The Casper Area Economic Development Alliance is exploring the possibility of transferring the operation of its business incubator to the University of Wyoming.
Scott Sutherland, CAEDA president and CEO, said he hopes to reach an agreement with the university but the process is still in the early stages.
“I think it would be extraordinarily beneficial for the client companies that go in out there, for the community as a whole to get a larger University of Wyoming footprint within Casper,” he said. “I just can’t see a downside to it.”
A business incubator is designed to assist start-up enterprises, and Sutherland said the University of Wyoming has experience that CAEDA does not.
“They’ve already gone through the learning curve,” he said.
Jon Benson, CEO of the Wyoming Technology Business Center, has operated a statewide incubator on the UW campus in Laramie since 2006. The center offers services such as counseling and networking to expand companies faster than they would otherwise.
“The idea of a business incubator is that you combine space with access to shared services and business management advice for early-stage companies,” he said.
The Wyoming Technology Business Center focuses on companies that could increase to a $3 million to $5 million business with a 10 to 20 percent net profit, and Benson said four companies have “graduated” from the program since its inception.
The university is currently working with Campbell County Economic Development Corporation to operate an incubator in Gillette that is in development. Benson said the format for operating Casper’s incubator would allow access to the university’s current business programs and would be determined after university officials sign a letter of intent.
The 40,000-square-foot Casper Area Innovation Center, located on the Platte River Commons, is still under construction itself, and Sutherland said the incubator has one committed anchor tenant — a psychologist and psychiatrist. An anchor tenant is intended to draw and maintain other businesses.
If the university agrees to operate the incubator, Sutherland said CAEDA intends to still be an “active partner,” helping to obtain clients and funding. The group may also consider administering a small revolving loan fund.
The Casper City Council on Tuesday briefly received a briefing from those involved with CAEDA or the Economic Development Joint Powers Board, and the majority said they thought the move would be positive for the incubator.
“I think maybe it’s not a bad idea,” EDJPB member Bill Brauer said. “They’re going to do better than people we have here.”
Vice Mayor Paul Meyer, the city representative on the CAEDA board, said he also supported a University of Wyoming-run incubator.
“If this affiliation to a UW energy school comes forth, It looks like a really good situation to nurture businesses over there,” he said.
Natrona County Commissioner Bill McDowell, who represents the county as a CAEDA board member, said he personally supports the potential partnership. Although the commission has not yet had any formal discussion of the idea, he thought it would, too.
“I think when they look at all of the numbers that they would agree that it would be great for the incubator,” he said.
Sutherland said CAEDA is also considering the purchase of equipment, such as a three-dimensional printer or gas chromatography-mass spectrometry machine, which detects a particular substance within a sample. The Economic Development Joint Powers Board previously approved $50,000 for equipment that could fund the purchases.
Equipment will depend on the agreement with the university and its intended uses, though, and Sutherland said CAEDA is waiting on a response. If CAEDA obtains a signed letter of intent, the group would need to get approval from funding sources and rework legal documents.
“It’s quite a process that’s really just in the beginning phases,” Sutherland said.