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Wyoming Business Council

Study: Wyoming Ranked 11th In Country For Inbound Movers

in News/Coronavirus/Business
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming saw a fairly high amount of people moving into the state last year, ranking 11th in the country for moves through one particular company despite the pandemic, according to a recent study.

However, United Van Lines also reported that it saw more than 100 people leaving due to job situations, something unsurprising to the Wyoming Business Council CEO.

According to the moving and relocation company, Wyoming had around 193 families (or people) come into the state, while 140 people/families left. Since 1977, United Van Lines has annually tracked migration patterns on a state-by-state basis.

In total, the company had 333 moves within Wyoming, either inbound or outbound.

The 2020 study is based on household moves handled by United within the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C. and ranks states based off the inbound and outbound percentages of total moves in each state.

United classifies states as “high inbound” if 55% or more of the moves are going into a state, “high outbound” if 55% or more moves were coming out of a state or “balanced” if the difference between inbound and outbound is negligible.

Wyoming’s percentages were 58% inbound and 42% outbound.

Some of the states that had the most inbound movers were Idaho, South Carolina and even South Dakota, which Gov. Kristi Noem proudly declared on her Facebook page.

“Pretty cool! South Dakota was 4th in the country for percentage of inbound migration, according to United Van Lines. Folks are moving to South Dakota because they value Freedom and our way of life,” she wrote.

Wyoming came in 11th overall for inbound movers, just barely missing out on the top 10 ranking.

One of the primary reasons people cited for leaving Wyoming was due to their job situation, which was not surprising to Wyoming Business Council CEO Josh Dorrell.

“Based on what we call the perfect storm of a devastating economy has really contributed to that [job loss] so the fact that we were a little bit positive [with inbound movers] was pretty good,” Dorrell told Cowboy State Daily. “I think with so many factors, we were going to see people leave the state, especially in the energy sector.”

He added that the Wyoming coal industry had already been hit hard over the last few years, but the pandemic also caused the oil and gas industries to suffer.

However, as the United data showed, people chose to move to Wyoming due to its opportunities for a lifestyle change and retirement, as well as for health reasons.

This was encouraging to Dorrell and other business officials in the state, as he believes resiliency will be the key to growing Wyoming’s economy and business industries this year.

“I think we need to focus on resilience rather than hunkering down and waiting until the next boom,” he said. “The course for this year is communities to say, ‘We’re not just going to wait around. We’re going to build.'”

Dorrell also believes that the next few years will likely be an interesting time to see certain industries, such as technology, manufacturing and banking, grow throughout the state.

Some of the more traditional Wyoming industries like agriculture and tourism will continue to thrive over time, Dorrell said.

“I think a lot of people in 2020 got reacquainted with Wyoming, and that’s good,” Dorrell said. “I do see Wyoming as a place where people are now realizing what they have, which is access to beautiful spaces, access to the outdoors and a feeling of safety and security.”

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Wyoming Relief Fund Demand Nearly Over Available Amount

in News/Economy/Business
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

With the deadline nearing for Wyoming businesses and nonprofit organizations to apply for federal funds to offset coronavirus losses, the state had already paid out more than $120 million for assistance through the two of its programs still running, according to state figures.

Numbers posted on the WyOpen.gov/wbc website showed that as of Sept. 10, the state had distributed $123.4 million through its coronavirus business relief and mitigation programs.

The numbers were posted as the state neared its deadline of Tuesday for businesses and nonprofits to apply for the money made available through the federal coronavirus relief program.

The Legislature, during a special session in May, approved three programs to distribute $325 million to Wyoming businesses affected by the coronavirus and related business shutdowns.

The first program, the Coronavirus Interruption Stipend, ended on July 2 after paying out $98.7 million to almost 4,000 businesses. Each business could receive up to $50,000 as relief for losses suffered because of business interruptions caused by public health orders adopted to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Another $39.3 million has been distributed through a program designed to help businesses forced to close by the public health orders that may have been unable to apply for relief through the first Coronavirus Interruption Stipend program or that had losses exceeding what they received through the interruption stipend program.

