SKOWHEGAN, Maine — Main Street Skowhegan is looking for innovative entrepreneurs or established business owners wanting to expand their operations for its new business lab and pitch competition.
The business lab, which offers participants a seven-week course at the Skowhegan Center for Entrepreneurship starting Oct. 1, will conclude with a pitch competition in which potential business owners present their enterprise plans. The winner will receive $5,000 from Main Street Skowhegan, a nonprofit focused on revitalizing the town.
Pitch competitions are a popular way for entrepreneurs and startups to enter the investment world and build connections with business experts. Competitions through Dirigo Labs in Waterville and the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs in Portland shed light on inventive ideas and creators, plus awarded thousands of dollars to winners to jumpstart their plans. Main Street Skowhegan sees its version as a layer of support for local entrepreneurs and longtime businesses that could also spur new development in and around Skowhegan.
“In rural communities, we don’t always have the resources you’d find in a city that might make it more livable,” said Patric Moore, the organization’s business relations manager. “But we’ve seen in recent years an expansion of resources and support for entrepreneurship no matter where you are.”
Main Street Skowhegan realized it could do more to champion and fund a new business idea or encourage members of a younger generation to take over an existing business, he said.
The business lab and pitch competition ties in with the Skowhegan Center for Entrepreneurship, which opened in April and offers programming, co-working spaces and rooms that can be rented for meetings and conferences.
Main Street Skowhegan launched the center after surveying about 135 local business owners about their needs, Moore said. Most of them wanted more chances to network and access workspaces. They also expressed a desire for education on topics such as marketing and advertisements, accounting, information technology and web development, he said.
Business lab participants will attend a course at the center each Saturday for seven weeks. Moore will lead the course, and guest speakers — like one from Skowhegan Savings Bank and another from Maine’s Small Business Development Centers — will share their expertise on essential elements of a business and financial viability and budgeting, among other subjects.
The project will use material from the Hannah Grimes Business Lab program, based in Keene, New Hampshire, Moore said. The pitch competition is scheduled for Nov. 12, though a location and selection of judges are still in the works.
“We want people to realize they have support,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be as scary or risky as some people might think.”
That includes talking to youth about their futures and careers. Most think attending college is the only path to success, but there’s room for a conversation about alternative options, and entrepreneurship is a viable one, he said.
Main Street Skowhegan is considering future iterations of the business lab and pitch competition, depending on how this one pans out. The organization is brainstorming versions geared toward specific industries, such as a food or farm lab, Moore said. Area residents have emphasized the need for a local coffee shop downtown.
Moore also wants to make sure participants who introduce a new business and others who improve or expand an existing one are supported after the project.
“Our goal is not only to spur development, but to show there’s a community of support behind these business owners,” he said.