of his have also been drugged. “It’s a cause more than a product.”

He’s developed the technology with the help of John MacDonald, a chemistry professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Abramson’s alma mater. And Abramson has cultivated his business using a number of resources in the Boston area.

He enrolled in a 14-week entrepreneurship training program last year offered by JVS, a Boston-area nonprofit focused on workforce and career development.

After the training program, Abramson shifted his focus to raising capital. Rather than appeal to a handful of deep-pocketed investors interested in a slice of the company, Abramson turned to the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. In 45 days, DrinkSavvy raised more than $52,000 from nearly 2,600 contributors. Most chipped in $15 or less in exchange for recognition on the company’s website and, in some cases, a pack of DrinkSavvy cups or straws.

Abramson went the crowdfunding route because it didn’t involve giving up equity in or control of his nascent business. The crowdfunding platform also offers an entrepreneur insight into whether a product or concept will catch on.

“I thought it was a great idea. My mom and dad thought it was a great idea,” Abramson said. “I needed an objective vantage point of market validation.”

This year, Abramson entered DrinkSavvy into the MassChallenge Startup Accelerator program, one of the country’s largest programs that provides entrepreneurs with office space, access to expert mentors and additional business development support for four months.

DrinkSavvy was one of more than 1,200 startups that applied to participate. The program accepted 128 startups, and DrinkSavvy was one of the final 26 of those to stay in the running for startup financing. Those awards were made at the end of October, and while DrinkSavvy didn’t win funding, Abramson said the experience was invaluable.

“We had ideas about what our primary market and distribution channel should be, but they helped us identify multiple others and also talk strategy,” Abramson said. “You’re getting advice from mentors who are experts in their field, whether it’s marketing, communications, market development, sales. You’ve got experts in their field who can see all the mistakes before you make them.”

Favorable tax climate, entrepreneurs’ hub

Boston has been the right place to develop DrinkSavvy, said Abramson. “Boston itself is a very large startup community, so there’s a ton of resources,” he said. “There’s a lot of angel investors.”

But, “once we do start selling and making a profit, we will very likely move out of Massachusetts,” Abramson said.

That’s because DrinkSavvy will be looking for a more favorable tax climate. For Maine, Abramson suggests a tax structure designed to appeal to startups and incentives to draw existing businesses to the state.

“If there could be some sort of tax situation for startup companies, even if it’s temporary, even if it’s just for the first three years, it would be incredibly appetizing for startup companies,” he said.

But there’s more to making Maine a desirable place for entrepreneurs. Much of it has to do with making services available to them, Abramson said, like high-quality entrepreneurship training classes and mentors. What would be really helpful, Abramson said, is a central informational portal that answers entrepreneurs’ questions — about regulatory, tax and health care requirements, financing, intellectual property and more — and distills the important points for them.

“There’s so much information out there, and you don’t know what’s important and what’s not important,” he said.

Portland has earned some recognition as a good place to start a business. In 2009, Business Journals ranked it the 10th best city to start a business. And Maine has many resources entrepreneurs can use to start and grow their businesses, from training to networking to financing help.

Abramson suggested Maine — and Portland, in particular — host a competition like MassChallenge if it wants to put itself on the map as a hub for entrepreneurs.

“You get people from all over the world,” he said. “You can encourage people to come to you and they might even stay afterwards.”

And once a place comes to be known as a prime place for start-ups, “other things will come from that,” Abramson said, such as law firms, angel investor firms and more.

So, what are the chances of Abramson picking up and moving his business to Maine?

“If things become more hospitable to small businesses and I’m able to come on full-time soon and become self-sustaining in that regard,” Abramson said, “it’s certainly worth considering a move to Maine.”

Matthew Stone is BDN opinion page editor.

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