One of the other two programs still running, the Coronavirus Business Relief Stipend, makes up to $300,000 available to cover coronavirus-related losses.

The Wyoming Business Council, in a news release, said as of Friday, 2,480 businesses had applied for $182.7 million from the relief fund.

The second program, the Coronavirus Mitigation Stipend, makes up to $500,000 available to compensate businesses for expenses directly related to coronavirus, such as the purchase of personal protection equipment and the costs of extra sanitization measures.

As of Friday, 629 applicants had requested $28.3 million from the mitigation stipend program, the WBC said.

“The demand for the relief fund is very close to exceeding available dollars, while the mitigation fund requests have slowed to a trickle, potentially leaving millions of unused dollars,” said Josh Dorrell, the WBC’s chief executive officer. “We have decided to close applications in order to reallocate leftover funds to best serve the ongoing needs of Wyoming businesses later in the year.”

The state received $1.25 billion as its share of the federal coronavirus relief program. Under terms of the program, the money must be spent by the end of the year.

Gov. Mark Gordon said last week the state has spent about $829 million and is looking at other programs to provide assistance using the money, including funding for Internet service improvement in Wyoming’s rural areas, sending some of the money to local governments and providing funding to help meat processing companies in Wyoming expand their operations.

Online retail’s impact could be opportunity for ‘mom-and-pop shops’

in Economic development/News
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Online shopping is giving the Cowboy State’s brick-and-mortar retailers a run for their money, but it’s also creating new opportunities for local businesses, a Wyoming Business Council spokesperson said.  

“We’ve added 74 net new businesses and 168 net new jobs to the Wyoming economy in 2018,” said Tom Dixon, the Business Council’s content marketing manager. “When you’re looking at online shopping, an iPhone is an iPhone no matter where you buy it, but we’re seeing increased interest — especially in the younger generation — in unique and locally sourced products you can only find at a brick and mortar.”

Online retailers such as Amazon now offer one-day delivery options, providing a level of convenience close to that of a store with a physical location. But Trey Sherwood, executive director of the Laramie Main Street Alliance, said more and more Wyoming retailers are branching into new services to keep their customers coming back.

“We’re seeing businesses trying to close that leakage gap by offering services such as custom mail order purchases, where the business owner takes an order online or over the phone and puts the product in the mail that day,” Sherwood said. “There’s also a new trend called experience-based retail.”

Brick-and-mortar retailers are using face-to-face customer service, community building events and product workshops to create an experience beyond the simple exchange of money for goods, she explained.

Laramie’s historic downtown district experienced a serious slump during the 1970s, with businesses closing and storefronts sitting empty for years, but four decades later, Sherwood said the area is coming back strong — due in large part to reinvigoration efforts by the city and economic development organizations like Main Street.

“We don’t yet know to what extent our brick-and-mortar stores are being affected by online retail, but we know it is happening,” she said. “The pendulum will continue to swing, and we need to be prepared for what the next 50 years could bring.”

Creating a sense of place with art installments like the Laramie Mural Project is one way to keep consumers engaged with the local business community, but engagement can’t stop at the curb.

“There is an external conversation we need to have with our community — we simply can’t rely on buzz words like ‘shop small,’” Sherwood said. “We need to educate people in our communities about how spending money locally affects small economies.”

Large corporations aren’t immune to the pinch created by online shopping either, and several, including Shopko, Boot Barn and Kmart, recently pulled out of some Wyoming cities.

While the initial shock of losing a major retailer lingers for years, Dixon said the gaps left by big box stores can be beneficial.

“When something like that happens, the convenience is gone,” he said. “That provides a lot of opportunity for these mom-and-pop shops to expand their inventory and attract new customers.”

At the University of Wyoming College of Business, Elizabeth Minton, an associate professor of Marketing, has an eye on the future interactions of consumers and their retail preferences.

“I think in the coming years, we’re going to see a split,” Minton said. “People who are more money conscious are going to go online more, because it’s cheaper and likely will remain that way. People who are concerned about (economic) sustainability will likely shop more locally.”

