Like the threads of a tapestry, three Wyoming businesses in completely different industries have woven together to create something special in downtown Laramie.
It begins with Mountain Meadow Wool in Buffalo, where Karen Hostetler turns high-quality wool from local farmers into yarn.
She ships her manufactured product internationally, but some of that yarn finds its way south to downtown Laramie.
There, Lori Kirk operates a fiber retail business called Cowgirl Yarn. The store, bursting with skeins of fiber dyed every color of the rainbow, and more, has become a gathering place of sorts for knitters, crocheters, weavers and spinners in the region.
Kirk founded the company more than a decade ago and has long wanted to expand so she can host craft classes. Raising money to make the idea a reality proved to be a formidable obstacle.
That’s where a third Wyoming company, Laramie tech startup The Local Crowd, stepped in.
Founders Diane Wolverton and Kim Vincent designed crowdfunding software and a program focused on providing small communities the tools to help projects succeed through collaboration.
“It works like a barn raising, where the community supports each other,” Wolverton said. “We teach people why helping this project is good for them, we show people what’s in it for them.”
The Local Crowd operates in five states, with more coming online all the time.
Mountain Meadow Wool and The Local Crowd received state grants from the Wyoming SBIR/STTR Initiative (Small Business Innovative Research/Small Business Technology Transfer). The initiative is a partner of the Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency.
Companies are awarded $5,000 grants through the initiative. The money can be used for grant writers and consultants who specialize in successfully applying for federal research contracts ranging from $100,000 to $230,000. The state provides additional funding for companies applying for even bigger federal grants.
Wyoming businesses have won more than 200 federal contracts worth more than $51 million with the Initiative’s help.
Some of that money helped Wolverton and Vincent prove their The Local Crowd concept can work at scale. Mountain Meadow Wool used its award to create a patented commercial wool-washing process.
Now, The Local Crowd’s platform is helping Cowgirl Yarn raise money within the Laramie community to aid its expansion. The company has raised $5,300 from more than 70 donors to turn the store’s basement into The Fernwood Studio. Cowgirl Yarn’s goal is $7,200.
“At Cowgirl Yarn, we give fiber people from around the Wyoming area a place to gather, share ideas and create gorgeous things together. The Fernwood Studio is a natural extension of that mission,” Kirk said. “Our emphasis on the local not only makes us a unique store, it fosters a sense of home and awareness of what Wyoming has to offer.”
As The Local Crowd, Mountain Meadow Wool and Cowgirl Yarn show, part of what Wyoming has to offer small business owners is a tight-knit network of companies eager to help each other succeed.
Combined with the expertise of programs like Wyoming SBIR/STTR Initiative, these companies are diversifying the state’s economy in technology and enhanced agricultural products. The success of these businesses strengthens Wyoming downtowns and improves the livability of their communities.
During Economic Development Week, the Business Council is celebrating both the state resources providing the tools and the entrepreneurs using those tools to build a better Wyoming. Learn more at wyomingbusiness.org.
About the Wyoming Business Council: Our mission is to increase Wyoming’s prosperity. We envision a Wyoming where industries are strong, diverse and expanding. Small business is a big deal. Communities have the highest quality of life. Wyoming is the technology center of the High Plains. Wyoming knows no boundaries. Please go to www.wyomingbusiness.org for more information.