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Casper businesses make their pitches to Start-Up Challenge judges

CASPER, Wyo — Four Casper entrepreneurs pitched their business concepts and expansion plans to a panel of judges Tuesday, April 20, at the fifth Casper Start-Up Challenge.

At stake is $50,000 in seed money and a year working with the team at IMPACT Casper, the University of Wyoming’s business incubator and development program, to hone their ventures.

The judges went into deliberation Tuesday night and results are expected to be posted by Wednesday morning on the Impact 307 Facebook page.

Gabe Hathaway’s Hathaway Knives is in its third year of business. He manufactures folding pocket knives with single-piece handles made from either stainless steel or titanium in his shop on the west end of Casper. The process uses a combination of CNC machining and hand finishing.

“My biggest problem is I can’t build an inventory,” he told the judges. “I’ve been working 7 days a week and we’re staying sold-out.”

With additional funds, he hopes to add staff and lease more of the expensive CNC machines, which would allow him to streamline production. The single machine he has now has to be modified each time he switches from working with steel to titanium. With multiple machines, each could be dedicated to the specific material, saving time and expense.

Touchstone Training and Consulting founders Emily Farley & Garrett Loyning outlined the problem their company addresses: “There is no comprehensive training facility in Wyoming” for Operator Qualification in the pipeline industry, Farley said.

Farley has been developing and presenting training in the industry for 20 years. Each task necessary for the construction, maintenance, and operation of pipelines requires that operators receive instruction, take a written exam, and undergo a hands-on performance evaluation.

Farley said she’s been hearing frustrations for years that no facility provides all three. To get certified in a single task, some contractors have had to travel to different states to get all three certifications, sometimes arriving to find they know more than their trainers.

Certifications have to be renewed every three years, and different companies sometimes use different curricula for each task.

Farley added that there are 11 qualified tasks just for applying a coat of paint to a pipeline.

Touchstone’s near-term expenses involve purchasing equipment to conduct more on-site training and hiring additional staff, which usually consist of retirees from the field with the right expertise who still want to work part time.

Founded in June of 2020, Farley hopes to add a second location and have 28 employees by the end of 2023.

B3 Soutions co-founder Perri Meeks designed her company while managing inventory for women’s garment manufacture Yellowberry.

Doing so by hand took weeks.  “I  immediately understood the need for a better way,” she told the judges. She designed a system using Excel spreadsheets that Yellowberry’s founder still uses, Meeks said.

Meeks and business partner Brayton Sanders used Casper software developers to design an app that launches from Shopify — “the Google of e-commerce” — to help online retail companies optimize their inventory management. 

In a market where the competition is instantly accessible on platforms like Amazon, running out of inventory could mean losing a customer forever, Meeks said.

Version 1.0 is currently in beta testing. Meeks said similar apps cater to bigger companies and overlook businesses whose deal in smaller volumes and need to update inventory more frequently.

Eventually, Meeks and Sanders hope to make Q3 a standalone platform with broader applications, “a one stop-shop for entrepreneurs,” Meeks said.

Linda Olsen, founder of WyOlsen Design, developed her idea while caring for her dad, who struggled with bathroom use after having a hip and joint replacement. Current toilet seat riser products on the market were uncomfortable, difficult to clean, or had to be installed with screws onto the seat, Olson said.

So she developed Earth Throne, an EVA plastic closed-cell foam seat that “compresses, but doesn’t squish,” Olson said. The compression also seals it to the seat, so there’s no installation.

12.7 % of the U.S. population aged 65 or older use toilet seat risers, Olson said. She said she’d gotten positive feedback from hospice and long-term care professionals who were excited about the design, and shared her frustrations with current models.

The first 1,000 units are still being shipped from China; she hopes to be able to set up an EVA-injector foam molding facility in Wyoming by the end of 2023. There currently aren’t any in North America, she said.

Olson hopes to sell sell 1,000 units in 2021, 3000 in 2022, and 10,000 in 2023, as she hopes to secure corporate partnerships following pitches at Eastern and Western Medtrade Conferences.