Column: Sheridan Start-Up Challenge a ticket to new business launch

Though current temperatures may indicate otherwise, fall is just around the corner, and with it, the annual Sheridan Start-Up Challenge is back as Sheridan’s premier annual entrepreneurial event. More than just a core element of our IMPACT Sheridan program, the Challenge, now in its sixth year, is a celebration of our community’s entrepreneurial history and spirit.

Though many in Sheridan are familiar with the Start-Up Challenge, here is a brief overview. The Challenge seeks to stimulate the creation of Wyoming growth-oriented businesses by encouraging entrepreneurs with new business ideas to enter a business plan competition, with the opportunity to win seed capital to fuel their business ambitions.

The first phase of the process is submission of an online application where entrepreneurs describe their business idea, the market they are wanting to address, the competitive landscape, and their “secret sauce” that shows how they plan to acquire customers with their product or service and earn revenue.

The application period opened in August, and applications are accepted through Sept. 19. Once the application period is closed, a panel of local Sheridan entrepreneurs serve as Challenge judges and select the 10 most promising applications for a semifinal round of presentations, where the judges have an opportunity to meet the applicants and ask questions about their ideas.

Five finalists emerge, and the last phase of the Challenge is a month of preparation time before formally presenting business plans at our community “Pitch Night” and a chance to win seed capital.

The Sheridan Start-Up Challenge has $100,000 in seed capital available to the three winners that will be selected by the judges at Pitch Night. In addition, all finalists are offered free incubator office space for one year and regular advising and training sessions from IMPACT 307 staff.

Applicants to the Challenge must fall into one of three categories. The first category is “pre-venture” stage — the entrepreneur has an idea or business concept and wants to pursue feasibility and market validation. A second set of applicants may be at the “start-up/pre-revenue” phase — they have a product or service ready to go and want to begin customer acquisition and revenue generation. Finally, the Challenge accepts “early ramp” stage businesses that currently have less than $150,000 of annual sales but want to pursue ideas that would significantly accelerate company growth.

Past Start-Up Challenge winners have brought forward very diverse business ideas covering a variety of industries, including light manufacturing, outdoor recreation, sustainable agriculture and professional services. All of these meet Wyoming’s overall goal of economic diversification, and the committed entrepreneurs that are driving their new ventures forward will become assets to Sheridan’s business community.

All Start-Up Challenge applicants, whether they win the competition or not, can receive free advisory services from IMPACT 307, Sheridan’s business incubator. Starting a new business can be both challenging and rewarding. Let’s recognize and celebrate those that try, and by so doing, enhance Sheridan’s rich entrepreneurial culture and tradition. All are encouraged to come out and support the finalists on Start-Up Challenge Pitch Night, scheduled for Nov. 1 at the WYO Theater.

Scot Rendall is Director of IMPACT 307 in the Sheridan area.

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