Frequently asked questions about MCE programs and workshops.
What is Top Gun?
Top Gun is a unique entrepreneurial training program that has helped accelerate the growth of over 200 startup companies, since 2009. The program matches founders of high-growth potential companies with mentors who are experienced entrepreneurs and professional services people who donate their time and expertise to participants. Top Gun teaches a meaningful curriculum ranging from non-debt financing and bootstrapping to customer discovery and marketing strategies. Learning sessions are aimed at helping entrepreneurs make the right decisions at pivotal junctures in the growth and development of their startups.
Founders also learn how to create and target specific pitches to potential customers, employees, partners and investors depending on the specific needs of the company. At a high level the model is that an innovation’s commercialization success emerges at the intersection of four interacting complex systems: innovation, talent, startups, and markets.
What are some success stories?
Graduates have generated more than $25 million in revenue, obtained $7.5 million in capital formation and produced over 125 Maine-based jobs. Thanks to careful metrics tracking we know that the program participants report revenue growth of 31% post completion. Top Guns have competed (and won) on the Greenlight Maine television show, at Gorham Savings Bank’s LaunchPad competition, and Rapport (class of 2015) won the Rise of the Rest pitch competition.
After Top Gun, many graduates have participated in other programs such as MassChallenge, CleanTech Open, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses and Scale Up America. Recent notable graduates include: Rockstep Solutions, Garbage to Garden, Rapport, Blue Ox Malt House, Redd Energy, Bixby and Co., Pika Energy and SpringPoint Solutions.
What qualities do you look for in Top Gun candidates?
We get this question a lot. It’s difficult to describe the ideal candidate other than to say that they are sincere, fully committed to building their company (willing to do the work) and want to help as much as be helped. While they don’t have to use the advice, they receive from mentors, staff or fellow classmates they are open to hearing it. The strongest aspect of the program is the peer to peer mentoring that takes place within the class so being a good “peer” is vitally important.
When does Top Gun Run?
We kick-off in February and conclude in May. The Regional Pitch-offs and Showcase are in May. We typically take school vacation weeks off. Your local coordinator will provide the meeting schedule for your location. *Dates may be subject to change slightly.
Do I have to pitch?
Yes. We are aware that many of you will never or may not want to land a meeting with a venture capital firm or be features on Shark Tank. But, you will want customers, employees, partners, distribution or maybe even outside investment, so it behooves you to learn how to speak succinctly, clearly and articulately about your business. You should understand your market, where you fit into it, how you will make money from it and what you need to make that happen.
We will ask three of you to pitch at every session. We start with 1-minute elevator pitches and move to 3-minute pitches and conclude with 5-minute pitches with pitch decks at the end of the program.
How will I be matched with a mentor?
Each location has a pool of local mentors who have graciously agreed to share their time and talent with you. MCE manages the Maine Mentor Network that now has over 120 members and typically about 70 avail themselves for Top Gun. Matching is done through a combination of networking and staff matching based on the needs of the company.
There are four types of mentor interactions:
1. Coffee Mentor
Someone you meet with once or twice who is usually making a referral or
introduction on your behalf.
2. Lead Mentor
Your point person to make sure you are progressing through the program, who
also assists in identifying needs and next steps.
3. Team Mentor
One of our group of mentors working on your behalf.
4. Session Mentor
A mentor that attends only the weekly learning sessions to assist in
How often should I meet with my mentor?
The amount of time you spend meeting with your Lead/Team mentor depends upon your needs and location. You should expect to have at least weekly contact with your lead, whether it be through in-person meetings, via phone, email or virtual meeting venues.
What is a typical Top Gun session like?
Most sessions will use the following format:
5:00 - 5:30 Dinner and networking
5:30 - 6:00 Announcements and pitching
6:00 - 7:00 Speakers and Q & A
7:00 - 7:30 Workshop and conclusion
How do you determine who pitches at the Showcase?
Every founder (or team) is offered the chance to pitch at the regional pitch-off. The pitch is a 5-minute pitch with slides, much like the pitch you did in the interview only you’ll be standing in front of an audience and pitching to a panel of judges. The Top two finishers in each region will represent their class and have a shot at winning the $25,000 cash prize at the Showcase.
When do I have to pay the $500 fee to participate in Top Gun?
First, the fee is per company not person. We’d like your payment as soon as possible but don’t let the fee be a barrier to participating; let us know if you need payment terms, we will try to work with you.
What happens if we cancel a class?
We rarely cancel a session but if weather is an issue we try to make the call a minimum of three hours prior to the start time. There is one off week at the end of the schedule where a makeup session can be added.
How do you communicate with the class?
Some locations have used a closed Facebook group but most often by email.
How does the Cultivator program differ from Top Gun?
What qualities do you look for in Cultivator candidates?
Cultivator candidates must be a food, beverage or agriculture company with a value-added product, have a scalable, profitable business model, and have $500k or greater in annual revenue. It is also important that candidates have the capability, capacity, and commitment to do the work required to scale-up, while also being open to feedback and advice from outside resources.
What does the application process entail?
The open application process will start in October/November, with final applicants chosen in February/March. Applicants start by filling out an online survey, which is then followed up by a phone or in-person pre-screen meeting with the MCE Program Manager. Applicants that meet the pre-screen criteria will move forward to the next step of the selection process, which includes an interview with a small committee comprised of MCE Staff, Board and Cultivator Council of Advisors. Final company selection will be made by the committee and companies will be notified directly by the Program Manager.
How long is the Cultivator Program?
The Cultivator program is a 12-month program that starts in April and ends in March of the following year. The program starts with a deep dive 3rd party assessment, which serves as the foundation on which the plan and program is built.
What does the Assessment Process entail?
The Assessment Process starts with the assignment of a 3rd Party Assessment Team comprised of MCE mentors with expertise in Sales & Marketing, Operations, and Finance. Once the Assessment Team is approved, three workshops will be scheduled and conducted: 1) Company Introduction, 2) Assessment Workshop, and 3) Priority & Strategy Workshop. The Assessment Process will take approximately 6 to 8 weeks to complete and requires a significant investment in time (12-15 hours) from both the company management team and Assessment Team.
If I provide information to the Assessment Team, will it remain confidential?
In order to effectively conduct the deep dive analysis, financial information, a company business plan and other process information will be required. All Assessment Team members and MCE must sign a Non Disclosure Agreement prior to receiving any information from the member company.
How will I be matched with my Assessment Team?
Each Assessment Team will be comprised of three assessors, including one Sales & Marketing expert, one Operations expert, and one Finance expert from our Maine Mentor Network. We will match assessor experience and skill set to your company industry and needs. Company and assessor backgrounds will be shared for approval of “fit” between both parties. The company and Assessment Team will meet in person prior to the assessment workshop to reconfirm approval.
If I need immediate support from MCE or Mentors, do I need to wait until my assessment is complete?
No, if you have an immediate need, we will connect you with the right resources. You do not have to wait until your assessment is complete.
When do I have to pay the $2,500 fee to participate in Cultivator?
The $2,500 fee per company is due within 30 days of the signed membership agreement.