(Riverton, WY) – The 3rd annual Wind River Startup Challenge happened on Saturday, May 4 at Central Wyoming College with entrepreneurs vying for seed funding from a pot of $50,000.
Jessica Swallow, Shay Jimerson, Brittney Niedo, and Jaren Brown & Ryan Axthelm all pitched their business ideas to a panel of five judges, who had to decide how to allocate the funds.
The Wind River Startup Challenge is a platform for Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribal and community members to launch businesses and compete for seed funding. This year’s finalists have been working with business counselors for several months to develop and hone their business concepts. This was also the very first year the entrepreneurs pitched their ideas in-person.
Jessica Swallow’s Ootsie Ohant received $20,000. Her store will offer name-brand baby and children’s apparel at affordable prices. It will also feature a photo booth with seasonal backdrops and custom, heat-pressed shirts.
Shay Jimerson’s Native Precision received $5,000. Her business will focus on strengthening Native American-owned businesses. It will provide business needs analysis, website development and branding, front-end and back-end development, UX/UI design and powwow consulting.
Brittney Niedo’s Brittney’s Baristas received $5,000. Her business will feature a mobile coffee truck that will sell freshly brewed craft coffee drinks and baked goods in Ethete and at local events.
Jaren Brown & Ryan Axthelm’s Tree Keepers received $20,000. They are a full-service tree care business. Trims, removals, pruning/hedging, transplanting, stump grinding and overall plant healthcare are what they offer on the Wind River Reservation and beyond. They also received the audience choice award for an additional $1,000.
Judges this year included Cy Lee, Northern Arapaho Tribal Liaison; Ivan Posey, Tribal Education Services Coordinator; Chris Von Holtum, President of Central Bank and Trust; Julie Buller, Fremont County Economic Developer; and Mick Pryor, Edward Jones Financial Advisor.
The afternoon also included guest speakers: Tarissa Spoonhunter, Associate Professor of American Indian Studies; Mike Ute, Eastern Shoshone Business Councilmember; and Jared White Bull, Northern Arapaho Business Councilmember. There was also a special performance from musician Christian Wallowing Bull, the 2021 Wyoming Singer-Songwriter Competition winner.
The Wind River Startup Challenge is a collaboration between Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribal members, Central Wyoming College, the Wind River Development Fund, Royal Roads University, Wyoming Afterschool Alliance, and several University of Wyoming units: IMPACT 307, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Wyoming EPSCoR, and the High Plains American Indian Research Institute (HPAIRI). Funding for this challenge comes from National Science Foundation-funded Wyoming EPSCoR, a grant from Wells Fargo’s Open for Business program, and Microsoft.