100 Montana Technology Leaders Attend Missoula Reception

More than 100 guests turned out for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance’s second member reception in Missoula on November 13, making it clear Montanans are willing to brave cold weather and travel long distances to network with other leaders in high tech and manufacturing.

Thanks to Platinum Affiliate and host First Interstate Bank, members enjoyed amazing hors d’ oeuvres, drinks, and panoramic views of Missoula from the 6th floor of their downtown branch. David Olson, president of the Missoula Market, and Vice President Sue Larew shone a spotlight on two up-and-coming Missoula entrepreneurs – Paige Williams, founder of the Audience Awards, and Walker Milhoan, founder of RanchLogs. Paige and Walker represent great success stories out of MonTEC and the UM Blackstone LaunchPad, respectively.

Thomas Kurdy and the team at Content Monkeys were there with their cameras. View Reception Photo Album on Facebook

While there are countless reasons to celebrate the Fall Member Reception, here are three highlights:

1. Cross-State Connections

Nearly 30 percent of reception attendees came from outside Missoula, and many members took time to strengthen relationships with partners from other communities. For example:

Andrew Hull, president of Elixiter in Bozeman, and key team members spent the early part of the day exploring recruiting opportunities with the University of Montana School of Business Administration to fuel their fast growth as a marketing services agency for users of Marketo marketing automation software.

Tim Robertson, president and CEO of Century Companies, and Tom Spika, CEO of Spika Welding and Manufacturing, brought a crowd from the thriving Central Montana Manufacturing Alliance in Lewistown. The group shared news of their progress collaborating with leaders in Montana’s two-year colleges to develop training programs to meet the growing demand for skilled workers in their area.

Greg Gianforte, founder of RightNow Technologies and Managing Director of the Bozeman Technology Incubator, paid visits to leaders at a number of Missoula companies including Advanced Technology Group (ATG) and Goomzee.

Other out-of-town guests included Jeff Trom, CTO of Workiva in Bozeman; Joshua Maki, division director for DRS Technologies in Polson, and his wife, Jamie; and Derrick and Jennah Mitchell, owners of Mitchell’s Garage in Kalispell. Eric Fulton, CEO of Treasure State Internet in Helena, and new members Dan and Susan Metzger, CEO and director of recruitment, respectively, for OppSource.com, who drove over from their home in Ennis.

The prize for the greatest distance traveled, however, goes to Ted Brookbank, senior vice president for ATG from Kentucky, who attended the reception as a guest of Tom Stergios, VP and head of ATG’s Missoula Solutions Center. Ted was thankful his wife reminded him to bring his coat when he boarded the plane for Montana.

2. Montana Women in Technology

Women in tech in Montana were well-represented on Thursday. Around 40 percent of our guest list was female, with 10+ women founders and CEOs in the room, including:

Montana should also be proud that two women at the reception have written textbooks on technology. Jakki Mohr, Regents Professor of Marketing in the UM School of Business Administration, has achieved international acclaim for Marketing of High-Technology Products and Innovations (2010, 3rd edition, with Sanjit Sengupta and Stanley Slater), while Sherri Davidoff co-authored, Network Forensics: Tracking Hackers Through Cyberspace (Prentice Hall, 2012), the world’s first textbook on the subject.

3. Partnerships in Education

A well-trained workforce is central to supporting the growth of Montana’s high tech economy, so it was encouraging to see several leaders in higher education at the reception networking with principals of high tech and manufacturing companies.

Clayton Christian, Montana’s Commissioner of Higher Education, was present, along with Fran Albrecht of the Montana Board of Regents.

Brett Gunnink, dean of the College of Engineering at Montana State University, traveled to Missoula from Bozeman, along with John Paxton, chair of MSU’s Computer Science Department. Doug Raiford, chair of the Computer Sciences Department at the University of Montana, also attended.

Many Alliance member companies grew out of research conducted at Montana’s universities, so we were happy to host UM VP of Research Scott Whittenburg and Director of Technology Transfer Joe Fanguy along with faculty entrepreneurs from the UM like Sam Panarrella of Agile Legal Technology and Leonid Kalachev, chair of UM’s Mathematical Sciences Dept.

Businesses met educators like Mark Reiser, outreach coordinator for the UM Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, willing to alert their best and brightest students to Montana job opportunities. And a number of university leaders told me they met prospective board members at the event who could bring insights to higher education.

What’s Ahead for the MT High Tech Business Alliance?

Membership in the Alliance has grown to 110 firms, up 35 percent since our kick-off reception in June.

This summer we put out a survey asking our members why they joined the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. The number one response was networking, with 63 percent of respondents citing this as their number one reason for joining. Other top priorities for members included increasing the visibility of the high tech industry in Montana and helping high tech companies create and fill high-paying jobs.

In the interest of helping you meet your goals for growth, we hope all members will take advantage of the following opportunities:

Take the BBER Survey

We know high tech and manufacturing companies in Montana are growing fast and creating high paying jobs. Wouldn’t it be great to have significant data to help us tell that story? Together with the UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research, the Alliance is conducting a short, web-based survey of Montana technology and manufacturing firms. Please complete this survey.

The survey is also open to non-Alliance-member Montana tech companies. All data will be confidential, and at the end of the study you will receive a report with the results.

Post Your Jobs on MTHighTech.org/jobs

During the reception last Thursday, Paige Williams from the Audience Awards told the crowd that the jobs portal was a big reason she joined the Alliance. That same day, in fact, Paige was contacted by a great job candidate in Iowa who learned about her company through the jobs portal.

The Iowa man learned about the jobs portal from Mario Schulzke, founder of IdeaMensch and assistant VP of Marketing at UM, who sent him the link. Mario learned about the jobs portal from me when we sat down for coffee the week before, and I asked him for help getting the word out to UM students and alumni.

This story shows how the Alliance can help Montana companies fill high-paying jobs by leveraging technology and in-person networking. We can help you, too. But first you have to post your jobs.

Watch for Video Interviews

At our first two member receptions in Bozeman and Missoula, Thomas Kurdy and the crew at Content Monkeys recorded video interviews with several members and affiliates. These videos are now being edited and will be released on the Alliance’s website as one more way to share your stories about high tech Montana. If you’ve done an interview already, watch for the finished product soon. If you would like to take part in future interviews or have videos of your own you would like us to promote, let me know.

Send Us Your Story Ideas

The Alliance aims to shine a bright light on member successes and serve as a forum for sharing best practices across the state. Send story ideas, news releases, and information requests to Christina Henderson at director@mthightech.org.

Save the Date for the Next Member Reception

Our next member networking reception will be held February 17, 2015, hosted by Rocky Mountain Bank in Bozeman. Save the date, and we hope to see you there!

Christina Henderson, Executive Director

Photo caption: Left to Right, Molly Nelson, Investment Specialist for First Interstate Bank, James Scott Jr., Commercial Banker/AVP for First Interstate Bank, Joe Fanguy, UM Director of Tech Transfer and President of MonTEC, and Paige Williams, CEO of the Audience Awards  network at the Montana High Tech Business Alliance member reception Nov. 13, 2014 at First Interstate Bank in Missoula.

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