WBC switches gears to focus more on industries

in Economic development/News
Wyoming Business Council
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By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily

CHEYENNE – As it enters its third decade of existence, the Wyoming Business Council finds itself at a crossroads. 

When it was founded in 1998, the state’s formal economic development agency saw physical infrastructure as the key to business development in the state – the “if you build it, he will come” approach, to borrow a line from the film “Field of Dreams.” 

Its response was the Business Ready Community grant and loan program, which launched in 2003 and has since provided nearly $389 million to cities, towns and their respective local economic development organizations. 

“Coming out of the ’90s there was really a lack of investing in infrastructure broadly in the state. I think that includes the hard infrastructure – roads, water, sewer – but also infrastructure in terms of workforce training, university training,” said Wyoming Business Council CEO Sean Reese. “That has really been the bulk of what the Business Council has done over the past many years.”

Now, however, WBC leadership is reevaluating its approach to business recruitment and retention, seeking to add diversity to its toolbox of grants, loan programs and technical assistance offerings with the aim of helping a broader spectrum of stakeholders and industry groups.

The Business Council estimates about $1.4 billion in private capital investment has come into Wyoming as a result of Business Ready Community-sponsored projects, or roughly $3.64 in private investment for every $1 WBC spends. It’s a figure Reese is proud of, but one he knows can’t last unless the Business Council stays responsive to the evolving needs of both established industries and potential newcomers.

“We need diversity of tools. The businesses and entrepreneurs we’ve talked to, they say ‘We don’t always need help building a building or a sewer.’ Some are entrepreneurs who need access to capital, or to help recruit companies that fit within an industry’s supply chain,” Reese said. 

Interconnected supply chains and access to high-speed broadband Internet have become just as important to burgeoning businesses as roads and water pipes, and it’s those needs Reese said the WBC wants input on as it uses the summer to revamp its portfolio of programs and services.

To kick-start the process, WBC this spring published a new strategic plan seeking to position Wyoming to “prosper no matter the economic climate or status of individual sectors.” To do this, WBC is renewing its focus on two areas: adding value to the state’s established industries and laying the foundation for new economic sectors to build upon.

“The big dogs in Wyoming’s economy are energy, tourism and ag,” Reese said. “But we also know when you compare Wyoming’s economy to the nation or the globe, there are certain sectors underrepresented in Wyoming we want to activate: health care, finance, professional services, the information sector, arts and culture.”

By leveraging its role as the state’s formal administrator of certain federal aid programs, Reese said the Business Council has the chance to prioritize innovation, technology and outreach to new markets using underutilized avenues.

“What gets lost a lot is the Business Council being the state economic development agency, meaning there are state and federal economic programs we can activate,” said Ron Gullberg, the WBC’s Business Development director. “For example, what agriculture needs is access to new markets; that’s not necessarily infrastructure, it’s help with logistics and connections.”

Gullberg said that WBC recently partnered with a Wyoming rancher to access funds through the Small Business Administration’s STEP program. Short for “State Trade and Export Promotion,” STEP is a three-year pilot initiative that provides matching-fund grants to help eligible small businesses access international markets.

“It covers up to $4,000 in travel costs to go over, do market research, have direct meetings with buyers,” Gullberg said. “We’ve got a Powell producer working with two restaurants over in Taiwan to supply Wyoming beef. So now without any marketing dollars spent over there, there’s word of mouth spreading about Wyoming beef at these two restaurants.”

That effort also underscores a greater push within the WBC to consult more closely with individual industry partners in the same way it has with municipalities. That’s something WBC Chief Strategy Officer Sarah Fitz-Gerald said will be especially important for understanding and attracting new or unorthodox industries.

“Our focus in the past was really driven more by communities and what they needed. Now we’re finding a sweet spot between what communities need and what industries need,” Fitz-Gerald said. “And our programs aren’t necessarily going to be off-the-shelf responses to what they need because those needs are going to change.”

Smaller towns in the state’s more rural areas should also expect to see more attention from the WBC going forward, Reese said, particularly as technology and connectivity innovations provide new ways of getting around some of the logistical challenges of such a wide-open state. 

