The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) has awarded a $2.4 million CARES Act Recovery grant to the University of Wyoming.
“Supporting local strategies designed to create a stronger and more resilient economies in response to the coronavirus pandemic is a top priority for the EDA,” said Dennis Alvord, acting assistant secretary of commerce for economic development.
The grant will broaden UW’s IMPACT 307 business incubator program to service statewide clients. IMPACT 307 is a business development program administered by UW’s Office of Research and Economic Development. It currently has physical locations in Casper, Laramie, and Sheridan.
Dave Bohling, director of IMPACT-Laramie, explained that the business incubator in Laramie is a physical building on the UW campus that offers 30,000-square-feet of space. Entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to IMPACT 307. If accepted, they can use the space in the building at no cost to start launching their business. Access to the incubator also grants entrepreneurs access to the expertise of the IMPACT 307 staff.
“If you get big enough, we’ll ask you to go. That’s part of the agreement,” said Bohling. The hope is that businesses “incubating” in the space will get big enough to venture out on their own.
The grant project will expand business incubation, and launch support services offered through IMPACT 307 by providing them in digital as well as physical environments to respond to negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also hopes to diversify the base of employers in the state.
“There weren’t many upsides to COVID-19, but one upside is that it taught us we can provide good counsel through modern technology, such as Zoom,” Bohling said.
This expansion of services pairs nicely with the Wyoming Innovation Network (WIN) initiative. Through this new initiative, UW and the state’s community colleges are collaborating to support and train entrepreneurs and new business startups.
“We are excited to work with all seven community colleges throughout the state,” said Bohling. He noted that IMPACT 307 already had close relationships with Central Wyoming College (CWC) and Laramie County Community College (LCCC), and this is an opportunity to further expand their services.
Bohling also explained that IMPACT 307 currently runs six business start-up challenges across the state. These start-up challenges usually spin off several new businesses in the state each year.
With this grant money, they intend to double the number of these start-up challenges to at least 12. In this respect, the grant is expected to create 368 jobs and generate $1 million in private investment throughout the state.
The grant is funded under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided the EDA with $1.5 billion for economic assistance programs to help communities prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic.