On the top story of the new technology center at 173 Main Street, teams of curious, creative students will convene in newly renovated space with large-screen monitors, whiteboards, and glass-walled offices where they can conceive, build, and grow new enterprises.
It’s all part of DavisConnects’ new Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program, which runs the annual business-pitch competition, helps student entrepreneurs find funding, and matches them with business mentors, including successful Colby alumni. It’s about more than just supporting student business plans. The program hopes ultimately to seed Maine-grown businesses—and keep them, and the innovative brainpower that fuels them, in the state.
The first group using the space is EuroPiste, which won the business-pitch competition in 2017 for creating a digital marketplace for winter sports professionals.
“This is exactly what we needed to take the next steps and grow,” said Theo Satloff ’19, one of the founders of EuroPiste. “We needed to be able to collaborate face to face in a dedicated space.”
EuroPiste, which Satloff founded with Carl-Philip “CP” Majgaard ’18, Walker Griggs ’19, and Ian Patterson ’18, connects winter sports professionals (athletes, rescue patrollers, and instructors) with discounted gear—and gives gear and apparel brands a space to broaden their reach. The EuroPiste team (piste is French for track or course, as in ski racing) got off to a strong start with $10,000 in seed money from the 2017 competition.
“The genesis of the incubator came from the number of students in the pitch contest who told us, ‘when you win, you don’t stop; you have to hone your project, get mentorship, get seed rounds for funding, and bootstrap your business,’” said Lisa Noble, director of employer engagement for DavisConnects and an advisor in finance consulting and technology.
Students with business ideas will have access to other students and their ideas and flexible space for them to run multi-day idea-generating “hackathons,” workshops, and speaker events, Noble said. “That access to the mentorship of other students is key. They will cross-pollinate and leverage each other’s learning.”
The EuroPiste team spent much of Jan Plan in the business incubator planning a sales trip to a snow-sports product fair in Munich, Germany. The windows of their glass-walled office were covered in erasable-ink lists, outlines, and matrices. Laptops sprawled on a table, and a giant monitor displayed the checkout screen of their website. Coffee was close at hand.
“This is exactly what we needed to take the next steps and grow. We needed to be able to collaborate face to face in a dedicated space.” —Theo Satloff ’19
“Basically, we un-broke a process,” said Majgaard, explaining the idea that became EuroPiste. “Gear brands want to get their stuff into the hands of verified professionals, to build their presence. Until now, they had to go through separate retailers and make sure the customers were actually sports pros. And pros go through a ton of gear every year and want to be able to buy the top brands at a discount. It was complicated and expensive.”
EuroPiste, much like Amazon or other digital markets, provides verification and allows brands to have their own storefronts and use a central checkout. So far, Majgaard says, the response from manufacturers and professionals has been “awesome.”
The group, currently pursuing more seed capital, plans a soft launch of its website soon, with an official opening in July. Majgaard says that whatever the outcome of this funding round, he intends to stay in Waterville post-graduation to continue to build and expand the business.
“I’ll be staying in the area to see this idea through,” he said.
The business-incubator model is a great benefit to student entrepreneurs, but Colby leaders hope it will also encourage students, like Majgaard, to grow businesses in Maine and keep them here. An aging population, shrinking skilled-labor force, and waves of out-migration by college-educated Mainers have created an employment and business crisis in the state, according to the Bangor Daily News.
Noble said the program she leads can not only increase the number of businesses launched in Central Maine, but will add to the region’s climate of innovation.
In addition to EuroPiste, other student teams are moving into the business incubator, including Splitshorts.com led by Aziz Ghadiali ’20, and gnosi, led by Makoto Kinoshita ’18 and Tatsuya Yokota ’19, who used the space recently to pitch their business to a team of judges and venture capitalists. Splitshorts will sell ethically sourced and manufactured running gear in “fun” textiles. gnosi offers “mind-mapping” support to journalists, students, and others who need to aggregate information efficiently.
The next business-pitch competition will be April 26 and 27 and will include a full lineup of events and a keynote speaker. DavisConnects has received many applications to use the incubator space and will let students know Feb. 23.