Three University of Maine graduates have pledged $5,000 to fund the first annual Maine Business Challenge, a competition that awards cash prizes to entrepreneurs who develop winning business plans.

Owen McCarthy of Patten, James Morin of Lewiston and Matt Ciampa of York are the graduates helping fund the competition, which they created in partnership with the University of Maine’s Maine Business School and the Foster Center for Student Innovation, said a media release.

The program, which launches this month, was modeled after a similar competition at Rice University.  Winners received $5,000 cash and $5,000 worth of consulting services.

McCarthy said the competition will help support entrepreneurs and the economy.

“The competition strives to contribute to the long-term growth of Maine’s economy,” he said in the release. “We want this challenge to enable and inspire others with a long-term mission of helping to fuel and drive small business in the state of Maine.” 

Candidates can submit plans for a new business, or plans to improve an existing business. Applicants will be announced in January and judges will score plans in April.

Entrepreneurs interested in competing should send an email to umainebusinesschallenge@gmail.com

Competitions like the Maine Business Challenge have helped other start-up firms in Maine get off the ground.

Earlier this year, Seabren and Whitney Reeves of Brunswick won the University of Southern Maine’s Student Business Plan Competition. They submitted a plan for Bitzy Baby, a company that makes a baby’s crib liner.

With the award, which included $10,000 in cash and $15,000 in consulting services, the husband-wife couple launched their company. They expect to start delivering products in November.