SHERIDAN — Five contestants will present their business ideas to a panel of judges Thursday evening with the hope of taking home $5,000 to put toward their entrepreneurial idea.
The Wyoming Technology Business Center’s Start-Up Challenge began in Sheridan in 2017. For this year’s contest, reviews narrowed the competition down to five contestants, all of which will present in front of local business owners for Pitch Night at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center starting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
The top three entrepreneurs will each receive a $5,000 award, space in the business incubator on Double Eagle Drive, ongoing counseling and legal support and the opportunity to apply for additional working capital from a $50,000 seed fund.
The five finalists put in countless hours to research, collaborate and fine tune their ideas, businesses and inventions. In the final week before Pitch Night, most finalists were tweaking and perfecting their presentations, while others excitedly awaited the arrival of a few final pieces for their projects.
Reckard formerly worked in the aerospace industry and applied his knowledge of systems to this project. He used every square inch of his mental space for the ThermMaker, including practicing his presentation in front of family, friends and WTBC director Scot Rendall.
“Some of (my friends) live in different places and work in different industries, but they’re really great because they have a different perspective,” Reckard said. “I’ll finish up and probably sit my niece and nephew down and I’ll do it for them. They’re really sharp kids, but I figure if I can put it out there and they can understand all of it, then I’m probably doing my job.”
Reckard, while anticipating the completion and delivery of his prototype, was eagerly awaiting Thursday evening.
Jamie Diamond is not preparing a presentation for a completely new idea. He has been working in the public relations industry for 25 years, but he needed time to duplicate his efforts without a human cloning machine. Thus, Diamond worked with his cofounder to establish an automation tool to help replicate how he works with clients in the industry.
Diamond’s confidence lies in making pitches to media outlets for his clients, rather than his ability to pitch himself.
“Having to pitch yourself is hard,” Diamond said. “It’s my worst nightmare.”
Diamond presented in front of his wife and daughter for initial feedback on his pitch.
“It was my own little peanut gallery,” Diamond said.
He took his 3-year-old’s advice with a smile and a nod, and took his wife’s more critical feedback to heart, tweaking major aspects of the pitch. He also reached out to his father-in-law to hear feedback before the big night.
Diamond said he has found moments of clarity during the short jaunt from his daughter’s — Maddie Mae Diamond —daycare center on Marion Street to his office at CoWork at The Montgomery.
Aaron Baker grew up in Sheridan and identified a need for his hometown — a centralized, comprehensive application to peruse and see every event happening in the area.
Baker created the website throughout the past year and has rebuilt the program at least six times. The website still has a bare-bones look with only legal paperwork displayed, but Baker continues to refine the legal aspects of the business and will soon add more content to the site.
Instead of the traditional practice of presenting his pitch to friends or family, Baker has gone directly to his clientele and pitched the idea to them. The feedback has been positive, and Baker hopes that will translate to his presentation Thursday night.
“I’ve gone to a lot of the local mom-and-pop stores and presented the idea with the ability to have a cheaper option for order to-go as well as the availability to have events being posted in one centralized location that’s easily accessible to the community,” Baker said.
Baker is perfecting his presentation based on the feedback from his business visits, putting in around 1,500 hours in total, all while being fueled by Java Moon’s amaretto iced latte. Members of the Rotary Club of Sheridan also gave a thumbs-up to Baker’s idea and presentation.
Spencer Kuzara — creator of a payment processing company designed to provide a frictionless way for businesses to accept payments in digital currency — does not remember applying for the program, but has since scrambled to compile a presentation for the judges Thursday.
Kuzara kept his head down throughout the competition, sparing every minute he could from his contracting work as a programmer.
He has been building and creating the payment system through the eyes of his mother, who Kuzara claimed is less technologically literate than some. If his mother can understand it, the judges are bound to absorb his business concept, Kuzara said.
The presentation prep has consisted of Kuzara quickly compiling his thoughts on a slide and editing himself down quite a bit. The presentation to his dogs, while not great at feedback, went well enough for him to recognize the balance he needs of having the necessary information but not too much that the judges’ eyes glaze over.
Kuzara said he is not a “presentation guy,” so he has felt a little anxious while preparing for the judges. With experience from a few talks given in his past, Kuzara hopes to wow the judges Thursday night.
Connect Speech Therapy
Chelsea Paulus fills her days helping children as a speech pathologist for Sheridan County School District 1. Paulus, who works primarily in Big Horn, found that families need in-home speech therapy outside of the limited time the children are seen during the school week. When Paulus researched the need for teletherapy for speech pathology, she was astounded by the age range and need for the service not only in Sheridan, but throughout the state.
Up to this point, Paulus has put every second of effort into creating and perfecting a business plan. Paulus knows she must create a solid client base before expanding beyond Sheridan and the state. With Pitch Night soon approaching, Paulus transitioned from strictly business preparation to presentation practice.
The sage green wall of her upstairs office at her home serves as a dry-but-helpful audience for Paulus to work out simple kinks in her presentation. Outside of practicing alone, Rendall has helped Paulus with the presentation, and her parents also contributed constructive feedback.
Preparation for Thursday’s Pitch Night looks different for everyone, but the time constraints and formatting of presentations evens the playing field for the five remaining contestants in the 2018 Start-Up Challenge.