Entrepreneurs or existing business owners with ideas for new ventures in downtown Gardiner have the chance to win $5,000 in a business plan contest launched recently by Gardiner Main Street.

The contest, which opened at the beginning of this month, is asking people to submit one- to two-page pitches by Oct. 1 describing their ideas. A committee of members from Gardiner Main Street and the Gardiner Board of Trade will select several of the ideas, asking applicants to submit full business plans by Oct. 20. The committee will then choose up to three of the plans as finalists.

An online and in-person public vote will be held Nov. 4 to Nov. 9 to select the winner. The winning business must sign a lease with a property owner by Dec. 31 and open by June 1, 2015.

“We’re giving an opportunity to really create the community’s buy-in and support of these businesses,” said Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street. “And this is the core of supporting a strong local economy.”

When people vote for a business to win, they have established connections with the business and become a potential customer down the line, Wright said.

He said the downtown revitalization organization would like to see all the finalists eventually open businesses downtown, even if they don’t win the cash prize.

The group also is looking for additional community support to add $1,000 to the winner’s prize through an online crowdfunding campaign on the GoFundMe website.

The $5,000 is funded by an implementation grant from the Orton Family Foundation’s Heart & Soul project, a two-year planning project for the city that ended near the beginning of the year. The winning business plan also will receive three months of payroll services and a waived activation fee from Paychex Inc., a photo shoot from AngiMarie Photography and a year’s membership to the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce and Gardiner’s Buy Local program.

Another recent business incentive program from Gardiner Main Street helped bring Frosty’s Donuts to downtown in June, but the group hasn’t received any other applications that met the program’s requirements. The program, called Gardiner Growth Initiative, is offering forgivable loans for infrastructure costs, grants for working capital and free rent for long-term leases with some landlords.

Unlike that program, which targets established businesses looking to expand, the business plan contest is geared toward entrepreneurs and start-up companies, Wright said.

The contest is open to new ventures, businesses from elsewhere interested in opening a new location in downtown Gardiner and expansions of current downtown businesses that include an additional business concept or an expanded footprint.

Preference will be given to types of business previously identified by the organization as business targets, including restaurants with space for live music, seafood and ethnic cuisine restaurants, places for family entertainment, medical services and elder care, professional services and specialty retailers such as food markets and outdoor recreation stores.

Details of the business plan contest can be found on Gardiner Main Street’s website.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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