“These new economic sectors, they’re different; people can work remotely, and we can increase the connectivity of those communities through things such as broadband, tele-health, regional air service,” Reese said. “Those are things where we’re working on initiatives, but we’re also working with communities to get them to work regionally. We have more financial tools, things such as opportunity zones, that require training communities to think about different ways to structure projects in ways they can do on their own.”

Wyoming residents look to themselves to boost business, populations

in Economic development/News/Business
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By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Residents in many Wyoming cities and towns are pitching in to invigorate their communities in the face of declining populations.

About three-fourths of the larger cities and towns in Wyoming saw people leave between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018, based on estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. A recent news release from Wenlin Liu, Wyoming Economic Administration’s senior economist, said Casper was the hardest hit community with a decline of 351 in population, followed by Rock Springs at a loss of 291. Cheyenne, meanwhile, gained 370 residents.

A random check with residents in towns and cities in the Cowboy State finds that many are trying to turn things around. Many get help from state and federal grants, non-money resources and education as well as private financial sources.

Lots of activity is going on now in Gillette, a city of about 31,903 people that depends heavily on the oil and gas revenues. Gillette lost 134 people between July 1, 2017 and July 1, 2018, according to Liu’s news release. The loss reflects an economic slide caused by plummeting oil and gas prices and diminished coal production.

Phil Christopherson, chief executive officer for Energy Capital Economic Development, the economic development arm for Campbell County, said city and county revenues dropped 30 to 40 percent because of the downturn a couple of years ago. But residents stayed strong. 

“Everybody came together and said ‘we’re going to make it through this.’ The community spirit really showed through” and is there today, he said.

The county’s economy is rebounding now, but the downturn meant “that the community became committed to diversify the economy,” Christopherson said. 

Energy Capital Economic Development proceeded with a business incubator program that was in the works when the crash occurred. The business incubator opened in September and has about nine business interests involved.

The agency also started plans for an advanced carbon research facility for exploring the many uses of coal. Its goal is to prove the technology exists to make the alternative uses of coal commercially viable.

The Wyoming Business Council will vote June 20 on a $1.4 million grant for the project, which also received money from an EDA federal grant and private investments.

In Rock Springs, officials are trying to determine how best to develop 15,000 acres of land near the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport, said Kayla McDonald, business development director for the Sweetwater County Economic Development organization.

Money for the $66,000 study will come mostly from a Wyoming Business Council grant as well as the economic development organization, the county, Rock Springs and Green River. The study will provide ideas about what businesses and industries would be best to recruit for the site, she said.

Economic development supporters also want to recruit more retail businesses and restaurants to the area, she said.

Meanwhile, Powell, a farming town in northwest Wyoming that added only four people to its census during the year, is also looking at new development. Residents now are excited about the planned construction of a new hotel and convention center, said Christine Bekes, executive director of the Powell Economic Partnership.

The center, with an estimated cost of $10 million, is planned to open in 2020 and should create around 33 new jobs. It is the result of a partnership between the Powell Economic Partnership and the Wyoming Business Council. Additional hotel rooms are in demand, Bekes said. 

“We’re right near Yellowstone National Park and the lodging is inadequate,” she said.

The new hotel will increase available lodging by 50 percent.

Other projects in Powell’s near future will rely heavily on community volunteers. A community action group is building Powell’s first public dog park. A dog park is high on the list of what people who are relocating want to see. 

“Those who live in urban environments come to expect it,” Bekes said.

Effective economic development also demands creative thinking.

“I think the communities that are thinking outside the box are finding some success” in terms of positive community development efforts, said Justin Schilling, coordinator of member services for the Wyoming Association of Municipalities. 

Schilling points as an example to high-tech education, such as Cheyenne’s Array School of Technology and Design. The city has a diversified workforce, allowing it to offer career training for high-tech jobs, he added.

Another creative project Schilling cited is the $7 million Evergreen Plaza, a proposed 30-room assisted living facility in Torrington, where the population dropped by 14 during the year.

