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PRESS MaineBiz: Bangor’s Coffee Hound Wins Big Gig’s Virtual Pitch-off

Coffee Hound of Bangor took top honors in the Big Gig pitch-off last week, winning a prize of $2,500. Also competing were Etna distillery and tasting room Mossy Ledge Spirits and The Good Crust in Skowhegan. The entrepreneurs presented to a panel of judges during a live Facebook and Zoom stream. Each of the competitors discussed how they adapted their business model to stay relevant and sustainable during the pandemic.

The judges were Edison Liu, president and CEO of Jackson Laboratory. Mike Ballesteros, director of diagnostic and medical products manufacturing for Puritan Medical Products, and Julene Gervais, host of Greenlight Maine. They and virtual attendees voted for the winners. Event sponsor Machias Savings Bank provided the $2,500 prize.

Jennifer Litteral launched Coffee Hound in 2013 as a coffee shop in Bar Harbor and has since done more than $3 million in sales. During the past year, pre-COVID, she had already taken significant steps to diversify and scale her cafe-based business by licensing the brand to Sunday River Ski Resort and opening an industrial coffee roasting facility in Brewer.

In response to the pandemic, she closed the Bar Harbor location for the season in May to protect her employees’ and the community’s health. The cafe had historically brought in 70% of the business income, but she pivoted to focus on her new manufacturing facility. Litteral cited data on the rise of people working from home and their desire for a luxury coffee experience that rivals their favorite coffee shops.

Her online sales have increased 500% since April. Thanks to new wholesale partnerships, the Coffee Hound brand is now in 45 stores and seven Hannaford locations statewide. Its cold brew is on tap at Geaghan Bros.

The product can be brewed in Keurig coffee makers. Leveraging its position as a woman-owned business, Coffee Hound is competing for wholesale government contracts. Mossy Ledge Spirits and The Good Crust were awarded $1,500 and $1,000, respectively, for their business adaptations during the pandemic.

When Mossy Ledge Spirits’ revenue stream from their Etna tasting-room took a significant hit due to the mandatory closure, owner Jesse Lupo secured partnerships to make hand sanitizer to assist with the state’s supply shortage.

Like many restaurants because of the pandemic, resulting in an uptick in at-home baking, Heather Kerner of The Good Crust rapidly added retail sales of her frozen whole wheat pizza crusts to reach fans in their home kitchens.

“I think by definition entrepreneurs are flexible, and pivoting is something we normally do on a very small scale,” Litteral said in a news release. “Not to diminish the scale of pivoting we have all been doing through COVID — it has not been easy by any means, and there have been so many losses and likely more to come in its wake.”

Big Gig is a program of UpStart Maine in Orono. Planning, paired with a willingness to adapt that plan, is a key trait of any successful business leader, Renee Kelley, assistant vice president for innovation and economic development for the University of Maine, and an UpStart Maine board member, said in the release.

UpStart Maine is a coalition of programs and organizations striving to build the Bangor Region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The group works to fuel entrepreneurship by forging connections with the larger community and connecting startups with the people, services, and resources they need. Click here for more information or contact Emma Wilson, entrepreneurship events and marketing coordinator at the University of Maine’s office of innovation and economic development, [email protected], or 207-280-0877.

Coffee Hound is also one of 44 entrepreneurs throughout Maine participating in the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs’ 2020 Top Gun program, the annual start-up cultivation competition that culminates in a $25,000 prize.

Big Gig is part of a larger entrepreneur ecosystem in greater Bangor that includes the University of Maine, which turns out innovation and startups from its Maine Innovation, Research, and Technology Accelerator, along with UpStart Maine programs such as Scratchpad Accelerator, Top Gun, Big Gig and Blitz; and engagement from the University of Maine and corporate partners such as Bangor Savings Bank, Eaton Peabody, First National Bank, City of Bangor and Rudman Winchell.

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