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Published May 26, 2020
Five businesses created by tribal entrepreneurs from the Wind River Indian Reservation will pitch their concepts to a virtual audience and panel of judges Saturday, May 30.
The Wind River Startup Challenge aims to secure a new path for Native American entrepreneurs to advance their ventures through advising, support and debt-free startup capital.
“The University of Wyoming is proud to enter into partnership with the entrepreneurs of the Wind River Indian Reservation to enable them to illuminate pathways along which their ideas will flourish and bring benefit to their communities,” says Ed Synakowski, UW’s vice president for research and economic development.
Finalists emerged from a broad pool of applicants in March and, with support from business coaches, developed their business models over the past two months. Finalists will pitch their ideas in hope of securing a portion of the $25,000 available in seed funding. While the final awards are competitive, the challenge is a cooperative effort to support entrepreneurs who aspire to take their businesses to new heights.
“Small businesses are incredibly impactful on our local economies because of their ability to strengthen communities,” says David Bohling, director of the Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC) in Laramie. “The potential for tribal and reservation impacts goes far beyond the teams’ individual successes.”
The challenge is a collaboration among Wyoming EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) sponsored by the National Science Foundation; a group driven by the WTBC; the Wind River reservation’s two sovereign tribes, Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho; the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network; Central Wyoming College; and UW’s High Plains American Indian Research Institute (HPAIRI).
“The current economic climate has strengthened our resolve to encourage economic development at the community level on the Wind River Indian Reservation,” says James Trosper, HPAIRI director. “With the casinos closed and oil and gas prices low, it’s clear that the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho need to encourage diversification of our economies and creation of small businesses. This startup challenge is a tool to do both.”
In response to COVID-19 restrictions, the event will be streamed live via YouTube, and audience members can watch each finalist’s pitch and question-and-answer session. The event will begin at 12:30 p.m. with live drum and dance performances by Corwin Howell, Cory Lamebear, Talon Gardner, Raylene Fox and Dinayla Augustine, followed by a prayer and introduction at 1 p.m.
“The business proposals submitted for our first year were impressive,” Trosper says. “The judges for this challenge will have a tough time selecting the winner.”
-- Red’s Recon Automotive Detail, founded by Letara and Red Lebeau, provides car detailing services to residents and organizations in the community. Red’s Recon proposes to expand to a permanent facility.
-- Stephanie C’Hair, a certified cosmetologist, intends to open a salon on the Wind River Indian Reservation and plans to offer a variety of salon services, such as haircuts, lash extensions and facials.
-- Heavy Hand Fencing, owned by Kevin Goggles, has five years of experience with providing farmers, ranchers and homeowners with quality fencing. Heavy Hand Fencing offers a variety of fencing options, from chained link to barbed wire, and offers maintenance and repairs throughout the Wind River region.
-- Taylor Bell seeks to lift up talented, passionate and distinguished individuals through targeted sports/casual wear. Clothing items will bear images of Wind River Native-produced art and local sports and academic stars.
-- Intertribal Wellness was founded by Denyse Bergie, who has over a decade of experience and is a certified PN-L1 nutrition coach and CF-L2 trainer. She seeks to give clients access to a multifaceted wellness business focused on sound nutrition advice and coaching; efficient and proven adult physical fitness options; and youth physical fitness programs that are both progressive and fun.
“My experience in the Wind River Startup Challenge has helped me develop and design a business model that we can sustain,” Bergie says.
Over the past three months, each finalist worked to perfect his or her pitch. Everyone involved in the project is eager to support each finalist and celebrate their successes, regardless of who is the funding winner, Trosper says.
“I’m particularly excited to see how our tribal colleagues use their experience to solve problems for their community with small businesses,” says Wyoming EPSCoR Project Director Brent Ewers.
More information, including the YouTube link, can be found at www.windriverstartupchallenge.com.