Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, and every business plays a critical role in keeping Montana’s towns vibrant. The Treasure State consistently ranks among the top five in reports from the Kauffman Foundation in rates of business ownership and business sustainability.

In our Q and A series, we’ll introduce you to some of Montana’s brightest and best entrepreneurs from all corners of the state. These businesses are involved in a variety of industries including hospitality, retail, and food.

Join us we meet Lisa Ledoux, the vice president and COO of a business in Bozeman!

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X5 Test Vehicle 3 - Blackmore Lidar Sensors

X5 Test Vehicle 3 – Blackmore Lidar Sensors

In 2012, a report from Regional Technology Strategies identified a quickly growing cluster of optics and photonics companies and research institutions in Montana. According to this report, the cluster of more than 25 organizations were the highest per capita concentration of optics and photonics companies and research institutions in Montana. Many of these organizations are located in Bozeman, thanks to a strong program at Montana State University.

As the photonics industry in Bozeman grows, one of the companies making headlines recently is Blackmore Lidar Sensors.

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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.

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By: Katy Spence, Montana High Tech Business Alliance

Eric Hathaway, Zoot Enterprises Invests

Eric Hathaway, Zoot Enterprises

Zoot Enterprises has come a long way from its early days in Chris Nelson’s basement in 1990. Today, more than 250 people work at the sprawling campus in Bozeman, with more employees in Billings.

Zoot Enterprises Invests

Client Delivery Manager Haden Busch has been with Zoot for 11 years. His team currently manages four of Zoot’s top 10 largest clients. Busch has seen Zoot’s and Four Corners’ growth firsthand over the past decade. He remembers when he could look out Zoot’s windows and see nothing but grass- and farmland. Now, Bozeman’s growth has caught up to Zoot, and new buildings are being erected all around the campus.

“There’s just been extreme growth out here, plus our expansion into the worldwide area,” Busch said. “The valley really lends itself well to bringing in talented folks because there is kind of a hub of it here in Bozeman. We’re continuing to grow not only in personnel size, but also in depth of knowledge.”

One of these talented folks is Vice President of Marketing Eric Hathaway. Born and raised in Bozeman, Hathaway’s career in financial services took him all over the world. Working for huge companies such as Microsoft and T-Mobile, Hathaway has lived all over the U.S., in the Czech Republic, and in Hong Kong.

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Vim & Vigr, colorful compression socks

Michelle Huie, founder of VIM & VIGR

Michelle Huie’s dad was confused about why she wanted to start her compression sock company, VIM & VIGR.

“I told him I was doing this, and at the time I had a great job and a great salary,” Huie said. “The first thing he said was, ‘Compression socks? You don’t know know how to sew socks.’ He thought I was sewing and producing socks in my living room. He was surprised because I’m not the most savvy when it comes to things like that.”

Since that conversation with her father, Huie’s Missoula based company has taken off to fill a need for fashionable compression socks.

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2018 Early Stage MT winners

2018 Early Stage MT winners

After months of refining their business plans and pitches, Sellout from Bozeman and Superior Traffic Services from Missoula tied for first and were named the 2018 Early Stage MT winners on Saturday.

“It feels pretty amazing to have won Early Stage MT,” said Joel Martin, one of the founders of Sellout. “We have been struggling to figure out how to pitch this product the best way for the last couple of months ever since the accelerator ended. For it to finally come together this week and to bring it to the stage, we were so nervous for the presentation. But it’s gratifying to have won and to have done this whole process with the amazing core we have.”

Both of the Early Stage MT winners will receive $25,000 and have the opportunity to present at the Frontier Angels meeting in October. Alosant from Bozeman finished third overall and will also present to the Frontier Angels, a Montana based angel fund group. The other businesses that participated in the Early Stage MT showcase included Elation, WebBuy, Elebase and Cardsetter.

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A screenshot of how Quiq allows customers message businesses

A screenshot of the Office Depot website shows an option to text to the company, which is a feature available because of Quiq.

There wasn’t one particular “ah-ha” moment for why Mike Myer wanted to create Quiq, his messaging software for businesses.

