Montana High Tech News

Fast Company: How Tiny Bozeman, Montana Became a Booming Tech Town

Fast Company: How Tiny Bozeman, Montana Became a Booming Tech Town

Jake Bullinger, a freelance journalist from Seattle, has written a long article on Bozeman’s tech scene for Fast Company published May 9, 2017. Companies and individuals interviewed or mentioned include:

  • Andrew Hull, Elixiter, Bozeman
  • Greg Gianforte, RightNow Technologies (Oracle), Bozeman
  • Montana State University
  • Montana High Tech Business Alliance and our 2017 High Tech Industry Survey from the University of Montana
  • Daren Nordhagen, Foundant Technologies, Bozeman
  • Yas Motoyama, lead author of our recent report on Montana’s entrepreneurial ecosystems
  • Next Frontier Capital, Bozeman
  • Travis Cottom, Helix Business Solutions, Dillon
  • ViZn Energy, Columbia Falls
  • SoFi, Helena
  • Tom Spika, Spika Design and Manufacturing, Lewistown

Read the Fast Company Article.

CBS National News: Why Montana is Experiencing a Tech Boom

CBS National News: Why Montana is Experiencing a Tech Boom

Meg Oliver, alumna of the University of Montana Journalism School and Correspondent for CBS News in New York City, read 15 Montana Companies to Watch in 2017 and was inspired to do a story that aired across the country on May 4, 2017.

The first link below is the segment that aired on the digital network CBSN. The second link is a web extra, a feature that stations tease after the story, it runs on station websites across the country. Click images below to play videos.

Why Montana is Experiencing a Tech Boom

High-paying jobs in Montana come with some unique perks

 

Montana Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Study: Missoula and Bozeman Have Some of the Highest Levels of Entrepreneurship in U.S.

Montana Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Study: Missoula and Bozeman Have Some of the Highest Levels of Entrepreneurship in U.S.

April 17, 2017

MISSOULA – Conversations about entrepreneurship often focus on Silicon Valley, Boston or other major metropolitan areas, yet Missoula and Bozeman, Montana enjoy some of the highest levels of entrepreneurship in the nation in terms of startup and high-growth companies, as well as spinoff activities, according to a report funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Missoula and Bozeman rank 9th and 12th highest in startup rates among 394 areas in the U.S., and the proportion of high-growth firms is particularly high in Bozeman, higher than Denver (9th in the nation) and almost compatible with Washington, D.C. (1st in the nation), according to the report. Montana also demonstrates vibrant spinoff activities originated from RightNow Technologies and clusters of photonics companies in Bozeman, with former RightNow employees creating at least 15 companies and the photonics cluster generating a series of companies every decade since the 1980s.

“A New Frontier: Entrepreneurship Ecosystems in Bozeman and Missoula, Montana” is the first-ever study of the Montana ecosystem and is important because there have been few studies of entrepreneurship in small towns and rural areas. The report is a result of joint research by the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, MonTEC, the Blackstone LaunchPads at the University of Montana and Montana State University, and Kansas researchers Yasuyuki Motoyama, Ph.D., Emily Fetsch and Sharah Davis and is based on 42 interviews of Montana entrepreneurs and support organizations and a survey of 178 companies in the region.

“This report overturns common assumptions about entrepreneurship in smaller metros and rural areas,” said Christina Henderson, executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance and a co-author of the study. “Montana’s recent startup boom shows that disruptive technology is bringing high-paying jobs to rural communities, that Montana’s high quality of life and beautiful landscape are a magnet for knowledge workers, and that it is possible – even common – for entrepreneurs to build global businesses in very small towns.”

The study found that Montana’s high level of entrepreneurship is leveraged by dense networks of active local support organizations – non-profits, university-related organizations, government and successful entrepreneurs serving as mentors to a younger cohort of entrepreneurs.

Active non-profit business support resources ranged from universities (University of Montana and Montana State University), industry networks (Montana High Tech Business Alliance and Montana Photonics Industry Alliance), publicly funded organizations (Montana Manufacturing Extension Center) and other organizations such as Montana Code School or 1 Million Cups.

“This report examines what’s behind thriving entrepreneurial communities in places outside expected hubs and reinforces the idea that anyone can start a company regardless of where they live, or of their gender, race or economic background,” said Victor Hwang, Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation.

The University of Montana and Montana State University were mentioned by entrepreneurs as top business resources, particularly the Blackstone LaunchPads located at both universities; business incubators MonTEC at UM and TechRanch at MSU; and events such as the Business Startup Challenge that is affiliated with the University of Montana.  Montana entrepreneurs also relied on both universities, as well as other colleges in the region, to supply a steady number of graduates with critical thinking skills and processes to fill jobs at their rapidly growing high-tech firms.

