ORONO, Maine — In today’s economy, starting up a business is hard.

With that in mind, three 2010 University of Maine graduates are partnering with the Maine Business School and the Center for Student Innovation to create the first Maine Business Challenge to help turn one young entrepreneur’s dream into reality.

The competition was created to financially assist UMaine students looking to start a business. According to Owen McCarthy, one of the three alumni who helped make the contest possible, the winner will receive a $5,000 cash reward as well as $5,000 in consulting services.

In a press release, McCarthy explained the purpose of the competition and how he hopes it will serve the state in the future.

“We want this challenge to enable and inspire others with a long-term mission of helping to fuel and drive small businesses in the state of Maine.” McCarthy said.

Other contributors to the project include James Morin of Lewiston and Matt Ciampa of York. Like McCarthy, both still have strong ties to UMaine. The three graduates have pledged $5,000 of their own money to create the competition and are currently seeking additional contributions in order to make the project an annual event.

According to McCarthy, the challenge is modeled after an established competition at Rice University in Houston, which started out by offering $10,000 in prizes its first year and now, a decade later, offers more than $1 million in prizes each year.

In order to be eligible for the competition, proposed business plans must be either new enterprises or improve upon an existing ones. The contest begins later this month with the “intent to participate phase.” In January official applications will be announced, and from January through April the competition takes place with students working on their proposals. At the end of the competition a panel of judges will rate and score the proposals to determine a winner.

“The money and services going to the winners of the [competition are] not a handout,” Morin said in the press release. “[They are] an investment in an innovative and creative person who we believe will change the course of economic prosperity in the state of Maine by providing jobs and services for Maine residents.”