Hard to believe, but it has been six months since IMPACT Sheridan hosted the 2020 Sheridan Start-Up Challenge. This is a good opportunity to update the community on progress.

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Tyler O’Daniel sets up the GrillGate he designed in under two minutes Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. The GrillGate is an aftermarket tailgate with a completely collapsible grill integrated within. The idea being when not in use, the GrillGate takes the shape of the factory/OEM tailgate.

Our first 2020 winner was GrillGate, founded by Tyler O’Daniel. Tyler invented a propane gas grill that is built into the tailgate section of domestic brand pickup trucks. This very innovative product is designed for tailgating enthusiasts, campers, and picnic groups that value the ability to grill a tasty barbecue meal with no gear slogged into the back of a pickup and no time needed for set up.

Tyler had his first prototype ready for the Pitch Night presentation, which provided the judges an opportunity to visualize how the grill would work. Since the Start-Up Challenge, Tyler has designed a second prototype that will serve as the first functional unit for users to try out. The second prototype has a clever grease catcher and several minor tweaks that will lower the production cost of the unit. His next step is to preview his invention with tailgating and booster clubs, including a trip to the University of Nebraska to capture the fancy of Big Red Husker enthusiasts.

Jared Koenig

Jared Koenig demonstrates the ease with which the modular rack he designed can be reconfigured to accommodate different needs Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.

Iter Arnum was the second 2020 winner, founded by Jared Koenig. Iter Arnum’s base product is a customizable, lightweight, modular and reconfigurable rack that fits in the bed of a pick-up truck. Jared’s primary target market is overlanding enthusiasts — folks that like exploring the backcountry and have gear that make them self-sufficient for days or even weeks.

Jared has made his first rack sale, and he is spending time investigating how custom-designed accessories may increase the appeal of the rack system. Market research is key, and we are working with him to identify places to engage with his target market and develop a greater understanding of customer needs and problems faced by existing overlanding participants.

Jason Hodges Start-Up Challenge

Jason Hodges, owner of Wolf’s Lighted Crystal Necklaces, begins the process of making a necklace by soldering a light onto a wire in his workshop Friday, Oct. 16,2020. Wolf's Lighted Crystal Necklaces creates handcrafted fantasy themed jewelry and accessories.

The third winner of the 2020 Start-Up Challenge was Wolf’s Cosplay (formerly Wolf’s Lighted Crystal Necklaces), founded by Jason Hodges. Wolf’s offers unique and handcrafted crystal necklaces, jewelry, props and accessories to fantasy cosplayer enthusiasts, as well as renaissance fair and comic con attendees.

Jason has been a client that has made good use of Sheridan’s new Phorge Makerspace, which opened in 2020. This wonderful community resource is an equipment lab where “makers” can explore new product ideas using some of the latest technology available. Jason has developed an entire suite of cosplay products and his company now has more than 80 distinct items to offer.

Wolf’s has used Start-Up Challenge seed funding to acquire equipment for his shop that he is using for high-volume production. In just six months, Jason has hired three part-time production and order fulfillment techs and two sales contractors. He is a great example of how start-up businesses can launch and provide opportunities for community residents.

IMPACT Sheridan’s 2021 Start-Up Challenge is just six months away. Now is a great time for community members with innovative new business ideas to begin working on plans. The team at IMPACT stands ready to help and looks forward to another great Challenge this year.

Scot Rendall is the director of IMPACT Sheridan.

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