By Renée Jean, Tourism and Business Reporter
These Wyoming kids are not just dreaming of being millionaires someday with their own made-in-Wyoming business ideas. They’re also dreaming of ways they can make their state better.
This year’s Youth Pitch Challenge encourages students in all parts of the Cowboy State to think of goods and services that will improve their communities or state.
This is a new focal point for the challenge, but it was inspired by something youths were already doing naturally with the annual pitch challenge.
The imaginative and creative business ideas are a hallmark of the challenge.
“One of my favorites is Isabelle from Star Valley,” Wyoming Afterschool Alliance Program Associate Kate Foster told Cowboy State Daily. “She grew up on a sheep farm and came up with the idea to use sheep manure for gardeners.
“It was a resource that she had a plentiful amount of, and then she was delivering it to local gardeners to help their flowers and vegetables do better.”
Meanwhile, a group of students in Thermopolis came up with a mentoring group of high schoolers to help middle schoolers transition to high school.
“I love their example, because it was such a, you know, they saw a problem that they had dealt with when they were younger and they wanted to solve it,” Foster said. “They came together to develop this group to help people younger than themselves.”
Another project Foster recalls by young Carson Rabou sought to develop a private label to direct-sell the grains his family’s farm produces. Each sale also would donate a portion of the proceeds to the Wyoming Hunger Initiative.
Rabou is in college now, but it’s an idea his father sees as valuable to the family’s farming operation at some point.
“It’s a very big thing to undertake,” Rabou said. “And if you’re going to do it on any kind of a scale, there has to be a level of profitability that exists or you can’t afford to do it. There has to be enough customer interest and enough demand to create that revenue.”
Connect With Customers
That’s mainly a matter of consumer education, Rabou believes, and is something the family farm has been working on this year. They hosted Wyoming Leadership, as well as a farm-to-table event to connect with consumers.
“When we can do better at educating the consumer, they have a better understanding of what it is we do and why they would want to do business with us,” Rabou said. “So, these two things really fit hand in glove.
“When we’re talking about individually marketing some of our own products that we raise, there’s an educational component that we have, actually, (that’s) primarily where most of our focus is right now.”
Putting Action To Ideas
But beyond the benefit to his own farm from the competition, Rabou also sees the annual competition working for Wyoming as a whole.
“Every state’s had this conversation about diversification,” Ron Rabou told Cowboy State Daily. “But what are we actually doing about it? I think the Youth Pitch Challenge is really addressing that head-on.”
Rabou believes the competition can ultimately be a force that helps keep Wyoming youths.
“I think it’s essential,” Rabou said. “I think it’s very, very important that we educate our youth about the opportunities that are present, not just in business, but most particularly business in Wyoming. If we want to retain our youth and stop exporting our youth, we’ve got to provide opportunities for them at home.”
That’s where the Pitch Challenge becomes really powerful for Wyoming, Rabou said, because the system encourages every child in the state to dream big, and then it provides a support network to help students pursue their ideas and make them happen.
“We can bring in all the outside sources we can encourage all the adult entrepreneurs that we want,” Rabou said. “But the bottom line is, if we don’t start with the younger generation, that’s where a lot of this is leading. It is just essential that we involve them, and the sooner the better.
“The more that we expose them to and the more they learn about what the possibilities are, the more they become interested not just in entrepreneurialisms, but in our state and the value of owning a business in our state.”
Find Wyoming Pitch Challenge details online. The program includes training modules for participants to help them think through their projects.