Lake Hebron in Monson is almost done thawing out in this file photo from April 2017 Credit: Nick Sambides Jr. / BDN

A Monson organization wants to give $12,000 to creative entrepreneurs or small-business owners planning to grow their operations in and around the rural town for its first-ever business pitch competition.

The Monson Collaborative, a group of volunteers whose goal is to bring vitality to downtown Monson, is hosting the business exposition and potluck from 5 to 7 p.m. May 6.

Participants will have five minutes to pitch their business ideas, which can be done through a presentation, video, song or another medium that makes sense. The attendees will select the winners, who can request up to $3,000. Participants must reside in or have a business based in Monson, Blanchard, Elliotsville, Shirley or Willimantic.

Pitch competitions are becoming more popular in Maine communities that hope to spur new development, though they aren’t common in rural towns the size of Monson, which is home to roughly 700 residents. Whether in Portland or more recently Skowhegan, the events allow entrepreneurs to network and compete for funding to launch their plans.

“I’m very excited because it’s hard for people of all generations to start a business,” said Monson Collaborative chairperson Kassie Hefferan. “The idea can be quite daunting. Monson is a place of inclusivity. We want to give people the tools they need to succeed.”

Monson Collaborative members hope that by hosting events like this more people are encouraged to visit the Piscataquis County town. The rich history, creativity of locals and quiet lifestyle might even draw them to move here and begin their own business ventures, especially as remote jobs are becoming more common, Hefferan said.

The group received $12,000 from the Maine Development Foundation last fall and spent about three months coming up with a way to use the funding to aid entrepreneurs. The number of “micro grants” awarded during the competition will depend on how much funding participants are seeking, she said.

Winners will receive memberships to the town’s business association and a business consultation with Brunswick-based Coastal Enterprises, Inc., a nonprofit that helps rural regions with integrating finance and business expertise and policy solutions in ways that make the economy more equitable.

They will also be featured on Monson’s recently revamped website and will interview another winner to encourage networking, Hefferan said.

Monson Collaborative will choose one winner under the age of 21 and another “Collaborative Choice” winner whose pitch perhaps wasn’t the strongest, but who has an idea with good bones and deserves support, she said. The public will select the other winners, and an extra vote is given to attendees who bring a dish to share during the potluck.

Hefferan said the rules for the event are looser than other pitch competitions, some of which include a lab component for participants to prepare their pitches, but this was done intentionally. The idea is to drum up as much community engagement as possible, she said, and more structure will likely be added to future iterations of the exposition.

Six people have already signed up to participate, including a photography studio owner, a young baker and someone who makes slate coasters, among others.

“We really hope kids come out and participate too,” Hefferan said, noting schools are sharing information with students. “You see it online every day that someone’s lemonade stand ends up taking off.”

Monson Collaborative, which has been around for four years, is a Maine Downtown Center group working with the Maine Development Foundation to promote local businesses, outdoor recreation, the arts and food tourism. The group is an affiliate of the national Main Street America program.

“We’re doing as much as we can to make sure the town has every opportunity for entrepreneurs and the like,” Hefferan said. “We have people here who are happy to mentor. Community members are excited to see young people try to be movers and shakers and make things happen.”