PRESQUE ISLE, Maine— Three Aroostook County business owners are in the running to win an award that is being handed out for the first time by two partnering county groups.
Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development (LEAD) and Momentum Aroostook announced earlier this week that they are poised to name one of the three as northern Maine’s 2009 Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
Fourteen Aroostook County people were nominated.
The top three finalists are: Matthew Bell, owner of Northeast Pellets in Ashland; Emily Smith, co-owner of Smith’s Farm Inc. in Presque Isle; and Melanie Stewart, owner of Mojo in Presque Isle.
An outstanding student entrepreneur will be selected from finalists Abby Small, co-owner of Small Steps Dance in Caribou, and Jeremiah Sjoberg, owner of Jeremiah Sjoberg Photography in Washburn.
LEAD has worked for more than 20 years to encourage balanced development in Aroostook County, and Momentum Aroostook is a group of County residents ages 20 to 40 who have connected for career, social and community betterment.
Prior to the announcement of the winner, each of the finalists will speak at the joint annual meeting of Aroostook Partnership for Progress and LEAD.
The meeting will take place June 12 in the library and Edmunds Conference Center at Northern Maine Community College. The event begins at 7:30 a.m.
Applications were submitted in February during National Entrepreneurship Week. The judges sought people ages 16 through 40 who own, operate, or are involved in a partnership within northern Maine. The judges also asked that the nominees “inspire others with their vision, leadership, and achievement.”
Stewart, who opened Mojo in July 2006, said Wednesday that she was “caught off guard completely” when she heard that she was a finalist. Her Presque Isle sporting goods store sells bicycles, skis, kayaks and other equipment and apparel. The business also organizes a number of events such as family bike rides and other sports activities.
Stewart said that such sports are “passions of mine” and that she hopes to grow her business soon.
“It was an honor to be named as a finalist,” she said.
Bell, owner of Northeast Pellets, opened his pellet manufacturing business in 2005.
“I was inspired to create the business because my parents have a pellet stove and I also have a liking for mechanics,” he said.
Bell created a business plan and went to work, but he experienced a major setback earlier this year when the business was gutted by fire in early April.
Bell said that the rebuilding is going well and the new building will be “slightly larger and more sophisticated.”
Smith of Smith’s Farm Inc. said Wednesday that she is one of four partners in her family business. The farm primarily grows broccoli but also raises some grain crops.
Smith said she has pretty much been working on the farm — which was established in 1859 — her whole life. After graduating from Northern Maine Technical College —forerunner of Northern Maine Community College — in 1997, she came back to be a partner in the family business.
“It is quite an honor to be nominated by somebody, let alone to be a finalist,” she said Wednesday.
A $500 award for the 2009 Young Entrepreneur of the Year and an award of $250 for the 2009 Student Entrepreneur, plus a 3-credit-hour tuition certificate for the winning student to use at either Husson University, Northern Maine Community College, University of Maine at Fort Kent or University of Maine at Presque Isle, will be presented at the meeting.