Story by Tom Mast, special to Oil City News
A broken backpack far from the nearest road can make for a decidedly unhappy camper.
Cameron Siplon, a Casper firefighter and hunting guide, once owned a tattered backpack he wanted to alter. So, he summoned up sewing skills he learned from his mother years earlier and tried to rebuild it.
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“I thought it was super cool,” he recalled, “and it fell apart the first day I used it.”
Even so, the experience got Cameron to thinking about how to make more durable and functional outdoor equipment. As a result, he enlisted his friends to try out various nylon gear that he stitched together. The aim was “to find a balance between durability, weight, and to make sure stuff just isn’t going to fail,” he said.
From this seed came the idea for Wyoming Gear Builders. For now, Cameron is concentrating his efforts on product development, to include such outdoor gear as backpacks and frames, bags, and belts. “I really focus on the efficiency side, trying to make carrying heavy weights as bearable as possible,” he said.
He also is focused on people who spend a lot of time outdoors and need to know their equipment will serve them well while hunting or engaging in other challenging activities.
“If you just spent $10,000 on a hunt, the fact you spend $600 on a backpack really doesn’t matter as long as you know it’s going to work for you,” Cameron said.
To start, Cameron wants to develop Wyoming Gear Builders as a web-based, direct-to-consumer business. “Eventually, I’d like to make it to where you’d be able to customize your backpack. You could go to the website, and you’d pick color, you’d pick size, you’d choose pocket locations, and then we would build the pack for you.”
Wyoming Gear Builders is one of five finalists in this year’s Casper Start-Up Challenge. The three eventual winners will each receive $5,000, one year of free rent at the Wyoming Technology Business Center, a chance to apply for a share in a $50,000 seed fund, and business counseling from WTBC staff to help grow their businesses.
Cameron attended a “boot camp” presented by the WTBC and Casper Area Economic Development Alliance/Forward Casper, where he received lots of helpful start-up information. He also established social media management and market analysis contacts.
“It’s truly surprising the amount of resources that are available in Wyoming,” he said. “They are really trying to diversify the economy, which I think is a great thing.”
Cameron has five industrial sewing machines and a cutting table in his home. He also bought a building in north Casper he hopes will eventually contain a Wyoming Gear Builders manufacturing facility, thus contributing to the state’s drive for economic diversification.
Wyoming’s manufacturing base accounted for only 3.5 percent of the state’s nonfarm employment in 2016, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. This compared to 8.6 percent for the U.S. overall. Manufacturing has the largest economic multiplier effect of any economic sector.
If Wyoming Gear Builders is a winner in the Start-Up Challenge, Cameron said he could use the money to service his sewing machines, buy raw materials, and upgrade his laser cutting and digitized pattern capabilities.
The Casper Start-Up Challenge is administered through the WTBC, a part of the University of Wyoming. It is made possible thanks to sponsorships from CAEDA/Forward Casper, the John P. Ellbogen Foundation, Oil City News, First Interstate Bank, and WIDC Frontier CDC.
The aim of the program is “to catalyze Wyoming 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.
In coming days, Cameron will work with the WTBC staff and mentors from the community to develop his business, culminating in a “pitch day” on Nov. 15 at The Lyric in downtown Casper. The event will be open to the public.
WTBC assistance throughout the year
The many ways in which the WTBC can help start-up or fledgling businesses isn’t limited to the Casper Start-Up Challenge. For more information about how the WTBC might be able to assist you with a new business or a start-up idea, contact Jerad Stack at 307-315-6401, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.