Michele Gilfoil pitches her company, Planet Botanicals, before a panel of judges Wednesday night at the yearly Top Gun business showdown at the Ramada Inn in Lewiston. Gilfoil is one of two winners who will advance to the finals May 23 in Portland. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
LEWISTON — The judges were so intrigued by Michele Gilfoil’s seaweed skin care line, they cracked open a jar of the stuff before she was through her presentation Wednesday night at the Ramada Inn.
Stacy Moore, on the other hand, launched into a couple of stories about the healing powers of CBD (cannabidiol) oil before beginning her pitch at the Top Gun business pitch-off.
It was a good night for plants and those who peddle them – Gilfoil, of the Westbrook company Planet Botanicals, and Moore, from Healing Harbors out of Harpswell. They were selected as winners and will advance to the statewide Top Gun Showcase in Portland on May 23 to compete for a $25,000 grand prize.
In pitching the healing powers of CBD oil, Moore told the audience about her experience with a woman named Beth, who had suffered a stroke.
At the time, Moore said, she was working in home health care. Beth had become almost completely immobile, Moore recalled, until CBD body butter was introduced to her treatment plan.
“It helped her walk better,” Moore told the group. “It helped her to get out and garden again.”
Then there was Max, a man who was afflicted by central tremors so bad that he couldn’t button his shirt or tie his shoes — until he began using CBD oil and began to regain function in his hands.
After witnessing those experiences, Moore was sold on CBD oil. She did her best to pitch it to the Top Gun judges, telling them that she and her team hope to have five stores open by the middle of this year and another seven by year’s end.
“We will put Maine on the map,” Moore told them, “for healing with CBD.”
Gilfoil, a former Wall Street banker, told the group that even though she grew up near the ocean, she had no idea about the healthy properties of seaweed.
“I grew up in Maine. I grew up with seaweed,” she said. “I thought it was a nuisance.”
Now she wants to create a farm-to-face type product line where consumers will know exactly what they are putting on their faces or in their hair.
That’s when the Top Gun judges broke open a can of skin cream and began to give it a test run.
Ultimately, their decision came down to two companies out of the four who presented Wednesday night. Also pitching their wares were:
• Hannah Weddle, of the Brunswick company BackLot Software, an early-stage company looking to develop cloud-based software specific to the film and entertainment industry; and
• Kshanti Greene, West Gardiner, Wily Desert Labs, an early-stage company looking to develop strategic planning software.
A program of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs, Top Gun pairs companies with mentors and teachers over several months, refining business ideas, and leads up to a statewide pitch-off with money and prizes at stake.
Statewide, 35 companies have been participating at four sites. Though Top Gun is nine years old, the event at the Ramada on Wednesday was only the second in Lewiston-Auburn.
Scott Benson, director of economic and business development for the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, told the group that while much attention is paid to attracting businesses from other parts of the country, the importance of supporting local startups can not be overstated.
“The reality is, most growth comes from within,” Benson said.
That sounds about right to Moore. She had no expectations of winning Wednesday night, she said, but she embraced the opportunity to teach more Mainers about the powerful healing properties of CBD.
“We do care about our community,” she said. “And we want to educate them.”