“People text each other,” Myer said. “Why not text a company?”

Myer start contemplating that question in 2014, and since the launch of Quiq (pronounced “quick”), this Bozeman company has become a competitive player in the software messaging world.

How Quiq Allows Customers Message Businesses

Quiq is a software for businesses that allows customers to message companies in a variety of ways, such as texting on your phone or Facebook Messenger. Some of Quiq’s 80 customers include Office Depot, Pier One, and Overstock.com. The most common way users use Quiq is through text, said Quiq’s Chief Marketing Officer, Dani Wanderer.

“A few years ago or even yesterday you might have made a call to a company’s customer service organization, or you might have emailed them,” she said. “This is just an additional channel that consumers can use to reach out to companies. You just text message your product questions, support questions and connect with an agent. The thing that is nice about text messaging is you don’t have to make a phone call, put your life on hold, or get put on hold. You don’t have schedule time out of your day to get help.”

Now that companies are becoming familiar with messaging platforms, Wanderer said they are focusing on best practices for implementing messaging platforms in businesses.

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Check out these five stories from across Montana that highlight entrepreneurship, the high tech sector, and everything else that makes Montana great!

woman by creek in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

1. ATG introduces Big Brothers Big Sisters Kids to Programming

Last Saturday, children with Missoula’s Big Brothers Big Sisters programming dipped their toes into the world of computer programming thanks to Advanced Technology Group (ATG) in Missoula.

During a summer camp, kids learned about the basics of programming using a program called Scratch. This program allows users to create characters to interact with their surroundings, objects, or other characters. The visual language can be connected in blocks, telling characters or objects to move, make sound, display text in a speech bubble, and a variety of other options.

Each pair of students created their own animations with aid from ATG employees.

Click here to learn more from the Missoula Current.

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picture of Dave Goodman, telecommuter from Frenchtown, MT

Dave Goodman, telecommuter near Frenchtown, MT

Happy Telecommuting Tuesday!

Are you looking for the flexibility to work from home and live in Montana? Or are you looking to change careers or to pivot in your current career? Have you considered telecommuting?

According to a study released in 2017 by the Montana Telecommunications Association, Montana ranks No. 1 in the country in telecommuting. Telecommuting offers former Montanans the ability to make Montana home again and is a career opportunity for residents in the Treasure State’s small towns.

Read what Dave Goodman, a software engineer working remotely for a non-profit in Kansas, had to say about telecommuting from near Frenchtown:

Hi, my name is Dave Goodman

I am a software engineer and I currently work for The IDEA Center, a non-profit in Manhattan, Kansas.  More than half of my coworkers are remote.  I’ve worked remotely from my ranch near Frenchtown for most of the last 10 years. 

My wife and I have an off-grid horse ranch, and it is quite literally the best place I have ever lived.  For me, the biggest benefit of working remotely is free time.  Since I don’t have to drive into Missoula (an hour each way) or travel to other cities anymore, I have much more time to spend with family and friends. 

And speaking of family, we have guests at our ranch from late May until September, often back-to-back-to-back.  You may be wondering how I can work from home when we have a full house?  It is easy, the first rule of visiting us is “You cannot have fun before 4PM“.

To submit your own 300 to 500-word telecommuting story, email Alexandria@MontanaChamber.com.

Editor’s Note: The following article was written by Paul Gladen, Director at Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana.

Paul Gladen, Director at Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana

Paul Gladen, Director at Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana

Who do you think of when someone says entrepreneur? Steve Jobs? Oprah Winfrey? Elon Musk? Mark Zuckerberg?

These are certainly the kind of folks Wall Street and the media like to lionize for changing the world on a massive scale. But these entrepreneurs and their businesses can perhaps seem at odds with the Montana way of life, especially in light of recent controversies at corporations like Facebook.

All of this raises the question of what a Montana entrepreneur and a Montana startup might look like. What kind of startup activity is achievable AND desirable in Montana?

To begin to answer these questions let me tell you about some of Montana’s latest cohort of emerging entrepreneurs: Jenny Sheets, Ari Ronick, and Sara Boughner.

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