Early Stage MT – Pat LaPointe

Pat LaPointe

Editor’s Note: The following article is a guest piece by Pat LaPointe, the Managing Director of Frontier Angels and acting Chairman of Early Stage Montana.

As Montanans, we’re blessed with the natural resources that have allowed us to build a strong economy on extraction industries, agriculture, and tourism. But we’re experiencing a few formidable challenges. Extraction and agriculture have globalized, driving down profits and shedding jobs in the process. And growth in tourism, while great for the local hotels, restaurants, etc., tends to create jobs that pay below-average or seasonal wages.

Fortunately, Montana ranks in the top five states in the nation for entrepreneurism with the highest rates of new company formations and business longevity1. Unfortunately, new businesses in Montana are actually less likely to scale in size, hire 20 or more people, or hold patents or other intellectual property2. In other words, we’re great at creating small services businesses, but not as effective at creating larger businesses with technology roots to employ hundreds or thousands of Montanans with training, benefits, and above-average paychecks.

Helping Montana Tech Businesses Grow

Services businesses, while cornerstones of our communities and critical to serving tourism, tend to re-circulate money already inside the state’s economy as the dollars pass from neighbor-to-neighbor. But when a company makes a product here and sells it to companies or people living outside Montana, the size of Montana’s economy grows and jobs are created without corresponding increases in traffic or congestion or overburdening our schools. This kind of growth brings in tax dollars to fund critical statewide programs without relying on higher property or business taxes and keeps us relevant in a global economy, providing quality jobs for young adults so they can stay and live in thriving communities.

That’s precisely why we started Early Stage Montana – a non-profit organization whose mission is to accelerate the growth of emerging technology businesses in Montana so they can create more good jobs and expand the economy, faster. We provide young tech companies with training, mentorship, and financing options to accelerate their growth, helping entrepreneurs avoid the common mistakes that tend to slow them down, while connecting them to networks of customers, partners, and advisors who can help them grow, faster.

Early Stage MT Showcase – 2018

In 2018, Early Stage Montana organized regional showcases throughout the state, giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to present their businesses to a panel of experts and investors. More than 30 businesses entered. Seven with the most scalable ideas and promising assets were selected to attend an intensive week-long Hyper-Accelerator program supported by over 40 successful mentors helping them tune their plans and build bigger visions.

These seven finalists companies gathered again in September in a Statewide Showcase to compete for a $50,000 investment from Frontier Angels, Montana’s leading angel investment group. With over 200 people rooting them on, each company made their best “pitch”, interspersed with panel discussions featuring venture capitalists, educators, and technology transfer professionals from across the western US.

In the end, two terrific businesses tied for the top honors: Sellout, an online ticketing platform company in Bozeman, and Superior Traffic Services, a Missoula company making high-tech traffic light system for construction zones. But the overall impact of the program has been even bigger already as amongst the 7 finalists, nearly 6 million dollars of investment capital have been raised since the Showcase, with 8 new full-time jobs already created and over 20 more planned for the coming year. It’s working. Now we need to expand it.

Plans for 2019

For 2019, with support from numerous organizations including the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, SBDC, the MT High Tech Business Alliance, Big Sky Economic Development, Missoula Economic Partnership, Blackstone Launchpads at MSU and UM, Next Frontier Capital, and many others, Early Stage Montana will again hold three regional competitions in early May and expand to two Hyper-Accelerator programs during the summer, followed by the Statewide Showcase event in November to compete for the grand prize.

The entrepreneurial sprit is thriving in Montana. Early Stage Montana is providing the support to help fuel the growth and create more jobs more quickly to boost our economy and build thriving communities for the 21st century.

For further information, visit us online at earlystagemontana.org.

1 Kauffman Foundation
2 Bureau of Business and Economic Research of the University of Montana. (August, 2018.) The State of Entrepreneurship in Montana. Retrieved from: https://www.montanachamber.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/State-of-Entrepreneurship-Report.pdf

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