Platform for renting outdoor gear wins idea competition

BLOOMINGTON — The Mill, Bloomington’s nonprofit center for entrepreneurship, announced that John Laughlin and Josh Roche are the winners of the 2021 Crossroads Idea Competition for their proposal, WANDR. WANDR will build a community of outdoor adventurers who want to either rent out their own gear or seek to rent others’ gear.

Josh Roche

Roche, Senior Financial Analyst at Cook Medical, and Laughlin, Account Director at Near The Box, a custom software engineering company, have been exploring the WANDR concept for a few months. Outdoor adventure gear is expensive, they say, and the cost is a major barrier, as is storage space. Meanwhile, people who do buy specialized equipment often find that it sits idle in the garage for most of the year. WANDR will connect the dots between adventurers who need gear and equipment owners who’d like to recoup some of the costs. Roche and Laughlin won the Crossroads Idea prize of $2,500, sponsored by Velocities, to develop the idea further.

This is the second year for the Crossroads Idea Competition (rebranded from Spark). Applicants submitted a one-page executive summary explaining the problem the startup would address, the solution, the customer base, revenue model, and evidence of need. Five finalists were selected to submit a five-minute recorded pitch for the demo night, which was held Wednesday afternoon on Zoom. Finalists then had five minutes to answer questions from judges. The judges were Elise Young, Director of gBETA Bloomington-Columbus; Adam Gross, Executive Director, Career Coaching & Employer Connections at Ivy Tech; and Dave Bittner, SCORE business consultant, and retired executive.

Andy Lehman

“We designed this event to be a low-barrier entry to the entrepreneurial ecosystem that builds confidence and connections,” explained Andy Lehman, Head of Accelerator Programming for The Mill. “We see it as one of the first steps in bringing an idea to market. WayZada made their first pitch at this event last year, for example, and now they’ve just graduated from gBETA and secured a $20,000 investment from Elevate Ventures. I’m sure we’ll see other success stories emerge from this year’s participants.”

Roche and Laughlin have already done customer research and interviews, user flow mapping, and brand-building. Last month, they won the Elevate Nexus Regional Pre-Seed Competition.

“The WANDR team is incredibly thankful for the opportunity to share our vision of the company through the Crossroads Idea Competition,” COO Roche said in a statement. “Being selected not only validates what John and I have built thus far, but the funds will be useful as we continue to develop our MVP and engage in market research over the coming months. A secondary thanks to The Mill for their continued support of the startup community here in Bloomington. They are a resource any entrepreneur is lucky to have.” 

Roche acknowledges that a few startups already exist in the outdoor equipment rental space, but none, he says, has achieved the robust pairing of supply (owners) and demand (renters) that fueled the growth of successful peer-to-peer platforms such as AirBnB. WANDR aims to solve this problem and leverage partnerships with retailers as well. Their next step is to build an MVP for a regional launch in the Midwest in April 2022. Key product categories will include camping/hiking, biking, and canoeing/kayaking.

About The Mill

The Mill is the heart of southern Indiana’s startup ecosystem and its largest coworking space. A 501(c)3 nonprofit, its mission is to spark Bloomington’s innovation economy by launching and accelerating startups, and its vision is to become Indiana’s center of gravity for entrepreneurship. For more information, visit