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Five exciting businesses, created by tribal entrepreneurs from the Wind River Indian Reservation, will pitch their concepts to a virtual audience and panel of judges on Saturday, May 30th. 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 Edmund Synakowski, Vice President of Research and Economic Development for UW.

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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 hopes of securing a portion of the $25,000 available in seed funds. 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 Dr. 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 between Wyoming EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) sponsored by the National Science Foundation, a group driven by the WTBC, the Wind River’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.

“The current economic climate has strengthened our resolve to encourage economic development at the community level on the Wind River Indian Reservation,” said James Trosper, Director of the High Plains American Indian Research Institute. “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 Q&A. The event will begin at 12:30 pm with a live drum and dance performances by Corwin Howell, Cory Lamebear, Talon Gardner, Raylene Fox, and Dinayla Augustine followed by a prayer and introduction at 1:00 pm.

“The business proposals submitted for our first year were impressive,” said Trosper. “The judges for this challenge will have a tough time selecting the winner.”

Finalists are:

— 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.

— Intertribal Wellness, founded by Denyse Bergie, has over a decade of experience and is a certified PN-L1 nutrition coach and CF-L2 trainer, seeks to give clients access to a multi-faceted wellness business which focuses on sound nutrition advice and coaching, efficient and proven adult physical fitness options, and youth physical fitness programs that are both progressive and fun!

— 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.

“My experience in the Wind River Startup challenge has helped me develop and design a business model that we can sustain” says Denyse Bergie.

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 funds received.

“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.

Information with the YouTube link can be found at www.windriverstartupchallenge.com.

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