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CWC to use RISE grant for Bootstrap Collaborative Center for Innovation

November 16, 2021 by Tori Stanek

Main hall building and library

Central Wyoming College will use USDA Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) grant money to fund the Bootstrap Collaborative Center for Innovation (BCCI). This project will unite five local partners to serve as a focal point for local business development.

The $1,811,591, four-year grant will allow CWC to work alongside Kairos Communications, MakerSpace 307, the Central Wyoming College Foundation, and the Wind River Development Fund. 

CWC Foundation Director Beth Monteiro said the expertise and activities offered by each partner will expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Fremont County. 

“This collaboration will open up possibilities for businesses to locate to our region through expanded broadband access, will market these opportunities more robustly, and will provide support throughout the process of relocation,” she said. 

To complete the project, CWC will hire a full-time BCCI director with responsibilities that include course and workshop instruction, as well as entrepreneur coaching. 

CWC’s Dean of Business, Technical, and Health Services, Lynne McAuliffe, noted that “the funding will build off of CWC’s Entrepreneurship Essentials program, which is co-taught by a CWC business professor and the UW Entrepreneur-in-Residence.” This program will be offered alongside additional courses and workshops, as well as training sessions and an annual career fair offered by CWC’s Workforce Development department.

From the program’s cohort of budding entrepreneurs, participants will be selected for the Entrepreneurship Accelerator Program (EAP) that will mainly be housed within Kairos Communication’s atWork location. 

Kairos Communications operates County 10. In 2019, the organization launched its local business hub, atWork, which President and CEO Will Hill said will provide the EAP cohorts with workspace, as well as access to a number of other opportunities.

The atWork coworking space will be the site of an innovation center which provides new entrepreneurs with office space, services and collaborative support to help them grow their ideas into sustainable businesses,” Hill said. “We will also be a hub for workshops, networking events and community presentations ”

Will Hill, Kairos Communications president and CEO

The EAP will add three entrepreneurs every six months, and support services will slowly taper to the point of each business’ independence. 

Hill said the project, as well as the RISE Grant and BCCI, all align with County 10’s organizational mission to connect the community through influencer engagement.

"We're taking the next step in connecting the entrepreneurial community,” Hill said. “We feel honored to be part of this endeavor and look forward to seeing the program grow together with our partners.”

Other businesses currently utilizing the atWork space include the Small Business Development Center, the Chamber of Commerce, the Wyoming Business Council, Manufacturing Works, and MakerSpace 307 (MS307). As the oldest makerspace in the state, MS307 supports creative ideas, inventions, and startups through instruction for usage of tools and technology necessary for independence. MS307 Directors David Maulik and Lorre Hoffman said the organization has a number of resources to support the EAP.

“We will teach the cohorts the principles of human-centered design to enhance everything from services to physical outputs,” Maulik and Hoffman said. “Maker Space 307 has expertise in the application of emerging technologies for developing ideas and business.”

Maulik and Hoffman said the BCCI will make these innovative projects and training easier for community members to access at any time.

“BCCI formalizes a pathway of resources provided by organizations, each providing an accelerated incubator process in Fremont County and the Wind River Reservation,” MS307 directors said. “The incubator model allows entrepreneurs to enter at any point of logical business development and receive the just-in-time acceleration to succeed.”

To support the continuation of MS307 work, grant money will be used to fund 50 new memberships each year. A new MS307 position will also allow collaboration between the BCCI partners. MS307, atWork, and County 10 are all housed in the CWC Business Park in Riverton, which includes 13 businesses and unoccupied business spaces that are managed by the CWC Foundation. As the college’s entrepreneurial arm, the Foundation is another critical project partner. 

BCCI’s fifth partner, the Wind River Development Fund (WRDF), is the financial lender to the Wind River Indian Reservation and surrounding areas. As part of its mission to provide financial opportunities that stimulate economic development, the WRDF has originated more than $7 million in loans to local small businesses in the past 20 years. 

WRDF Executive Director Eric Swack said providing this support to new entrepreneurs is essential for creators on the reservation and around Riverton and Lander.

“A lot of businesses are too small for banks to be interested or it’s too risky,” he said. “We try to provide guidance, and help clients with their business plans to get them loan ready.”

The grant funding will support staff time to work with clients. This will allow the WRDF to expand its outreach, recruitment, and coaching services, and to continue providing technical assistance for accessing capital and capital assets. 

“We hope to provide a tool that is essential to entrepreneurs that would not otherwise be available,” Swack said. 

Monteiro said all five partners have the commitment to entrepreneurship and experience required to successfully meet the requirements of the RISE grant. 

“This rural area is a tight-knit community that comes together to support economic development and businesses,” she said. “The collective experience, resources, expertise, and collaboration of all of the partners creates a synergy of support for entrepreneurship, job creation, and economic development that has never before existed in this region.”

Now that the grant has been secured, the BCCI project is set to launch.

“All of the partners are ready to begin this project immediately,” Monteiro said.