Money to build the project will come from sources like a $2.6 million grant from the Wyoming Business Council, a loan from local banks and a partnership with the private assisted living provider. The facility can be a solid economic development tool, according to Schilling.

Positive economic development doesn’t always mean building big warehouses. Tom Dixon, marketing management coordinator for the Wyoming Business Council, said that some projects – like the Civic Center Commons park in Cheyenne – “help develop the soul of a place and make people feel more connected.”

Projects don’t have to be expensive, either. Sprucing up a downtown with flower planters, bushes or a giant chess set can make a big difference, Dixon added. 

Even though Cheyenne is the fastest-growing city in the state — it gained 370 people in one year — efforts to boost the economy are ongoing.

Economic development in Cheyenne long has relied on Cheyenne LEADS, a private, non-profit organization with its own volunteer board of directors. Business and community leaders formed LEADS 32 years ago to attract good jobs and industries to Laramie County, Executive Director Randy Bruns said. 

LEADS receives $50,000 a year each from the City of Cheyenne and Laramie County and money from private donations. More than 80 industries and 6,000 jobs have been created in Laramie County because of the work of LEADS. 

“I am still doing this job because when LEADS succeeds, when we have a success, we know that the result of our work helps to do good things in the community,” Bruns said.

Public sector tries new approach to solutions for private industries

in Economic development/News/Education
Wyoming Next Gen partnership workforce
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Few kids see the construction trades as a potential career choice these days, but a new partnership between Wyoming’s public and private sectors is working to change that.

“The Next Gen Sector Partnership is an opportunity to bring industries’ priorities to the center stage,” said Hayley McKee, a Wyoming Department of Workforce Services spokesperson.  “It’s an opportunity for these teams to work together in an aligned approach rather than a siloed approach.”

Initiated in spring 2018, the partnership was designed to position industry professionals as the leaders in economic growth, with the public sector following their lead. 

“In the end, it’s about creating good jobs,” McKee said. “And connecting people with good jobs.”

In Laramie County, Next Gen has already experienced a measure of success, she said.

Larry Fodor, a project manager for the Cheyenne-based Mechanical Systems Inc., said he is working with the partnership to highlight the benefits of in the trades.

“We hope to improve the image and perception of the construction industry,” Fodor said. “The construction industry, in general, is not the dirty, unsafe industry it used to be.” 

Fodor and Next Gen have worked with Laramie County School District No. 1 to coordinate a bus tour for school counselors and staff, visiting several construction businesses around Cheyenne, he said. The initiative can help school district staff and students learn about a variety of construction-based career opportunities, providing details on wages, benefits packages and training options.

“It’s allowed us to show a side-by-side comparison of what a graduate with a bachelor’s degree earns right out of college vs. a journeyman, who’s spent a similar amount of time learning his trade while getting paid,” Fodor explained. “We’ve seen a strong response to the Next Gen approach.”

After working construction in Laramie County for more than a decade, he said the partnership is a refreshing approach to recurring challenges.

“Next Gen as a whole is a new way of looking at solving old problems,” Fodor said. “These problems have been talked about for years without any meaningful way of getting together and moving toward a goal.”

McKee said Next Gen allows entities such as the Wyoming Workforce Development Council, Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Department of Education and Workforce Services to use data to identify challenges in regions across Wyoming, then approach industry leaders in those regions with an invitation to help develop a solution.

“In Laramie county, they selected trades as their area to focus on,” she explained. “But in other regions, they have looked at finance, healthcare and hospitality to name just a few.”

Still in its infancy, Next Gen could help develop struggling economic sectors, stabilizing Wyoming’s boom-bust cycle while reducing the number of young professionals leaving the state in search of jobs, McKee said.

“It’s not necessarily just challenges, but often the partnership is working to build opportunities as well,” she said. “These initiatives are just starting, and they have selected focus areas, but later on down the line, there are other industries that are prime for partnership.”

Legislature overrides two Gordon vetoes

in Government spending/News
Governor Gordon veto, ALT=Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon vetos first bill
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Two of Gov. Mark Gordon’s 14 vetoes to the Legislature’s supplemental budget were overridden by the Legislature on Wednesday.

