Taking a shot: Hunting companies among the winners at startup challenge

From a company with an electronically activated bipod to a business specializing in durable and comfortable upland game bird vests and accessories, start-ups with unique hunting solutions led the way at the inaugural Park County Start-Up Challenge.

At the end of the three-hour event held at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West on April 6, John Wetzel, business counselor with Impact 307, announced the $50,000 seed fund will be shared among three companies: Point Blank Technologies, High Plains Gear and Highland Nursing Services.

The Point Blank Technologies team of Branden Christiansen, Rob Christiansen and Sam Kruger was the big winner of the night. The business was not only selected as one of the three winners by the competition’s judges, but also received a $1,000 People’s Choice Award chosen by audience members.

The Point Blank team, led by Branden, has developed an electronically activated bipod for use in shooting sports and hunting.

The electronically adjustable shooting rest will be a major asset for gun users, he said.

“It allows you to get comfortable, remain in the shooting position and keep your eyes downrange and on the target,” Branden said. “Normally you would never keep your finger on the trigger while adjusting, but with this product, once you’re ready to shoot, you can follow a moving target really easily.”

Branden, a Cody resident who grew up in Meeteetse, told the judges that his start-up company has already partnered with Accu-Tac — an industry leader in precision bipods — to market and sell the product.

By 2025, the company hopes to produce 500 bipods, and employ five full-time staff members in the Cody area, Branden said.

“My family has put up with countless hours of me in the basement pretending to be Tony Stark,” he joked. “I don’t think we’re ever going to stop an alien invasion with this, but I do believe that Point Blank will be able to provide good-quality jobs so that people from Cody can work and live here.”

Another hunting-related winner was High Plains Gear’s Rhys and Kitt Haugen. The Cody couple’s company specializes in making durable and comfortable upland game bird vests and accessories.

The vests are lightweight, adjustable and customizable, Rhys said, which makes them stand out from the competition. The innovation was born from his own frustration with existing products on the market.

“The biggest problem I had with vests is that they just hung on your shoulders,” Rhys said. “There was no load-bearing capability … So I started modifying it to how I wanted it to carry.”

The Haugens said they had brought their products to Pheasant Fest in Minneapolis earlier this year, where they proved popular, especially with female hunters.

“We had multiple women that came to our booth, tried on our vest and really liked it,” Rhys said. “They said they wanted to go around and try on other vests. All those women came back because we make the only vest that will actually fit a smaller female.”

The lone non-hunting-related winner was Hyland Nursing Services, run by Powell couple Brittney and David Hyland. The company will provide home health, skilled nursing and companion care in Park and Big Horn counties.

“Ultimately, I think the desire of most people is to age in their house, especially in Wyoming,” David said. “We’re independent people. And I think most people would rather age as long as they can in their comfortable space.”

The Hylands are currently pursuing accreditation through the Community Health Accreditation Program, and will be the first nationally accredited home health agency in the region, David said. Although based in Powell, the company will be primarily focused on serving homebound individuals in smaller, underserved communities in the Big Horn Basin, David said.

“Currently, the rural outlying areas — places like Frannie, Deaver, Basin and Lovell — either get served on a limited basis or not at all,” David said. “So that will be our big focus.”

Winners were selected by a panel of judges composed of Ryan Fernandez, Scott Larsen, Garrett Growney, Kevin Kuenn and Audrey Duke.

Each winner selected by judges received $3,000 to continue developing their business, Wetzel said, but the bulk of the $50,000 seed fund will be distributed among the winners in a few months.

“In two months, the judges’ panel will reconvene, and these guys will all present again on the milestones they put in their presentations and the things they’ve accomplished,” Wetzel said.”They will tell us what funding they need and how it will be used. That really gives our sponsors a huge amount of accountability of how we’re parceling out this money. It’s very important to us that we’re stewards of this money and we’re not just giving somebody $20,000 to go to Hawaii.”

Other companies that competed in the inaugural challenge, but did not win, included the Paintrock Senior Mobile Dental team of Dr. Larry, Cody and Maurine Akin, and Jesse Johnsey of Defensive Decor.

Wetzel said that he would continue to work with all competitors, including both winners and losers, to continue developing their ideas.

The Startup Challenge is intended to serve as a launching pad for local start-up businesses, Wetzel said, and over the course of the challenge, he helped candidates develop their business plans and elevator pitches, and also helped them identify additional sources of funding for their ideas.

The inaugural challenge was sponsored by Impact 307, the nonprofit business-incubator program of the University of Wyoming.

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