Mitch Bangert has a nose for great-tasting coffee, beer, scotch, bourbon and wine. He also knows how to sniff out a good business location.
The Wyoming entrepreneur put both skills to good use to launch his company, Offero LLC, in the Platte Valley Community Center Business Incubator in Saratoga in 2011.
Choosing the incubator turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made, says Bangert, whose company now makes and sells award-winning glasses and cups for lovers of coffee, wine and spirits.
“Having a fax, copier, phone if I need a land line, chairs and a desk is great,” says Bangert. “On your own it would cost thousands, which is why a lot of great ideas never get off the ground. It’s such a large financial commitment right out of the gate. That is why the incubator is such a treasure for Saratoga.”
Located about 90 minutes west of Laramie in south central Wyoming, the incubator was a gift of Silver Spur Ranches. For Bangert, it has turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving.
“Mitch had an innovative wine glass idea and we worked with him,” says Jill Kline, state director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Wyoming. “We helped him by working with our manufacturing extension partner. We connected him with an expert in international trade so that he could export. He is located in a very small community in Wyoming. Some of our small communities with unique businesses make a big impact.”
A prime example is the town of Thermopolis, which gave birth to the One Eyed Buffalo Brewing Company on May 1, 2015. The craft brewer opened with the assistance of the Wyoming SBDC.
“There is a national trend in craft brewing, and we have helped several of these small firms set up shop across the state,” says Kline. “We also helped Gillette artist Sarah Ferguson launch Brushbead, and we helped Mike and Titia Leisz launch Badger Inspection Service in Casper.”
While the SBDC does not offer traditional site selection services, “we can help entrepreneurs determine whether a location is a good one for their business,” says Kline. “We can give them information on what typically works well as a location in their industry.”
The SBDC also provides market intelligence and workforce statistics by trade and industry. “We have three researchers on staff who have access to the databases that can help answer the questions of business startups,” adds Kline. “We can help with access to capital, accounting and bookkeeping, marketing and branding, and developing business plans and strategies. We have financial experts on staff who can look at their financial numbers and help businesses determine where they can make changes to become more profitable. We can also help them prepare loan application packages.”
Jon Benson, CEO of the Wyoming Technology Business Center, plays an integral role in supporting new business growth as well. “We are part of the University of Wyoming and we support early-stage companies in this state,” he says. “This is a business incubator. We combine space with access to shared services and advice for early-stage businesses.”
With locations in Laramie, Casper and Sheridan, the WTBC targets businesses that have the potential to do at least $3 million to $5 million a year in revenue and post profit margins of at least 10 to 20 percent.
“We help businesses grow faster and better than they would otherwise,” says Benson. “We want to stimulate more startups, which is why we convene a gathering called Entrepreneur to Entrepreneur every other month. We help them get to know each other. We provide 45 minutes of networking and 45 minutes of program, which normally consists of an entrepreneur sharing his or her story.”
The WTBC has grown quickly, notes Benson. “We started in October of 2006 in Laramie. We launched an incubator in Casper in 2013 and then in Sheridan in January of 2015,” he says. “We will expand into other communities in Wyoming, and it will be primarily around incubators. We are trying to push the principles of entrepreneurship throughout Wyoming.”
Benson says that the university has been “an engine for technology businesses. Here in Laramie, some of our best companies have been started by students.”
Bright Agrotech and TigerTree are two such success stories. “Bright Agrotech was started by a former grad student at UW who was getting a Ph.D. in agriculture,” says Benson. “Nate Storey developed a vertical hydroponic system. By gardening vertically, you can increase production in the same greenhouse space by a factor of three.”
TigerTree was developed by two UW students who wanted to help create a more efficient way to guard Wyoming trees from the dreaded pine beetle. “They grew this into over a $3-million business with unbelievable profits,” says Benson. “They became one of the largest providers of this tree protection service in the West.”
Benson says the mission of WTBC is to help foster more of these stories in Wyoming. “We exist to increase the base of entrepreneurs,” he notes. “They learn how to dream a dream, and then we help them put together the steps they need to accomplish that dream.”