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April 9, 2018

Skowhegan entrepreneur challenge winners announced

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
John Witherspoon, president of Skowhegan Savings Bank, which sponsored with Main Street Skowhegan the Main Street Skowhegan Savings Entrepreneur Challenge.

Skowhegan has two entrepreneur challenge winners — a woman who will start a counseling business downtown, and a high school student with plans for a computer services startup.

This was the second time the Main Street Skowhegan Savings Entrepreneur Challenge was held. Sponsored by Main Street Skowhegan and Skowhegan Savings Bank, it aims to bring business and economic sustainability to the region, particularly downtown. It was joined this year by the Junior Entrepreneur Challenge for high school students.

Amanda Leigh Clark, the winner of the primary challenge, will get more than $23,000 in benefits and incentives, including a $10,000 forgivable loan from Skowhegan Savings, to start her business, River Trail Counseling and Wellness Center.

Matthew Gallant, a junior at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, will get a $1,000 grant as winner of the student challenge.

Vicki Alward, senior vice president at Skowhegan Savings Bank, said in a news release that one of the goals of the contest, which offers workshops prior to winners being announced, is to educate local entrepreneurs about what it takes to start, own and maintain a successful business.

Participants began in September, attending business seminars about insurance needs, required permits, cash flow and financial analyses and marketing strategies.

Junior entrepreneurs took entrepreneurship classes at their schools and met with area business leaders.

Clark is required to open her business by this summer and stay in business for five years in order for the loan to be forgiven. The contest also asks winners sign a three-year lease on business space.

She is a licensed clinical social worker and her practice will specialize in counseling, as well as offer health and wellness services, including community workshops, massage therapy and yoga. The business enhancement committee will work with her throughout her first few years in business, according to the release.

Besides the loan, which is paid in three installments, she gets business services that range from insurance and computer help to carpentry, photographer, phone lines, internet and reduced rent from sponsoring companies.

The winner of the first challenge, also named Amanda Clark, started The Maine Barkery, an organic dog treat business. Clark has since closed her downtown storefront and moved her operation to her hometown of neighboring Smithfield to concentrate on wholesale production, the Morning Sentinel reported in September.

The experience with the first winner spurred the three-year lease requirement in the current round.

Junior entrepreneurs make debut

The junior challenge had 63 competitors from three high schools. It was developed by Jobs for Maine's Graduates, as well as Skowhegan Savings and Main Street Skowhegan's Business Enhancement Committee.

Gallant participated in Mt. Blue High School's Entrepreneurial Program and pitched his startup idea in early March to the committee, which picked the three winners.

Gallant will use the $1,000 prize to start Gallant Media, which will provide computer services — including website and mobile app development, computer network and software installations — to small and medium-sized businesses in western Maine. He also developed Gallant WebMaster, a tool that will allow clients who don't have programming experience to build and manage their websites.

Second-place winners were Emily Edgerly, Shelby Belanger and Katie Worthen, of Madison High School, who developed Smart Planner, an organizational app for students. The school gets $450 of the $750 second-place prize, and the three entrepreneurs will split the remaining $300.

L. Enright Photography, a business idea developed by Skowhegan Area High School sophomore Lauren Enright, was the third-place winner. A portion of the $500 cash prize will be awarded to Enright as a scholarship for college, and the remainder goes to the entrepreneurship class at her high school.

Gary Perlson, education consultant at the MELMAC Education Foundation said the competition for the students is important on a large scale.

"Innovation and entrepreneurship are the cornerstones of the American economy," Perlson said. "Fostering these attributes in our young men and women is vital to the future of our state and nation."

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