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Challenge Wyoming: A new start-up competition looks to jump-start business in Wyoming

Twelve people stand in a line in front of a presentation screen.
Adelita Duryea of Sprout & Scale Marketing

A group of state investors and business leaders known as Impact 307 are trying to spur innovation in Wyoming, and a brand new competition that took place in Gillette is doing just that. The first Annual Energy Capital Start-Up Challenge chose three unique ideas made by Wyomingites. Jordan Uplinger spoke with Scot Rendall, the head of The Energy Capital Start-Up.

Editor's Note: This story has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Jordan Uplinger: Before we jump into the competition, let's talk a little bit about the history. Did this come out of a want for Wyoming to open up for business? Are they trying to get more homegrown businesses here? Or was it just kind of a way for potential investors to see who is creatively operating in the free market here?

Scot Rendall: So Impact 307 has been running startup challenges for quite a few years now. And the idea is to find people that may be contemplating a new business or contemplating an idea, but really haven't acted on the idea. That competition actually serves as a nice spark for getting them kind of engaged to pursue something. And so some grant funding has come up in the last three years. Through that grant, we have been able to expand our Startup Challenge footprint to about 11 different communities across the state. Most recently, the startup challenge that we had last week in Gillette, which was called the Energy Capital Startup Challenge because it encompasses Campbell County as well as a lot of the rural counties to the east.

JU: What do you see as a long-term goal with each of these passing competitions? Is it to see one of these startup ideas flourish and become a large business or corporation now based in Wyoming? Or just to get people off the ground, and then what happens from there happens?

SR: We're hoping to maximize the number of startup entrepreneurs that are successful in starting and growing a business. And so some of those might just be a handful of people that they would employ. It might be four or five people, but that's four or five jobs that didn't exist prior to our program. All the way up to, if we have someone that goes through our startup challenge process, continues to work on their plan, attracts the attention of venture capitalists or angel investors and gets additional funding. We would hope that we would have a few home runs out there that would have significant numbers of people that they employ. And it's all based out of Wyoming, that would be great.

JU: And let's talk about some of those potential products and services too. Can you talk about the three winners from the competition?

SR: The three winners for Gillette were wind turbine blade recycling. So we have a father and son combination in conjunction and are in partnership with the Western Research Institute. They are doing research into the feasibility of producing usable material and products out of recycled wind turbine blades. So they are driving a lot of the technology. The group in Gillette would take basically shredded blade material and be able to, through manufacturing processes, produce usable materials out of that recycled content. And so that's a very intriguing idea. It's very early stage. With the number of turbines that are going up across the country, it's going to be a pretty significant industry to get into. So that's one of the winners of our energy capital challenge.

Baldacci Guitars was another winner. So this is an individual, Connor Baldacci, that has an existing custom guitar manufacturing business. He's been very passionate about that. He's got a really nice start, he made a really nice presentation. I think he's got a great future. Hopefully, making that a really nice business that would be based out of Gillette.

Then the final winner was a company called AG-innovations, and this is a ranching couple. And they had developed what they call a water repeller. That keeps a ripple of water on the surface of a stock tank that will hopefully keep a small portion of the tank open for stock to come in and get water in the wintertime.

JU: Let's say someone came to you with a device that says, 'I'm going to give you the most return in a certain industry, but the device is going to do it by replacing the worker.' Automation essentially. Does that go against the purpose of such competition? Because a lot of times you mentioned, 'We're trying to maximize employment here as well.' So I'm just curious if automation as a development idea contradicts the purpose of some of the startup challenges.

SR: So I would say that yeah, that could happen. But a lot of times those types of businesses that produce huge breakthroughs in efficiency in automation, have their own personnel and staff that they need to hire to be able to develop and proliferate what they've done. So I would say that it's possible. But a lot of time it still ends up being a significant operation that contributes to the overall nation's economy, which is great.

Jordan Uplinger was born in NJ but has traveled since 2013 for academic study and work in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He gained experience in a multitude of areas, including general aviation, video editing, and political science. In 2021, Jordan's travels brought him to find work with the Wyoming Conservation Corps as a member of Americorps. After a season with WCC, Jordan continued his Americorps service with the local non-profit, Feeding Laramie Valley. His deep interest in the national discourse on class, identity, American politics and the state of material conditions globally has led him to his current internship with Wyoming Public Radio and NPR.
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