Maine Contest Offers $100,000 in Prizes to Lure Young, Talented Entrepreneurs Back Home

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Maine's Lewiston/Auburn Economic Growth Council and Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce launched an entrepreneurial contest that has an ambitious goal of connecting with youth who have roots in the local community, and encouraging them to consider starting a business in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine. The winning entrepreneur will receive an equity infusion of $10,000 - $20,000 seed money, along with a number of in-kind services for a year, including business consulting, accounting services, legal fees, advertising agency services, rent, and more.

"Young Adults leave for college and don't return, sometimes because they don't perceive that gainful employment or opportunities can be found in Maine," explains Laura Davis. "We hope Launch LA changes their perception."

Many communities lament the exodus of youth, jobs and entrepreneurial talent. One Maine community is doing something about it. Two local business organizations, the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council (LAEGC) and the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce have teamed up to send a message loud and clear: the cities of Lewiston and Auburn, Maine welcome young, creative entrepreneurs - particularly youth who have roots in the community but who have moved away. To back up that sentiment, a number of local companies have stepped forward to contribute what is expected to be over $100,000 in cash and in-kind services to the most promising start-up company willing to come back home and set up business.

The LAEGC and the Chamber of Commerce have launched an entrepreneurial contest that has an ambitious goal of connecting with youth who have roots in the local community, and encouraging them to consider starting a business in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine. The program, called Launch L-A!, features a contest inviting young entrepreneurs to submit a proposal to start a business in L-A. Entries will be screened by a committee of business and banking professionals who will judge the ideas on a number of criteria including creativity, viability, and community need. Adding a page from the "American Idol" script, finalists will be voted upon electronically by community members of Lewiston and Auburn in January 2011.

The winning entrepreneur will receive an equity infusion of $10,000 - $20,000 seed money, along with a number of in-kind services for a year, including business consulting, accounting services, legal fees, advertising agency services, rent, and more -- all provided by Chamber members. Runners-up may also receive in-kind services.

Three local Maine banks, Bangor Savings Bank, Northeast Bank and Auburn Savings Bank have already committed $11,500 to seeding the prize package. In addition, dozens of local businesses are offering in-kind services including:

  •     Rinck Advertising: Branding, Creative and Public Relations Package - $15,000
  •     Curry Printing: Printing Package - $1,200
  •     Next Level Business Coaching: Business Consulting - $3,600
  •     LAEGC: Start-up office space, conference room space & receptionist - $4,000
  •     Robustelli, Soucy & Hussey, PA: Accounting services - $10,000
  •     Brann & Isaacson: Legal fees for a year - $2,500
  •     Core Zero Creative: Search Engine Optimization, web and social media marketing strategy - $1,500
  •     Oxford Networks: Internet/Phone lines - $1,900
  •     WGME-13: Advertising package, including cost of production - $2,000
  •     Leighton Images: Video Production -- $4,500
  •     Mainely Portrait Photography: Photo session - $500
  •     Strategic Talent Management: Personality Aptitude Testing - $2,500
  •     Chamber of Commerce: Membership, Advertising, and Support Package - $500
  •     RE-Group! Business Solutions: Risk Mitigation and Business Infrastructure - $1,000
  •     Sun Journal: 1 year's worth of advertising and consulting - $5,000
  •     Marriott Residence Inn: One-week stay - $1,000

The competition is open people between the ages of 18-30 who have roots in Androscoggin County but have not lived here in at least 9-months. Applicants will be encouraged to support their idea using digital applications such as video presentations, web sites, podcasts, and digital photos.

"The value of this program is not merely that a few entrepreneurs will get assistance to launch a business in Lewiston-Auburn," says Paul Badeau, Marketing Director, Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council. "What's perhaps more important is the message this sends to the world outside of L-A's borders: namely, that Lewiston-Auburn welcomes young, creative entrepreneurs and is committed to helping them succeed."

"The contest is part of a broader initiative to connect and keep in touch with young people, particularly college grad "expatriates" who have graduated from local high schools," says Wendy Tardif, a member of the event planning committee and Executive Director for The Dempsey Challenge. "Using e-mail and social media like Facebook and Twitter, young people will get regular updates about the community's ongoing renaissance."

"Native sons and daughters often leave for college and don't return, sometimes because they don't perceive that gainful employment or opportunities can be found in Maine," explains Laura Davis, a partner at Rinck Advertising who is also a member of the committee. "We hope people follow this story chapter by chapter."

Rinck Advertising, an Auburn-based advertising and public relations agency, has contributed its services in-kind to developing the logo and PR strategies for the effort. In addition, the agency will donate over $15,000 in services to the winning business.

"We have what young people are looking for right here in L-A: urban life, arts and culture, affordable housing, a riverfront, plenty of good restaurants, and talented people," says Davis. "What we don't have is enough recognition for our assets, and enough help for struggling entrepreneurs."

"Even if young people don't return to the community for whatever reason, it is still important that they feel proud of their community in order to serve as ambassadors, stay connected to local institutions, and serve as future benefactors for local institutions", says Chamber President, Chip Morrison.

"Will our youth return in droves because of this? Probably not," adds Morrison. "But if we can help a few entrepreneurs get off the ground, and get young people with roots in the L/A area to feel proud of their home community, we will have been wildly successful."

T.H. Creations, a Lewiston-based web site development company, created a web site to promote the contest. Entrepreneurs can enter the contest with their business idea right online at: http://www.launchlamaine.com. Contestants and interested parties can also follow the contest on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/LaunchLAMaine or Twitter at https://twitter.com/LaunchLAMaine. Launch LA is also offering a chance to win an Apple iPAD for anyone who helps spread the word through Twitter. Details at Launch LA Maine.

Companies interested in finding out more about the contest and how they can be a part of it should contact the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council at 207-784-0161 or the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce at 207-783-2249.

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LAURA DAVIS

Paul Badeau
LAEGC
207-784-0161
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