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Wind River Indian Reservation Startup Challenge launched by UW

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — The University of Wyoming launched the Wind River Startup Challenge this month, giving tribal member entrepreneurs the opportunity to receive funding to start businesses.

In collaboration with the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network, Central Wyoming College, and the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes, two new ventures will be eligible to receive startup funding from a $25,000 seed fund.

No business experience is required to apply to the challenge.

“Tribal members can submit innovative and sustainable business ideas by Sunday, Feb. 16. Applications will be assessed based on potential to benefit the Wind River Indian Reservation community,” a University of Wyoming announcement said Tuesday. “Business concepts designed to benefit the environment, health and well-being of the tribal communities will receive preference; however, all concepts will be considered.”

Reservation community members interested in entrepreneurship are also invited to one of three workshops, titled “Business Model Creation.” The workshop will be at the Wind River Tribal College Thursday, Jan. 23, from 6-8 p.m. The event is intended to provide information about the challenge and gives applicants guidance to develop their business concepts and apply.

Dates for the other two workshops will be announced at a later date.

The Wind River Startup Challenge is modeled after other regional entrepreneurship opportunities in Wyoming where applicants work closely with experienced business counselors from the Wyoming Technology Business Center. Located in Laramie, Sheridan and Casper, the WTBC supports innovative Wyoming startups through business incubation programs and regional startup challenges.

“Economic development must occur at the grassroots level in order to be successful,” says James Trosper, director of UW’s High Plains American Indian Research Institute. “With this startup challenge, community members will lead the change rather than wait for government to lead us.”

“The startup challenge is a way for tribal members to return to their traditional roots of entrepreneurship and move beyond the economic dependence caused by federal policies of the reservation era, Trosper says. Both Arapahos and Shoshones can draw inspiration from a long history of traditional commerce and innovation,” he adds.

Kyle Trumble, a business instructor at Central Wyoming College, says there is a “growing momentum and interest around the country in ‘Nation Building and Sustainable Tribal Economies,’” which is a guide to restoring energy and food sovereignty in Native America.

“It is an exciting time to be a business/entrepreneurial instructor in this county and to be a part of this project,” Trumble says. “Resources are available to help build, launch and grow Native-owned enterprises, while collaborative and capacity-building efforts among area organizations will play a vital role in laying the groundwork for economic development.”

More information about the Wind River Startup Challenge, including a link to the application, can be found at www.windriverstartupchallenge.com.