Local business startups have unique access to resources that will soon spread throughout the state.
Thanks to an investment of $2.4 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, Impact 307 will expand to more rural areas in Wyoming. While the program is primarily in-person, some virtual work will be done to cut down on travel requirements for business owners and instructors.
Impact 307 is a business incubator program that was founded in 2005. The group works through the University of Wyoming to help entrepreneurs connect with resources and expertise that allows them to create thriving businesses.
The expansion will include collaboration with each of the community colleges in Wyoming, which serve as hubs for people interested in learning more about entrepreneurship, said Fred Schmechel, interim director for Impact 307.
Impact 307 now operates out of Laramie, Casper and Sheridan, and will soon announce a fourth main location for the program.
“I am incredibly hopeful,” Schmechel said. “I like telling people I work in the most hopeful place in all of Wyoming, because it’s a place where people come together to make their own opportunities.”
Impact 307 offers six startup challenges, but is working to increase that number to 12 with the extra money.
The challenges inspire potential future business owners to come up with a business model centered around solving a problem using new and innovative approaches.
“The startup challenges are the best tool we have for generating new companies,” Schmechel said. “In history, we’ve launched more than 200 companies. More than half of those have been in the last three years.”
The group works with anyone interested in starting a business, Schmechel said. They don’t have to be a student or have a business background. The main idea of the program is simply to help people take their ideas and turn them into something launchable.
“We were kind of in a lull, and (Impact 307) literally got us on our feet,” sauid Melissa Ross, co-owner of Link, a cycling technology startup now based in Laramie. “We literally went from getting stuck to getting back (and) having more resources and people to guide us.”
Ross and her husband, Aaron, started their company in 2018 as a cycling wind tunnel business, where cyclists could train and learn how to be as fast as possible by eliminating factors such as wind drag.
Things got moving for the pair after they participated in a 2019 Impact 307 launchpad program that provided them with mentorship that helped them move their company from Arizona to Wyoming and to perfect a business pitch.
At the start of the pandemic, the Rosses changed directions and now offer custom fitting for cyclists and triathletes. This helps athletes to be more comfortable and efficient on their bikes. It also has allowed the company to stay afloat during a difficult COVID-19 pandemic economy.
“When COVID-19 hit, that changed a lot of things because of supply chain (problems) and cost of building (that) doubled,” Ross said. “It just became a much more long-term project than what it was set out to be.”
The company has been operating virtually, but will have its storefront’s grand opening next Thursday.
With the ongoing support of Impact 307, the pair hopes to fill a niche in the state and eventually share economic success with the community by hiring UW graduates.
“This type of service we offer isn’t even offered in the entire state of Wyoming,” Ross said. “We’re offering a new service.”
About 2,400 Wyoming businesses shut their doors between March 2019 and March 2020. Over the same period, about 2,490 opened, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Small businesses in the state exported $872 million worth of goods in 2020.