After months of refining their business plans, the Wind River Startup Challenge's five finalists pitched a panel of judges on Saturday. Each Native-owned businesses was awarded a portion of the challenge's $25,000 seed fund, but the big winners were a hair salon and a fencing company, which received $10,000 each in debt-free capital.
Stephanie C'Hair said during the virtual pitch day that she will use the prize money to open the Wind River Reservation's only full service beauty salon, called the Wildflower Salon and Spa. She plans to rent a business space with Northern Arapaho Tribe's Wind River Hotel and Casino
"Based on the heavy foot traffic in the Wind River Hotel and Casino and already established clientele, I expect my business to show a minimum growth of 5 percent each year," C'Hair said.
Though the Wind River Hotel and Casino is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, C'Hair said she hopes to sign a lease on a space in the coming months.
The Wind River Startup Challenge is operated by the Wyoming Technology Business Center, in collaboration with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes, the Wyoming Small Business Development Center, Central Wyoming College, and the University of Wyoming's High Plains American Indian Research Institute. The $25,000 prize money came from Wyoming's Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.
The goal of the challenge is to stimulate economic development and job creation on the Wind River Reservation. The judges were on the lookout for businesses that addressed a community need and showed growth potential.
Kevin Goggles, owner-operator of Heavy Hand Fencing, has been providing fencing service primarily to ranchers on the reservation for 15 years. He said the $10,000 boost from the Startup Challenge will help him put other community members to work.
"In a year, I plan to expand my company by 25 percent, with more jobs coming in. In five years I plan on having two crews," Goggles said during his pitch. "This has always been a dream of mine and I'm working hard to make it happen, not only for me but for our community to have local opportunities and to receive reliable, efficient help."
On Saturday, a fitness and nutrition startup called Intertribal Wellness received $3,000 in seed money. Red's Recon Automotive Detail and a clothing line featuring images of local Wind River art, athletes and academic stars were awarded $1,000 each from the startup fund. The five finalists and contestants who did not reach the final round of the challenge will continue to have access to business advising and mentorship.
The Wyoming Technology and Business Center and its partners will host the second Wind River Startup Challenge in 2021. Interested tribal entrepreneurs are encouraged to seek feedback and advice on their business plans as early as this summer.
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