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The Sheridan Start-Up Challenge is our community’s premier entrepreneurial event of the year. The 2021 Challenge has produced some outstanding finalists that continue to highlight Sheridan as a leader in the development of Wyoming’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Applications to the 2021 Start-Up Challenge started in mid-August and had a Sept. 21 deadline. Forty applications were submitted and reflected great new ideas in many different business sectors. Our challenge judging panel, made up of local entrepreneurs and community leaders, had the difficult task of selecting 11 semifinalists.

Several of the semifinalist selections this year represented focus areas for future Wyoming economic diversification. Four can be categorized in the sustainable agriculture space — locally produced products that reflect ideas such as the movement toward farm-to-table food. Three had ideas leveraging Wyoming’s growing reputation for quality manufactured outdoor recreation products. Two others created plans to protect our state’s natural resources.

Three of the agriculture-related business plans were selected for the finals. One seeks to launch a large-scale gourmet mushroom farm in Sheridan County. Consumption of this very healthy protein source has substantially increased across the country, and this entrepreneur wants to bring high-quality, locally-grown product to restaurants and consumers in our area.

A second idea involves creating a new marketing company representing Sheridan region cattle ranchers to take advantage of the significant movement toward locally-sourced, farm-to-table consumer demand. Product labels will future a QR code for customers to receive at-a-glance information regarding where their meat came from.

The third idea in the sustainable agriculture space is a line of lotion products that are created using goat’s milk from a Johnson County family operation. This entrepreneur also represents the Start-Up Challenge’s first high school-aged finalist and demonstrates that great ideas can come from the youngest segments of our population.

The remaining three finalists have a common thread: all have highly unique offerings where a patent application has been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Our area produces some amazingly innovative people.

The first of these is a high-quality, durable lunch box cooler with a configurable hard plastic insert that will bear weight up to 250 pounds. This product was developed by a founder that worked in the Wyoming coal mines for years and found that keeping food safe and cold required a unique solution, and it even comes with a place to sit while eating lunch.

Our second patent-pending business idea is a device, created by a team of practicing orthodontists, that attaches to existing dentist head gear and will provide hearing protection against noisy dental office drills, suction and other equipment.

Finally, we have a Sheridan woman in the challenge finals who has a patent-pending idea for women’s jumpsuit and romper apparel that overcomes some of the traditional limitations of wearing these garments.

It’s quite a lineup and great recognition for these hard-working, creative entrepreneurs. The Sheridan community won’t want to miss the Pitch Night final presentations, Nov. 10, 5:30 p.m. at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center. The event is free of charge, and all are welcome.

Scot Rendall is director of IMPACT 307 in the Sheridan area.

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