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Wildfire Labs: A Year in Review

As another year draws to a close, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the journey of Wildfire Labs. It all began with a simple idea between Mike Vetter and me, and a modest graphic we threw together in PowerPoint: 

Screenshot 2024-01-29 at 5.37.01 PM

Little did we know, this was just the beginning of something remarkable.  

Our proposal to Elevate, our local economic development organization, was a bold step. Their belief in us, evidenced by a three-year contract, was both an endorsement and a challenge. We were not alone in this journey; a few entrepreneurs took a chance on us, marking the beginning of our collaborative adventure. 

Our partnership with SD Mines and Brian Butterfield's senior design was a strategic alignment, bringing in fresh perspectives and innovative minds. Mycroft and Matthew moved to Rapid City to build Klipt, a unique app in the gaming digital assets space. Leads started coming in through Builders + Backers,  increasing our reach nationally.  

The addition of Aaron Grinager as our first general partner was a game changer. Aaron's focus on building out content laid the foundation for what would become the Wildfire Hub, an app designed to house our methodology, track the progress of our founders, and deliver key content to help our founders build fast. 

Jim and Darren Harr came on board, instrumental in securing apartments for our candidates from out of town and providing co-working space. Our two offices in downtown Rapid City became hubs of collaboration and innovation for our founders. 


With a clear message to share, we launched our social media program, not just to spread the word but to build credibility. This effort paid dividends as more entrepreneurs joined us, including Cathy Jordan who moved from Tulsa to Rapid City to launch her company - Hiya Clearners. 

Recognizing the need for more resources for our startups, we brought on Eric Martz as a general partner. Eric has been instrumental in helping our startups prepare for raising capital – including key skills such as forecasting, measuring key metrics, and preparing to pitch.  

As we added entrepreneurs to our program, we saw a need to expose entrepreneurs to experts who could help them build CEO skills in finance, marketing/sales, fund raising, and other areas. Wildfire University was born, a hybrid in-person and virtual seminar series. 

Entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs is at the core of what we do, and we wanted startups in our community to learn from those that have gone before. With this in mind we launched a podcast, featuring 13 episodes. In our first season we highlighted the entrepreneurial journeys of our founders. 

We also launched a blog highlighting bedrock ideas and methodological concepts to help any startup – not just those in our program.  

Our partnership with Elevate evolved into becoming a Microsoft TechSparks community, bolstering our tooling and machine learning support. This program gives our startups access to tools to help them build fast. 

Many of our founders aren’t developers, so we saw a need to add a development team to get MVP’s built and out to market faster. Broodstack joined us as our development partner, ensuring our founders had reliable support for their MVPs. 

 Working closely with the South Dakota Governor's Office of Economic Development, we secured "proof of concept" funding for startups to build their MVPs. We celebrated the graduation of two companies, a testament to our collaborative efforts. 

 Mark Rothfuss, our fifth partner, joined to focus on generating new leads. Our partnership with The Batchery (link to the blog post), a Silicon Valley accelerator, was a significant milestone. This collaboration not only fast-tracks candidates from our program but also adds early-stage leads to our roster. 

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Our partnership with opened up a new avenue for resources for entrepreneurs, expecting to generate a significant percentage of our startups in the upcoming year. We will be hosting our first event with F6s in January – more on that soon. 

Our initial target was 7-8 candidates, but we welcomed 14 this year. Our partners dedicated hundreds of mentoring hours, and we received 117 applications. This hard work, however, was always rewarding, aligning with people and founders who shared our goals and cultural values. 

The most rewarding thing about Wildfire Labs is watching founders grow. We’ll end our summary with words from two of our founders, Jared and Cathy, about their experiences:. 

“My biggest challenge coming into Wildfire is I didn’t know software. Wildfire was there every step of the way as I learned how to launch a software app and successfully raise my first round of pre-seed capital.” – Jared – Founder – Signed Up Sports 

“Starting a business is hard. It was so hard I would have quit at least twice if the team at Wildfire wasn’t there to encourage me and help me through the tough spots. I’ve successfully raised funding to build my MVP thanks to Wildfire!” – Cathy – Founder – HIYA Cleaners 

As we look towards 2024, we are filled with pride and excitement. Our message and methodology - entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs - has resonated deeply. We are on the cusp of something truly special.