Seed funding from the inaugural Wind River Startup Challenge (WRSC) will help five new businesses launch a series of ventures that will contribute to the economy of the Wind River Indian Reservation, Fremont County and Wyoming.
The five finalist teams that participated in the WRSC each will receive a portion of the $25,000 seed fund. The challenge, which took place virtually May 30, featured business pitches from the entrepreneurs. Dancers from the Wind River Indian Reservation opened the pitch program.
The National Science Foundation, through Wyoming EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research), funds the startup challenge. Finalists received and can continue to access counseling and coaching from staff from the University of Wyoming’s Small Business Development Center, Central Wyoming College and UW’s IMPACT 307, with additional support from UW’s High Plains American Indian Research Institute.
“We are thrilled to have the participation from the entrepreneurs and congratulate them on making it to the final round,” says James Trosper, director of UW’s High Plains American Indian Research Institute. “Everyone put in a lot of hard work, and we encourage those who didn’t make the final to apply again in the future.”
Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribal entrepreneurs from the Wind River community originally submitted 20 business concepts. An independent judging panel selected the winners, as well as funding totals for each winning team to help push each business to its next step.
The winning teams are:
— Heavy Hand Fencing, owned and operated by Kevin Goggles, which has 15 years of experience and offers quality fencing for ranchers, farmers and homeowners. Heavy Hand Fencing offers a variety of fencing options from chained link to barbed wire, and offers maintenance and repairs throughout the Wind River Indian Reservation region.
— Reds Recon Automotive Detail, founded by Letara and Red Lebeau, which provides car-detailing services to residents and organizations in the community. Reds Recon proposes to expand to a permanent facility.
— Taylor B’s T’s, founded by Taylor Bell, which highlights Native athletes, artists, activists and scholars on apparel, such as sports and casual wear. Clothing items will bear images of Wind River Indian Reservation Native-produced art, as well as local sports and academic stars and activists.
— Intertribal Wellness, which is owned and operated by Denyse Bergie, a certified PN-L1 nutrition coach and CF-L2 trainer, and Mike Ute. With their 10-plus years of experience, Intertribal Wellness seeks to give clients access to a multifaceted wellness business that focuses on nutrition advice and coaching; efficient and proven adult physical fitness options; and youth physical fitness programs that are both impactful and enjoyable.
— Wildflower Salon & Spa, established by Stephanie C’Hair, a certified cosmetologist. She plans a salon located on the Wind River Indian Reservation that will offer a variety of salon services, such as haircuts, lash extensions, and facials for both men and women.
Though the startup challenge was initially funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and other donors, organizers are already taking steps to secure longer-term funding to continue the program and inspire more entrepreneurs to pursue their business ideas.
“We want to make sure others from Wind River can follow in their footsteps of this year’s winners and carry on the long-standing Native tradition of entrepreneurship and commerce,” Trosper says, indicating that there are efforts to make the Wind River Startup Challenge sustainable for years to come.
“Organizers and supporters of the Wind River Startup Challenge are currently examining ways to fund the challenge for the long term to ensure more residents of the reservation have this great opportunity,” Trosper adds.
The application period for next year’s competition is set for early 2021. Wind River Indian Reservation residents are encouraged to apply with their business ideas for a chance to compete and pitch to help start and grow their businesses.