Budding entrepreneurs in the Lewiston-Auburn area will be the primary beneficiaries of $640,000 in federal grant money to support entrepreneurial programs in Maine.

The Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development will receive $390,000 to expand its Top Gun mentoring program into the Lewiston-Auburn area, adding roughly 10 slots by 2017 for nascent businesses. Top Gun helps emerging businesses grow beyond the startup phase and into sustainable enterprises by connecting them with experienced business leaders. It already has programs in Greater Portland, Rockland and Bangor.

Coastal Enterprises Inc., a Brunswick-based investment firm and consultancy, will receive $250,000 to fund research and preparatory work to create a seed capital fund that would funnel investors’ dollars toward emerging natural resource-based businesses.

Joining in Monday’s announcement were U.S. Sen. Angus King, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams.

Maine captured two of the 25 grants awarded this year, which in total came to $10 million, allocated through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s 2015 Regional Innovation Strategies Program. It’s designed to advance innovation and capacity-building activities in regions across the country.

Don Gooding, the Maine entrepreneurial center’s executive director, said the five-month Top Gun program this year will accept about 30 applicants from the existing service areas in Greater Portland, Bangor and Rockland. The additional 10 slots will be added when the Lewiston-Auburn program comes on line in 2017.

The Lewiston-Auburn Growth Council will be the partner organization, Gooding said.

“We’re working with them to recruit companies and mentors and speakers,” he said. “They’ll be using our playbook for how to put this program together.”

More than 110 entrepreneurs have gone through the program since it was created in 2009 to kick-start the state’s startup community. Some of Maine’s most promising businesses have graduated from the program, including Rapport, a company that builds cloud-based software to track corporate sustainability efforts. It was the winner of last summer’s Top Gun pitch contest, which came with a $10,000 prize and a pledge from Microsoft for $60,000 in software and services.

At Coastal Enterprises Inc., the money will be put to use behind the scenes by staff there to develop a seed capital fund for natural resource-based businesses.

First, CEI must perform at least 18 months of research and development, learning about the needs of emerging Maine natural resource-based companies.

“Our goal is to better analyze the Maine landscape for size, scale and scope for seed capital,” said Keith Bisson, CEI’s senior vice president for management and development. “We’re seeing more and more of a gap when (new businesses are) trying to build and scale up.”

Among the potential businesses are producers of sea vegetables, such as kelp, and shellfish farmers, who are leasing intertidal areas along Maine’s coast in increasing numbers.

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