When Jacob Curtis first heard about the TV show “Greenlight Maine” and its cash prize for college entrepreneurs, he tried to interest other University of Southern Maine students. None signed up
“I was excited,” the accounting major said incredulously. “I finally thought, ‘Why am I wasting my time telling everyone else instead of doing it?’”
Less than a year later, he has co-founded a business and captured the show’s second place prize: $7,500.
And his business? It could begin operating this fall as Curtis begins his final year at the University.
“It’s getting really real,” Curtis said.
The business is called Refilla.
It began when Curtis pondered the use of filament used by 3-D printers. Filament comes in spools and can be made from a variety of materials including nylon and various plastics. And it produces waste that can be recyclable.
The idea took shape as he and his buddies drove together to a robotics conference in downtown Boston.
Why not subscribe to a service that will supply you with the filament that you need and take away your waste, perhaps on a monthly basis?
“We were driving down Route 93 through the middle of Boston, by the Prudential Center, and the idea popped out,” Curtis said.
A friend, Tymur Sabirov, was in the car.
Soon, Sabirov, a USM student from Kiev, Ukraine, was pondering the science and engineering problems that would go with such an idea.
“I have always had an aim for the practical,” he said.
He worked the problem.
By late fall 2022, they had completed an initial proposal, which they took to Greenlight Maine during a Zoom meeting.
“That was so cringy,” Curtis said. “We had a three-slide presentation.”
But the concept was enough to get the nod from Greenlight Maine’s producers to greenlight their inclusion on the College Edition of their show. And by the time they recorded a new presentation — this time for the TV show in a Lewiston studio — Curtis and Sabirov, had learned a lot about presentations and their own product.
Curtis, a USM Promise Scholar, worked with Richard Bilodeau, a professor of Entrepreneurship and Marketing, to work on his presentation. They also deepened their understanding of the needed engineering. Sabirov, serving as both a co-founder and chief engineer, put his school work to the test.
In January, they made their first in-person presentation on Greenlight Maine.
Curtis donned a suit, gave a savvy, professional rundown of the product, and impressed the three-judge panel.
This season, students from 10 schools competed for the top prize of $10,000. In the end, Curtis, Sabirov and Refilla were selected for the final episode and earned the second prize of $7,500.
Daniel Barton, the director of USM’s Promise Scholar Program, watched in the studio as the young men were awarded their prize.
“This is application at its best, to be able to move from the classroom and able to produce something that is literally able to go out to market,” Barton said. “To put a business plan together in a matter of months is an incredible thing. To watch what they’re doing and the progression is impressive.
“What we want of all USM students is to think beyond the classroom,” Barton said.
The prize money will likely be spent on some legal incorporation costs and likely help secure a place for them to work from, Curtis said.
“What started as a seed has turned into something quite focused,” he said.