Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, right, talks with Staples Connect’s Team Supervisor Blake Major, left, and General Manager Jameson Rodrigues inside the new coworking center where three entrepreneurs from a pool of applicants will get help with their startup, including a dedicated free coworking space for four months, through the Startup Auburn competition. Rodrigues is an Edward Little High School graduate and said he’s excited about growing the business in his hometown. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The city of Auburn’s latest economic development initiative, an entrepreneurial incubator inside a new Staples Connect retail store, could someday be replicated across the country, Mayor Jason Levesque said Monday.

The idea for Startup Auburn came together quickly, he said, as he and Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President Shanna Cox were gearing up for the ribbon cutting on the new store, which moved from across the river in Lewiston into the former OfficeMax this month.

“My biggest holdup when I started my business was I had no money, an old laptop and my living room; there was no such thing as a coworking space,” said Levesque, who grew Argo Marketing to 600 employees in three countries before selling it in 2018.

The new Staples Connect on Union Street in Auburn, where the former OfficeMax was located. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

With Startup Auburn, three entrepreneurs will be chosen by Jan. 1 to receive four months of private office space, a $500 Staples gift certificate and a year membership in the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce to get their ideas off the ground.

Both the chamber and Staples are also partners in the effort.

It’s open to Auburn residents. Applications will open in the next week at goauburn.me.

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The new 24,000-square foot Staples Connect has 1,500 square feet dedicated to coworking space with private offices and both dedicated and open seating and a large conference room, according to a spokesperson.

Space can be rented by the day or month, or with the conference room, by the hour.

For the contest, Levesque approached Staples about renting three cubicles for three months. He said they liked the idea so much, Staples upgraded the space to private offices, covered a fourth month and added the gift certificates.

“This is only the second coworking space of this size and magnitude (by Staples) in the country; the other one is in Los Angeles, so they really think there’s a huge need for this, and they’re right,” Levesque said. “We can run this pilot, see how it works, track it and if it’s successful, we’ll just keep rolling it out so there’s always three dedicated offices available to entrepreneurs from Auburn.”

The three spaces will cost the city $3,600 in this first round, which, if it potentially helps launch three new companies, is an “unbelievably strong” return on investment, he said.

“I’ll be working with the entrepreneurs, too, because that’s part of the package,” Levesque said. “I’m going to dust off all my old marketing knowledge, my communications knowledge and work with these folks as a mentor, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Quick hits about business comings, goings and happenings. Have a Buzzable tip? Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or [email protected].

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