LEWISTON — While bankers, business leaders and politicians talked, Chelsea Fournier teetered in her front-row seat.
"I didn't really hear the speeches," said Fournier, who was one of two finalists in a contest worth almost $100,000 in business startup aid. Instead, she thought about how the announcement could change her life. She thought about what to say in her final pitch for the prize.
A moment later, she stood to accept the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council's Launch LA Award as her mother, Elaine Fournier, sat in the audience and cried.
When Chelsea Fournier she saw her mom, Chelsea's tears began to flow.
"This whole process has been amazing," she said.
The award — which includes rent money, advertising aid, accounting help and legal advice — was created as a way to signal young entrepreneurs that the local area wants them here.
The money will help Fournier jump-start her massage business, tentatively called Lifestyles Massage Therapy Center.
Fournier said has already started looking at properties: two in Auburn and one in Lewiston. Working with her sister, Kim Jacques, she hopes to start the business as early as the fall.
The venture narrowly defeated the other finalist in online voting. Finalist Donald Havener proposed a ski and snowboard safety company, The Havener Hot Plate, that would design and manufacture a device aimed at preventing injuries and avoiding unwanted ski releases.
About 2,000 votes were cast online, growth council Chairman Alan Hahnel said. In the end, only 35 votes separated Fournier and Havener.
Though disappointed, Havener said he was happy he entered the contest, particularly for the business contacts he made.
As runner-up, he was awarded $3,500 worth of assistance from Encompass Marketing, $1,000 in services from Gleason Media Group and a free membership in the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce.
It may be a while before he uses the help.
The Turner native is working as an engineer in Massachusetts and is enrolled as a graduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
"I want to come back eventually," he said.
However, he said he plans to enter the Mass Challenge, a similar contest with $50,000 to $100,000 in prizes. As the name implies, it's run, in part, by the state of Massachusetts.
The local growth council kicked off its contest last September, limiting eligibility to people from the local area who are under 30, have moved away and wish to open a business in Lewiston-Auburn. Entries came in from Maine and several other states.
Detailed applications — each including business plans and financial data — were whittled down to the two finalists.
Fournier's application included a video that spelled out her business proposal, which aims to collect memberships like a gym and give a portion of its profits to local charities.
When the award was complete, Fournier's dad, Lee, smiled and proudly snapped photos as she talked with local leaders.
"I'm more proud of the way she presented herself," he said.
It's uncertain whether there will be another Launch LA contest, said Lucien Gosselin, the growth council's executive director.
The contest was championed by Paul Badeau, the council's former marketing director. Two weeks ago, Badeau left to take a job with Efficiency Maine.
Several of this year's donors have already expressed interest in helping next year, Gosselin said. And the publicity drawn to the growth council by the contest was far wider than predicted.
Badeau had described being interviewed for news stories about the contest from media as far away as Minnesota.
Either way, the growth council plans to offer help to both Fournier and Havener.
"We'll provide as much support as we possibly can," Gosselin said.