As time ran out on what was scheduled to be the session’s final day, lawmakers were only able to agree to overturn two of the vetoes of budget footnotes, one having to do with eliminating two positions from the state engineer’s office and one calling for an analysis of the cost benefit of continuing to use a state airplane.

Gordon on Tuesday issued his veto notice, saying most of the budget footnotes he vetoed either should have been addressed in a separate bill or improperly encroached on the responsibilities of the executive branch.

Legislators often attach footnotes to budget bills to offer specific spending instructions or make adjustments to existing programs.

Gordon said the two positions eliminated from the state engineer’s office included one filled position, which would require one person to be removed from the department. He vetoed the footnote on the state airplane because he said the issue should have been addressed in a separate bill.

Both the Senate and House voted to override those two vetoes. The House also voted to override two more vetoes, one requiring the Wyoming Business Council to spend additional money to promote Wyoming agriculture products in Asia and another requiring the WBC to work with manufacturers to lure federal defense and aerospace contracts to the state. However, the Senate could not agree to an override on those issues.

One of first state ‘Kickstart’ companies in operation

in News
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

One of the first companies to receive a new type of economic development grant from the state of Wyoming has started operations in Cheyenne.

Nymbl, financed in part by a $50,000 startup grant from Kickstart: Wyoming, uses its proprietary software to help companies sell and deliver small quantities of imprinted merchandise.

The service is particularly valuable to small companies that may want to sell imprinted products such as coffee cups and T-shirts but do not want to keep large inventories of the goods on hand, said Chris Mickey, Nymbl’s director of marketing and outreach.

“We want to give people who have a small business or small following a chance to merchandise,” Mickey said. “Our platform makes it so they don’t have to have any inventory at all.”

Users of the system, a band, as an example, can set up an account at the company’s website, nymbl.io, and select from a list of products what it wants to put on the market. Using the software developed by Nymbl CEO Zac Folk, users can virtually apply a logo or design and then preview how the products will look.

After linking the product page to their own website, users can then direct visitors to the Nymbl site, where visitors can select the product they want, right down to size and color, and then place and pay for the order. Manufacturers used by Nymbl the handle the shipping.

Kickstart: Wyoming is a Wyoming Business Council program that provides grants of $5,000 to $50,000 to startup companies with a high growth potential and fewer than 50 employees.

In addition to the state financing, Nymbl received an investment from Breakthrough 307, an organization created to provide capital to Wyoming companies.

Breakthrough 307 is made up of 20 investors who have put money into an account to invest in small Wyoming companies like Nymbl, said Jerad Stack, one of the group’s founders.

“We are really excited about Nymbl,” Stack said. “It’s a high growth space, a value-added e-commerce platform that will solve a really big problem. We’re looking for companies that solve problems in really big markets and Nymbl is definitely that.”

Such private sector involvement was identified as crucial to economic development efforts by the “Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming” or “ENDOW” program created by former Gov. Matt Mead.

The program’s primary goal was to identify ways the state can break away from the “boom and bust” cycle of its energy industry. In 2018, the group released its 20-year plan.

Stack, who serves on ENDOW’s executive council, said his group agreed before ENDOW released its report that one of Wyoming’s big problems was a lack of access to capital for entrepreneurs.

“When you go and look at the lists of best states to do business in … Wyoming is consistently 48th to 50th in our ability for entrepreneurs to access capital,” he said. “When you look at venture capital, ‘angel’ capital, early seed stage money, there isn’t a lot of that. We see ourselves as part of that.”

Stack and his fellow investors started Breakthrough 307 about 18 months ago and have made fewer than 10 investments in fledgling companies. The group is very selective in its choices of investments.

“We’re doing this to help Wyoming companies and we also want to make a profit,” he said. “So not every little startup is something you make a profit on. When you look at the statistics on these investments, most fail and a handful succeed. But you don’t know which is which going in. You’ve got to pick what you think are a bunch of winners.”

After investing, Breakthrough 307 provide the expertise of its investors — who include experts in technology, finance and marketing, to name a few areas — to the companies it has invested in.

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