Aquaculture Top Gun is a first-of-its-kind aquaculture entrepreneur development program, initially held in 2018 and again in 2020 through a partnership between the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs (MCE), Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), Maine Aquaculture Association (MAA), and Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center (MAIC); and sponsored by FocusMaine.
We modeled the prototype program, Aquaculture Top Gun 2018, after MCE’s established Top Gun entrepreneur development program that teaches business fundamentals and provides one-on-one mentoring to early-phase businesses. The Top Gun program includes mentorship, lessons from successful entrepreneurs, workshopping, discussions, and pitch development and practice. Learning sessions are aimed at helping entrepreneurs make the right decisions at pivotal junctures in the growth and development of their startups.
We designed Aquaculture Top Gun to support early-phase and startup aquaculture businesses who represent 40-50% or more of Maine’s sector. The formula of an aquaculture-only class challenged conventional thinking about accelerator class makeup. Would a homogeneous class of aquaculture companies (primarily producers) share ideas, or be guarded? Would cross-sector idea sharing suffer?
Each year, the team met regularly to tailor the Top Gun core curriculum to the unique challenges faced by aquaculture businesses, and to leverage networks to recruit aquaculture business experts as presenters and mentors. Businesses were selected through a competitive application process, and the program culminated in a “pitch-off”, with the two most outstanding presenters each receiving a cash prize to invest in business growth.
Aquaculture Top Gun proved to be groundbreaking in its single-sector approach. Instead of being hyper-competitive and guarded, the class shared openly, developed a strong camaraderie, and forged business relationships that continue to this day. On the heels of this success, MCE developed two new sector-specific programs in the agriculture and craft beverage industries modeled on the success of the initial Aquaculture Top Gun program.
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