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 (SBDC) 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 their innovative and sustainable business ideas by Sunday, Feb. 16. Applications will be assessed based on potential to benefit the Wind River Indian Reservation community. 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 encouraged to participate in the first 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. Community members are invited to attend the event, which provides 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.
Workshops are designed to support entrepreneurs in the Wind River community in building viable business concepts. Interested parties are encouraged to attend, even if they are not participating in the challenge.
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 (WTBC). Located in Laramie, Sheridan and Casper, the WTBC supports innovative Wyoming startups through business incubation programs and regional startup challenges.
Local workshops will be taught in conjunction with Central Wyoming College and the Wyoming SBDC Network. UW’s Office of Research and Economic Development administers the WTBC.
“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.
Shoshones were largely responsible for the spread of the horse to the northern Rockies through trade in the 1700s. Shoshone annual summer gatherings became the basis for the famous 1830s fur trapper rendezvous in the Green River Basin. The Arapaho people were a significant player in the 1800s trade on the Great Plains, exchanging goods and horses from New Mexico with the Mandan villages on the Missouri River. Small businesses and natural resource development were at the core of Wind River tribal economies in the 20th century.
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.”