“Montana is the Treasure State, and among our treasures are the innovators, entrepreneurs and those who pursue their passion with bold enthusiasm,” UM President Sheila Stearns said. “Helping build businesses and opportunities in Montana is exciting and benefits our students, alumni and Montanans across our state.”

In addition, entrepreneurs mentioned many active role-model entrepreneurs who have successfully run companies and mentored the next generation of entrepreneurs, including Greg Gianforte, founder of RightNow Technologies.

“What we achieved with RightNow Technologies was the result of Montana’s entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic,” Gianforte said. “You can’t find it anywhere else in the world, and the results of this study prove it. The talent being harnessed here from Bozeman to Missoula to our rural communities has made Montana a leader in start-ups and job creation. It’s proof that there’s no better place to build a business and enjoy our incredible way of life.”

 

Entrepreneurs in Montana also mentioned various supports provided by government.  In sharp contrast to cases in other larger cities where government and regulations were often mentioned as being a barrier to entrepreneurship, Montana entrepreneurs reported referrals from Gov. Steve Bullock, Sen. Jon Tester, and Sen. Steve Daines and former Sen. Max Baucus and considered them “champions of entrepreneurship.”

According to Paige Williams, founder and CEO of The Audience Awards in Missoula, “The good thing about Montana being a small town is I know the governor.  I know Sen. Tester. Because it’s a small town, you get major access to your leaders.  And they really help support you in any way that they can and also talk about you a lot.”

“We recently learned Montana leads the nation in job growth. Our unemployment rate is nearing historic lows while more Montanans are at work than ever before,” said Governor Steve Bullock. “I’m pleased to see Missoula, Bozeman, and all of Montana recognized as leading engines of economic growth across the country. Our efforts to create a strong business environment are paying off for Montana businesses and workers through innovation, good-paying jobs, and economic success.”

According to Sen. Jon Tester, “There is no better place in the country to start a business, launch a career and create jobs than right here in Montana. Because of our top-notch workforce, friendly tax environment, and our unmatched access to outdoor recreation, this news once again shows that Montana is open for business.”

The study also found unique local assets that boost entrepreneurship levels, including:

  • Montana entrepreneurs have diverse backgrounds, coming from all over the country, with Silicon Valley or international experience;
  • Entrepreneurs in Montana seek out resources and mentors beyond their hometowns, often 200-300 miles away;
  • With exception of a few companies specifically working in the local environment, Montana entrepreneurs target national and international markets and procure their inputs globally;
  • Montana companies have a high level of workforce locally with a high retention rate built on the quality of life in the region.

Some interviewees used the term “Montana mystique” to describe what attracted entrepreneurs to the state and cited outdoor and recreational opportunities, mountains, hiking opportunities and proximity to great national parks.

According to Molly Bradford, cofounder and CEO of GatherBoard in Missoula, “People are outside walking their dogs, mountain biking, hiking, on the river, surfing on their lunch break.  That’s a celebration of balance that we don’t work to live and live to work, but both.”

A number of company founders expressed the common sentiment that Montana’s untamed landscape, and the type of people who are drawn to it, have shaped the state’s business culture and its inclination toward entrepreneurship.

Based on the survey findings, policy recommendations include:

  • Keep building the Montana-unique ecosystem for Montana companies;
  • Identify regional strategies for recruitment of qualified employees;
  • Review air access;
  • Expand the support networks beyond political boundaries.

To download the full report or executive summary visit: https://mthightech.org/montana-entrepreneurship-ecosystems/

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Additional 2017 Report Press Release Quotes from Montana Companies:

BOZEMAN

“The secret is out.  Montana is firmly planted on the start-up and technology map both nationally and internationally,” said Andrew Hull, founder and president of Elixiter in Bozeman. “In my last ten new business calls, every potential client knew exactly the location of Bozeman including the quality of work and lifestyle.  What was once a roadblock to client engagements in 2011 is one of our best-selling features. “A New Frontier: Entrepreneurship Ecosystems in Bozeman and Missoula, Montana” report is proof behind the swell of activity we sensed but couldn’t necessarily put numbers and research behind.”

  • Andrew Hull, founder and president of Elixiter

 

MISSOULA

“The high-quality workforce plays a major role in the growth of our state’s technology sector.  For ATG, this means a close partnership with the University of Montana, where ATG recruits graduates and alumni who have the opportunity to do world-class consulting work in Montana, have an exceptional standard of living, and still find time to go rafting and skiing on weekends.  The study findings show that entrepreneurship can thrive in small communities, not just in Silicon Valley.”

