L-A News - In The News - L-A Biz Contest Targets Youth

L-A Biz Contest Targets Youth

By David Sargent, Special to the Sun Journal
Published Sep 03, 2010

LEWISTON — The buzz was building Thursday as word about a new “Launch L-A!” contest and entrepreneur attraction initiative hit the Internet.

The Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council and Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce launched the new program with a news conference Wednesday as part of the “L-A: It’s Happening Here!” campaign. It has an ambitious goal of connecting with youth who have roots in the community, and encouraging them to consider starting a business in the Twin Cities.

“People are hearing about this,” said Paul Badeau, LAEGC marketing director. E-mail messages were arriving in a steady flow as people near and far responded to the contest introduction. Details are on a website at www.launchlamaine.com.

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

Bangor Savings Bank has already committed $5,000 to seeding the prize package. It is expected that a number of local companies will contribute a total of $100,000 or more in cash and in-kind services to the most promising start-up company.

Badeau said the use of the Internet and social media such as Twitter and Facebook are an important innovation. Traditional methods such as direct mail are not as likely to reach the prospective entrepreneurs because address information from colleges might be outdated, and local advertising might not reach them either.

“We are targeting young creative types with local ties who now live outside the L-A area,” Badeau said. He said they are scattered far and wide, but new technology makes it possible to reach them quite efficiently.

One response Thursday was from a woman at Harvard University who is a teaching fellow in the business school.

“She’s in Connecticut, but she has L-A roots and she offered to help review applications,” Badeau said.

Another former L-A resident who contacted Badeau runs a Portland business aimed at Maine entrepreneurs.

Badeau also noted that the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments is placing links to the program information of various government websites.

The application process is not easy. It requires entrants to submit detailed business plans and financial projections.

The application will encourage ideas to be supported using digital applications such as video presentations, websites, podcasts and digital photos. Adding a page from the “American Idol” script, finalists will be voted upon electronically by members of the L-A community.

The Chamber will solicit members to contribute by providing in-kind services to the winner for a year. Sponsor companies will be recognized in various media and online promotions. Chamber President Chip Morrison explains that sponsors may also benefit by earning the entrepreneurs’ business after the contest is over.

“The value of this program is not merely that a few innovators will get assistance to launch a business in Lewiston-Auburn,” Badeau said. “What’s perhaps more important is the message this sends to the world outside of L-A’s borders. It says that Lewiston-Auburn welcomes young, creative entrepreneurs and is committed to helping them succeed.”