Heavy boots and a hardhat: Ily Nunn discovers new direction after Start-Up Challenge

Ily Nunn, onwer of Nunn Utility Locating, poses with some of the equipment she uses to locate underground utilities. Nunn was one of three qualified finalists in the 2016 Start-Up Challenge. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

By Tom Mast, special to Oil City News

After completing a college degree in business management, Ily Nunn expected to work dressed in white-collar attire. Instead, she ended up wearing heavy boots and a hardhat.

The world of underground pipes and utility lines can be a complex web. As the owner and operator of Nunn Utility Locating in Casper, Ily spends her time locating such things as sprinkler systems, gas lines, electric lines, and water or sewer lines at homes, businesses, and industrial sites.

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Utilities are considered public as they go to a meter, which means the local 811 “One Call” system will locate those lines for free. But a line from a curbside meter running under private property to a building, for example, would be considered private.

Ily uses electromagnetic induction and ground-penetrating radar equipment to locate underground utilities, as well as to identify structures like voids or shallow geologic layers. She even located coffins and urns at a small-town cemetery as part of a demonstration project. “It was very interesting and crazy clear how everything showed up,” she said.

The idea for Nunn Utility Locating didn’t originate with Ily, but with her husband, Eric, an environmental engineer. On drilling projects, Eric and his associates often found it difficult to find good utility locating services. Out of frustration, he suggested that perhaps Ily should start such a business.

After Ily warmed to the idea, she received training and certification as a locator, and bought her equipment. Thus, in early 2016, Nunn Utility Locating was born, at about the same time as the first Casper Start-Up Challenge.

“Being a part of the Start-Up Challenge really helped me focus on how to explain my business,” she said. “What is my business going to do, specifically, identify the target market, map out my marketing, and have that accountability. Had I not joined the Challenge, I probably wouldn’t have had all the help and outside perspective.”

The Start-Up Challenge is administered through the Wyoming Technology Business Center, a part of the University of Wyoming. It also receives financial support from the John P. Ellebogen Foundation, First Interstate Bank, and the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance.

The aim of the program is “to catalyze Wyoming technology start-up businesses and provide the opportunity to apply for seed money to take the business past concept stage and into real-world first article builds and initial sales,” according to the Start-Up Challenge website.

Ily was one of three Qualified Finalists in the 2016 Start-Up Challenge. As such, she received $5,000, free office space at the Casper Business Incubator, and access to a $50,000 Seed Fund.

With an assist from the Start-Up Challenge, Nunn Utility Locating got off to a quick start. Ily forecasts her 2018 revenues will be up 50 percent over last year.

Ily has worked on jobs in Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and Kansas. For now, she runs the business solo but may start hiring next year. She also would like to branch out into road and bridge inspections, landfill inspections, and forensics and archaeology projects.

Illy thinks anyone with a start-up idea would be well-served to participate in the Casper Start-Up Challenge. “It’s going to help them focus their idea, and really see the aspects of it that are going to be successful,” she said.
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How to enter this year’s event
The Casper Start-Up Challenge is open to any new and independent venture in its seed, start-up, or early growth phases. Information and application materials are available online at https://app.reviewr.com/s1/site/casper2018
The application period for this year’s event is open, and the deadline is Sept. 7.
If you have questions or need assistance, please contact Jerad Stack, online at jstack@uwyo.edu, or call 307-315-6401.