CASPER, Wyo. — Vision comes in many forms, from the long, sharp gaze of high-flying birds to the nurturing eye of the gardener.
The 2019 Casper Start-Up Challenge taught something about vision: this region of the state has it.
50 submissions were received from entrepreneurs looking to jump-start their new business ideas and five finalists presented at “Pitch Night” on Thursday, Nov. 7 at the Lyric.
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Judges selected these three winning start-ups:
- 1st place: Symmetry Trailers (Adam Pauli)
- 2nd place: Piggyback Cocktail Company (Chad Pollock & Amber Pollock)
- 3rd place: NevRA (Austin Griess)
All three will receive a $5,000 award as well as an opportunity to apply to a $50,000 seed fund to help grow their start-ups.
The audience choice award went to Rieker Designs (Marcus Rieker, Peter Alleman, & Mason Johnson). They’ll get $1,500 for garnering the most votes from the public who attended “Pitch Night.”
But none of the five finalists will go home empty handed this year with the University of Wyoming’s Wyoming Business Technology Center Director Jerad Stack announcing that the decision was made to invite all five to their Casper-Area Incubator.
“It is the first time we’ve done that,” Stack said. “We’re really excited about that. John Glassburn, the assistant director, and I, we talked about it a few days ago. We’re like ‘We love all these. And if [we] can figure it out, we should take them all.'”
That means that even the fifth finalist, “ReFuel” by Michael Harshman, will have access to free space and consultation at the WTBC. Harshman is the first Casper College student to become a finalist in a Casper Start-Up Challenge.
But it was Pauli’s “Symmetry Trailers” whose sleek, rugged and customized “overland” trailer business most impressed the judges. One of his trailers sat outside The Lyric on Thursday.
“I really appreciate all the help,” Pauli said after the awards were announced. “I’m just looking to expand and create more trailers.”
Just a day before “Pitch Night,” Pauli says that a Montana-based recreational vehicle and marine dealer reached out to him.
“They see the overland community starting to expand a lot,” he explained.
Pauli says that dealer wants him to produce a line of trailers for them. Winning the “Casper Start-Up Challenge” will help him purchase equipment he needs to expand his business and ramp up production.
The minds behind “Piggyback Cocktail” may be familiar to Casperites. Amber and Chad Pollock are part-owners of Backwards Distilling Company.
Their idea to create a new business to offer quality craft cocktails in a can earned them second place in the competition and Chad says the next step is to get the business rolling.
He and sister Amber both said the contest has been exciting and means good things for the community.
“It’s a great thing for Casper,” Amber said.
Third-place winner Austin Griess who hopes to launch an app called “Nevra” to allow motocross enthusiasts and snowmobile riders to link up with others so that they “never ride alone” agreed.
“It went awesome,” Griess said after the winners were revealed.
He says he learned a lot through the process.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” he said. “I went into it with open eyes. It was very organized in the approach.”
The finalists all said something which points to how much the Casper Start-Up Challenge has grown and impacted the community. They thanked past Casper Start-Up Challenge contestant Hinge Studio for their help preparing for “Pitch Night.”
“This is the fourth year that we’ve done this,” Stack said. “It is starting to get some momentum. We’re really starting to kind of build that snowball effect and starting to get more and more people that want to start their own companies in Casper.”
When asked why it took so long to reach a final decision on Thursday night (the audience had nearly finished the meatballs provided by “The Grab and Go Gourmet” as they awaited the decision in the lobby of The Lyric), judge Nicholas Grooms, Shareholder Grooms & Harkins, P.C., said it was because all the pitches were great.
“It’s just representative of the quality of the candidates this year,” Grooms said. “It’s markedly improving year after year.”
Fellow judge Justin Farley, President/CEO of Advance Casper (formerly CAEDA) agreed.
“What Nick said,” Farley chimed in. “The presentations get better year to year.”
Grooms explained that the judges look at these kinds of criteria when making their decision:
- the potential for job creation
- whether the business can be scaled up
- how innovative the concept is
Grooms also said it was exciting to see past competitors like Hinge come back and mentor or recommend that other start-ups enter the contest.
The WTBC is a UW program that also has incubators in Laramie and Sheridan.
The 2019 Casper Start-up Challenge was sponsored by:
- Advance Casper
- Wyoming Business Council
- University of Wyoming
- First Interstate Bank
- Hilltop Bank
- Oil City News
- WIDC Frontier CDC