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Maine Teacher’s Literacy App Wins Top Gun LA Pitch-Off

Stressed by too many mandates and not enough time, Michelle DeBlois says she seriously considered leaving teaching until she collaborated with an Auburn teacher to develop an app that eased their literacy workload.

by Kathryn Skelton, Sun Journal / September 11, 2020
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(TNS) — Stressed by too many mandates and not enough hours in the day, Lewiston Middle School’s Michelle DeBlois says she seriously considered leaving teaching. A year ago, she looked for a way to streamline her literacy teaching workload and couldn’t find one. Instead of quitting, the Poland, Main, teacher collaborated with an Auburn teacher to develop an app for that.

Their idea, ReMo, won the Top Gun LA pitch-off Thursday morning at the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

LiteracyTech Inc.’s app, under a beta test now and scheduled to launch in January, tracks students’ reading progress and helps teachers craft lesson plans, DeBlois said.

“Instead of sorting all those piles of papers and online submissions, you will know instantly when students have finished or abandoned a book or when they actually need help,” she said.

DeBlois called herself a “trifounder” with Auburn Middle School’s Kathryn Lariviere and web application developer Peter Jannet.

“(It’s) a web-based tool that fulfills two missions: making reading attainable and teaching sustainable,” she said.

The fourth annual entrepreneurial pitch-off was held under the tent at Poland Spring Resort with some attendees in person and 38 more virtual, including the three judges, over Zoom.

The 2020 Top Gun LA class started this winter with eight companies. Four left the program after the pandemic hit, according to organizer Scott Benson, either because life became too hectic or their idea, like one around conventions, involved getting people together in ways that weren’t possible with COVID-19.

Carolyn Delaney, founder of media company Journey Enterprises, gave her pitch to expand the reach of Journey Magazine, launched last year and “fiercely devoted to making recovery from addiction visible.”

“It’s a conversation that I’m passionate about, because I’ve been there: Homeless, unemployable,” said Delaney. “I’m a drug addict, alcoholic, in recovery since 1993. Today, I’m a business owner and homeowner.”

The magazine has had eight issues and had 500 distribution sites that dried up after COVID-19. She said they’ve had success with a sponsored YouTube video series in the months since.

“In order to smash the stigma related to addiction there needs to be visible, inspiring, personal recovery stories and accessible recovery programs available because the solutions need to be more visible than the problem,” said Delaney.

Sophia Bailey opened Caribbean Life Grocery and Gift Store in Lewiston four years ago and is looking to add online ordering and delivery. With the recent addition of a food trailer in her parking lot, she’s projecting a 100% sales growth next year.

“Walking down the aisle is almost like you’re taking a trip through the Caribbean,” Bailey said, with sauces, spices, empanadas, and local meat and vegetables.

Immigration has contributed to increased sales, she said, and “so has the travel food shows that highlight cuisine and the spices from different countries.”

Laci Barnett, owner of Dog-a-holick Dog Grooming in Westbrook, took part in Top Gun LA to expand her business to Phase Two: A canine campus with grooming, a dog wash, training and agility classes, birthday parties — for kids or dogs — an indoor dog park, beverage garden and invited food trucks.

“You can take your dog and yourself to socialize,” she said. “Our canine campus will truly be a place for dog owners to come together as a community.”

That second location is about two to three years off, Barnett said.

Top Gun is a program out of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs. With their regional win, DeBlois and Lariviere will head off to the statewide pitch-off in Portland on Sept. 23, vying for $25,000 to put toward their app.

Their project received a $25,000 Maine Technology Institute grant to create a sellable prototype last May.

DeBlois said in her classes, she has to manage 210 reading logs and 120 books a week, “which adds 10 hours to my already weighted workload.”

ReMo, she believes, will help automate that workflow for herself and other teachers.

“They’ll be great representatives of the Top Gun LA cohort and I know everyone from our cohort will be pulling for them to be the first LA-based winner of the $25,000 grand prize,” Benson said. “They’ve put in the work to develop and refine their pitch over the time we’ve all spent together, so my advice is to tell their story as only they can tell it, and have fun. It’s a great opportunity to speak directly to a supportive crowd of folks from throughout Maine’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. I have no doubt they’ll make a great impression on everyone.”

©2020 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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