New startup pitch show aims for business reality in Maine, not reality TV

Posted Sept. 11, 2015, at 10:27 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Cue dramatic intro music: Twenty-six contestants will compete for $100,000. Only one will go home a winner.

That’s the broad framework of a new business pitch show premiering in Maine on Saturday night, but it’s hardly the point.

Con Fullam, creator of the show “Greenlight Maine,” said his show builds on the general template and interest in the investor-driven ABC series “Shark Tank” but aims to generate more attention for Maine-grown startups that he said hold the leading promise for the state’s economic future.

“This show is the antithesis of ‘Shark Tank,’” Fullam said. “Nobody gets eaten or beaten in this show, or gets bought.”

If you’re looking for instant gratification, forget that, too. The full show schedule delays the date for naming a winner until next year, with 13 episodes featuring two businesses set to air from September into December, leading into a final live show.

“We’re not looking for high drama,” Fullam said. “Its purpose is to elevate entrepreneurship in Maine and to encourage a whole hell of a lot of it.”

When it comes to getting eyeballs on TV, Fullam said, “America loves a trainwreck,” but he thinks the show focused on Maine entrepreneurs, their ideas and how they plan to make them reality will find a captive audience in the TV producer’s home state.

“I do believe that, given the opportunity, the folks in this state will respond to something that is positive and uplifting,” Fullam said. “We don’t always have to bury the bar to get viewership.”

The first season of the show was filmed through July at Husson University’s New England School of Communications. Fullam said he hopes the show could run four or five seasons. The 26 finalists were whittled down from 84 total entrants.

At the end of the show’s first round, the field will be cut down to 13 contestants, whose business plans will be workshopped in a series of panel shows before the survivors make new, improved pitches to a group of out-of-state judges. Two winners and one wild card will go to a final round to vie for a prize of $100,000 or more.

Fullam said the program’s structure allows time to showcase new startups and to show what kind of advice they receive along the way, educating viewers on what it takes to start and run a business, and what resources are available in Maine to help.

Joel Alex, an Old Town native who founded Blue Ox Malthouse to serve the state’s booming craft beer industry, said he’s leaned on many of those resources, including Slow Money Maine, the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, the Maine Technology Institute and Coastal Enterprises Inc.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure needs that make [Maine] a challenging place to run a business, but in terms of support that I have received and continue to receive, it has been tremendous,” Alex said. “It’s not hyperbole to say that without those resources my business wouldn’t exist.”

After about 1½ years searching for a building and acquiring the right equipment, Alex said he’s planning to send out the first shipments of malt from his Lisbon Falls operation in the next three weeks.

Win or lose, Alex said he hopes the show both advertises his company and demonstrates the array of innovative companies in the state — with show contestants ranging from video game developers to bioscience and energy firms.

“I’m excited to see the profile of this community raised so that more people are just generally aware of all the impressive and amazing companies and innovation that’s coming out of our state,” Alex said.

Fullam said he sees the show as an early step in promoting new companies to start up here and create the potential for new jobs and new industries to take hold.

“The massive manufacturing that made this state what it is is not coming back any time soon,” Fullam said. “What’s going to drive this state is small, entrepreneurial business.”

The first episode of “Greenlight Maine” — featuring Rockland-based candy bar maker Bixby & Co. and Kittery-based backpacking food maker Good To-Go — airs 7:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC affiliates WLBZ, Channel 2, in the Bangor area and WCSH, Channel 6, in the Portland area, after “Bill Green’s Maine.”

The show has posted its full schedule and list of contestants at its website, greenlightmaine.com, which Fullam said will also feature resources for entrepreneurs.

 

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