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Monday, April 21, 10:14 a.m.
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Alumni organize biz competition

This January, the Maine Business School and the Foster Center for Student Innovation will join forces to assist the Maine Business Challenge, the brainchild of three recent University of Maine graduates.

The Maine Business Challenge will enable students to compete using their entrepreneurial spirits, as well as their original ideas for business. The winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize and $5,000 worth of consulting services.

2010 graduates Owen McCarthy, Matt Ciampa and James Morin teamed up to start the competition at UMaine and are investing $5,000 of their own money.

“We had great experiences at UMaine and are interested in giving back,” Ciampa said.

Owen McCarthy, a 2010 graduate with a degree in biological engineering, said his inspiration came from competitions at other universities, questioning, “Why wasn’t this at UMaine?”

Although the program is inspired by competitions at other universities, including Rice University in Houston, Texas, it is “not directly modeled after any of them,” Ciampa said.

“We are trying to put our own spin on it and make it unique to the University of Maine,” he said.

The university was willing to get on board and assist the program when McCarthy, Ciampa and Morin approached the Maine Business School and Foster Center for Student Innovation.

“They were very enthusiastic about our idea, and both were willing to go far beyond what we were expecting in terms of assisting our program,” Ciampa said. “We would not be able to make this a success without their help.”

“Owen wanted to make a big difference in students’ lives,” said Jesse Moriarty, coordinator for the Foster Center for Student Innovation. “It’s a labor of love for them.”

For now the three graduates remain the sole investors, but the team hopes that “the endowment available for future winners only increases,” according to Morin.

Rice University, with a more-established business challenge, gives away more than $1 million in prizes.

“Seeing as we still have student loans to pay off ourselves, we are capped for now,” Morin said. “On that note, the funds are run through the Alumni Foundation and do count as a tax deduction for those willing to help in our efforts.”

Although the details of the competition are still being worked out, there are no intentions to have this competition be grueling or draining for any student.

“It will not seem like an extra assignment or project for student participants. Overall, we want this to be fun,” Ciampa said.

Students from all majors are encouraged to participate. McCarthy anticipates business students will be the best fit but is excited to see students from varying backgrounds participate. The competition is open to both undergraduate and graduate students of the university.

“Hopefully it will encourage students and give them an incentive to think about ideas they have for a business and […] enable them to actually take it to market,” Ciampa said.

Maine is “predominantly comprised of small businesses,” Ciampa said.

He hopes people from this generation can start successful businesses to make a significant step in for Maine’s future.

McCarthy hopes this will affect the future of Maine by driving innovation in business. According to a 2010 Forbes report, the state of Maine was ranked 50th in nation on its Best Places for Businesses and Careers list.

“The way Matt, Owen, and I look at it, […] there is no place else to go but up,” Morin said.

The success of the competition at Rice University inspired the team, hoping to help jumpstart businesses in Maine. Morin stressed the fact that the Rice Business Challenge has helped start 120 businesses and helped keep them in business. The hope here is that similar results will come from the Maine Business Challenge.

As of now, most details have not been worked out. Who will judge and choose the winners is still undecided. The main focus lies on “spreading the word, [and] marketing to get interest,” said McCarthy.

The center offers free business counseling and coaching for students with business ideas or ideas for new inventions.

Moriarty said “a dozen students have already stopped in to get business counseling on their ideas,” and she believes that the competition has been well-received. Her main focus in helping the three alumni on their program is to market the idea.

Although not everyone who competes can win, McCarthy claims it will benefit all who enter.

“Everyone will get a little something out of it,” he said.