Back-to-back pitch competition wins jump started Eliah Thanhauser ’09’s mushroom supply business [Mainebiz] · College of the Atlantic

Eliah Thanhauser '09 is the CEO of North Spore mushrooms, which he co-founded with Jon Carver...Eliah Thanhauser ’09 is the CEO of North Spore mushrooms, which he co-founded with Jon Carver ’09 and Matt McInnis ’09. Credit: Tim Greenway

Money talks: From pitch contests to grants, how some Maine startups are becoming fundraising stars
By Renee Cordes • Mainebiz

Winning $150,000 in back-to-back pitch competitions was a big coup for a little startup that set out to “make the world of mushroom cultivation accessible for all.”

North Spore, which produces and sells mushroom cultivation supplies and medicinal products, was just four years old in June 2018, when co-founder and CEO Eliah Thanhauser ’09 won $50,000 in the Gorham Savings Bank LaunchPad contest and $100,000 on “Greenlight Maine,” a televised series currently in its eighth season. North Spore was co-founded by Thanhauser with College of the Atlantic classmates Jon Carver ’09 and Matt McInnis ’09.

“That was a huge jump forward,” Thanhauser says. “It was exhilarating, too — and amazing to win both. That was by far the most amount of money that had come into the business at once, and that helped really push us forward.” The following year, Thanhauser powered through a Fair Food Network Business Boot Camp pitch competition with a hoarse voice that was “so soft and distracting that no one could hear me,” and lost.

Such is the roller-coaster ride of business-pitch contests with a growing number of options, including a “Greenlight Maine College Edition” and “Elevating Voices” spinoff to showcase diversity. This year’s newcomers include Main Street Skowhegan’s Business Lab Competition, which debuted in November, and Dirigo Labs in Waterville, an accelerator program that crowned its first pitch winner in June.

Win or lose, all participants get practice time in the competitive fundraising arena — a spring training of sorts for the major leagues.

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