Local start-up businesses invited to compete for $50K

Applications for the 2023 Park County Start-Up Challenge, which is offering up to $50,000 to the best new business ideas, are now available.

Hosted by the University of Wyoming program Impact 307, the competition goes public with an April 6 pitch night in front of a panel of judges and an audience at Cody’s Wynona Thompson Auditorium. Applicants should be in the pre-venture, start-up or early operation stage.

Finalists will work closely with Impact 307 staff to develop their businesses in their local areas. They will gain business process knowledge as they progress through the phases of the competition.

“Regardless of the competition outcome, each finalist will be more prepared to launch and grow the business, simultaneously improving their likelihood for success and the local economy,” organizers promise.

John Wetzel of Impact Park County, the local chapter of Impact 307, is heading up the competition. He’s encouraging local business ventures to apply.

“If people have a business that they’re ready to launch, or have launched but have less than $150,000 in sales, and want to apply for Startup Challenge funding, this is the time,” he said.

The application is a single page, Wetzel said. From those entered, the group will choose finalists to appear in the live pitch session, which should be similar in nature to Shark Tank and similar television shows.

Impact 307 specializes in helping Wyoming businesses and is using the competition to shine a light on the program.

“We’re already working with clients right now. But now’s the time to apply for up to $50,000 worth of seed funding,” Wetzel said.

The program is grant funded through the university as part of Gov. Mark Gordon’s Wyoming Innovation Partnership. The program has a staff of about a dozen, from business counselors to senior directors and support staff to do advertising and grant reporting. Wetzel, who also serves as Powell’s mayor, started his job as a business counselor in July.

He is actively looking for innovative and growth-oriented entrepreneurs who want to launch businesses in the Big Horn Basin.

“Anybody throughout the Basin can definitely apply and we work with them,” he said. “Got a great idea? Let’s start talking. Get out there and apply.”

Financial awards can be used for engineering, marketing, research or even for patent lawyers. Wetzel said money awarded to the winners of the pitch night is just the beginning of the process and the counseling will continue as the businesses get off the ground.

“We want to work with those businesses closely to make sure they’re going to be bringing money into Wyoming to stay in Wyoming,” he said.

Impact 307 has been operating for about 18 years, starting as the Wyoming Technology Business Center. Bright Agrotech of Laramie is one of the program’s success stories: The company has grown from humble beginnings to employ more than 200 people.

“The whole goal is to have successful startups,” Wetzel said.

For information — or to apply for the Park County Start-up Challenge — visit www.impact307.org/park-county-2. Northwest College and Forward Cody are also supporting the effort, with applications due by Friday, Feb. 24.

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