April 23, 2012

Colby student in business

Matt Boyes-Watson wins startup funds in pitch competition

By Ben McCanna bmccanna@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- At least one college student won't have to worry about finding work after graduation this spring.

ONLINE

To learn more about these companies and entrepreneurial groups in central Maine, visit:

• rentprefs.com
• myfreshmaine.com
• colbyea.com
• kventrepreneurialnetwork.wordpress.com

Matt Boyes-Watson, a senior at Colby College, will serve as CEO of his own company, an Internet startup called rentprefs.com, based in Boston.

Earlier this month, Boyes-Watson received $15,000 in seed money for his company during Colby College's second annual Business Pitch Competition. At the event, Boyes-Watson competed against four other student entrepreneurs to present the best five-minute business pitch in front of judges and an audience of peers and area businesspeople.

Organizers said the annual contest is just one event in central Maine that is meant to foster a growing community of entrepreneurs. During the past two years, businesses in the area are sprouting up at a promising rate, they said.

Bright idea

Two years ago, Boyes-Watson, a native of Cambridge, Mass., got a Realtor's license and entered the fast-paced apartment rental market in the greater Boston area. Soon after, he discovered a need to streamline the arduous apartment-hunting process for potential renters.

The idea grew into the website rentprefs.com, which asks renters to fill out a survey describing their ideal living quarters. The site then generates lists of apartments from area rental brokers.

"It's a match.com for apartments," Boyes-Watson said.

Boyes-Watson worked on the project for two years. Last summer, he launched a beta version of the site that served Cambridge, Mass. Then in March, the site expanded to include more of the metro area.

To run his business, Boyes-Watson stays at Colby just two nights a week. He leaves every Thursday after classes for Boston. Then he returns to Waterville on Tuesday morning.

Boyes-Watson submitted his business plan for consideration by a panel of judges at Colby's Business Pitch Competition. His plan was one of five finalists chosen from a group of nine entries.

On April 12, Boyes-Watson made his presentation. Mike Duguay, co-founder of Kennebec Valley Entrepreneurial Network, said he attended both annual events. He said he has seen a lot of business pitches during the past two decades.

"Those are some of the best business proposals I have heard in my career," he said.

Getting started

Roger Woolsey, director of Colby's Career Center, said the center provides career counseling to about 1,800 students per year and organizes programs like the Entrepreneurial Alliance, the group that hosts the annual competition.

Woolsey said the prize money is raised by alumni and parents, and the standards to achieve the prize are lofty. For starters, competitors must have a real business. All five finalists had business licenses and are either operational or close to it.

"The seed money provides winners with an opportunity to take their businesses to the next level," he said.

The money could be used for website development, marketing or to buy materials.

Danny Garin is a junior at Colby. Last year, he and two fellow students won $10,000 for their Waterville-based business, My Fresh Maine.

"Before the competition, we were more or less an idea, and the $10,000 turned it into a business," he said.

The students used the money to build a website, buy advertising and more. The money has lasted; a year later they still have about $1,000, which can be applied to operating costs, Garin said.

My Fresh Maine serves as a online store for fresh Maine produce and other local products. Their website processes orders for a statewide network of farmers and artisans, provides customer relations and marketing. They also provide My Fresh Maine-branded packing materials to participating farms, so producers can ship their goods directly to consumers.

Garin said he expects the business, which is somewhat seasonal, will gain momentum during the upcoming growing season. Last year, the site wen live toward the end of the growing season, but, one month after its launch, the site racked up 25,000 hits and $5,000 in sales.

(Continued on page 2)

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