The inaugural Wind River Startup Challenge has provided seed funding to five new businesses, launching a series of ventures that will contribute to the economy of the Wind River Indian Reservation, Fremont County, and the state of Wyoming.
Five finalist teams who participated in the Wind River Startup Challenge (WRSC) will each receive a portion of the $25,000 seed fund. The challenge, which took place virtually on May 30, kicked off with dancers from the Wind River Indian Reservation and featured business pitches from five teams of entrepreneurs.
The finalists were selected from an initial application pool of over twenty business concepts submitted by Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs from the Wind River community. An independent judging panel selected the winners as well as funding totals for each winning team to push each business to its next step.
The winning teams are:
HeavyHand Fencing, owned and operated by Kevin Goggles, has fifteen 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 region.
Reds Recon, founded by Letara and Red Lebeau, provides car detailing services to residents and organizations in the Wind River community and is looking to expand to a permanent facility in the future.
Taylor B’s T’s, founded by Taylor Bell, highlights Native athletes, artists, activists, and scholars on apparel, such as sports and casual wear. Clothing items will bear images of Wind River native-produced art, as well as local sports and academic stars and activists.
Intertribal Wellness, is owned and operated by Denyse Bergie, who is a certified PN-L1 nutrition coach and CF-L2 trainer, and Mike Ute. With their 10+ years of experience, Intertribal Wellness seeks to give clients access to a multi-faceted 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, is planned to be 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.
The startup challenge is funded by the National Science Foundation through Wyoming EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). 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 the University of Wyoming’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,” said James Trosper, director of the 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.”
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 said, 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.
The application period for next year's competition is currently 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 business.