  • Tom Stergios, senior vice president of Strategy and Corporate Development and general manager of Advanced Technology Group’s Missoula office

 

“As a technology leader, Blackfoot is keenly aware of the role entrepreneurship and innovation play in Montana’s booming high-tech economy. We see it every day – whether it’s our customers, our employees or the companies we partner with in delivering leading-edge voice, data, cloud and technology solutions. We are proud to be part of the tremendous growth Montana has experienced in recent years and look forward to working with the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, Missoula Economic Partnership, the Missoula College and many others to support economic success for all business.”

  • Jason B. Williams, Chief Executive Officer, Blackfoot

 

“Montana’s entrepreneurs repeatedly speak about their commitment to community and their sense of place. This creates a highly collaborative and mutually supportive environment for entrepreneurs to grow and succeed.”

  • Paul Gladen, Director, Blackstone LaunchPad. University of Montana
High tech revenues top $1 billion, survey says

High tech revenues top $1 billion, survey says

MISSOULA – High-tech companies are an important component of Montana’s economy, generating more than $1 billion in revenues in 2016 and growing at rates seven times faster than the statewide economy, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

The study found that Montana High Tech Business Alliance members were responsible for $1.09 billion in revenues, an increase from $867 million in 2015, and responding nonmember firms generated an additional $487 million.

The third annual survey, commissioned by the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, includes responses from members of the statewide organization with more than 300 high-tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates as well as responses from 82 non-member high-tech and manufacturing companies. It also includes new insights on Montana’s business climate and beneficial business resources.

The high-tech sector expects to add 960+ new jobs in 2017 that pay average annual salaries of $60,000 – more than twice the median earning per Montana worker, according to the study.

“Our third annual report shows once again the incredible opportunity for the high-tech industry to transform Montana’s economy by bringing high revenues and high-paying jobs into the state,” said Christina Henderson, executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. “But this year’s survey also showed that Montana’s positive business climate and extensive network of business resources – from our universities and nonprofits, to mentor companies, banks and government – all play a crucial role in helping Montana entrepreneurs succeed.”

According to Greg Gianforte, board chair of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance and founder of RightNow Technologies in Bozeman, “This report shows that for the first time, Montana’s high-tech companies crossed $1 billion in revenue in a single year, and high-tech remains our fastest growing industry sector. As a result, more Montanans won’t have to leave to find a high-wage job, and our economy is becoming stronger for all.”

This year’s survey added questions that examined respondents’ perceptions of the climate of Montana for new businesses as well as various resources within Montana that have been helpful to businesses as they start and grow. The data also will be used for a case study on entrepreneurial ecosystems to be completed in Spring 2017. The project is a partnership between the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the UM Blackstone LaunchPad and MonTEC.

While starting a business in any state can be challenging, 77 percent of Alliance members and 63 percent of non-members would encourage someone to start a business in Montana, according to the survey. “Overall, this is a strong endorsement of Montana’s business climate,” said John Baldridge, BBER’s director of Survey Research.

Among Alliance members, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance was the most often citied beneficial business resource. Montana University System-based resources were cited by substantial proportions of both Alliance members and non-members and included Montana State University, University of Montana, the MSU and UM Blackstone LaunchPads, MonTEC and the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center.

Government resources and other Montana companies also were important to survey respondents for business, financial and legal mentorship and advice.

Survey respondents found the following financial resources most beneficial to their firms: bootstrapping (creating and sustaining a business based on sales and little external funding), private investors and banks. Alliance members were most likely to mention bootstrapping and non-members were most likely to mention banks.

For the third year in a row, the BBER survey found that Montana’s quality of life – its lifestyle, the work/life balance, the recreational opportunities, and the beauty of the landscape – provided significant advantages to doing business in the state. Survey respondents also mentioned Montana’s high-quality workforce as a major advantage.

“This new industry survey confirms what we already know – that Montana’s fast-growing technology sector and high quality of life benefit our employees,” said Matt Rizai, Chairman and CEO of Workiva, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company that has offices in Bozeman and Missoula. “We have been very pleased with the high caliber of technology talent in Montana, particularly software developers from Montana State University and the University of Montana.”
Tom Stergios, senior vice president of Strategy and Corporate Development and general manager of Advanced Technology Group’s Missoula office, said, “Missoula is particularly poised for growth due to the underemployment that is prevalent in our area.  ATG is pleased to have hired 9 people already this year and plans to add 25 to 30 more jobs in 2017.  The Montana University System programs, particularly Management Information Systems, have morphed and are producing instantly impactful employees, which is a significant foundational component to a growing tech economy.  The 2017 survey shows the positive trend in tech and the definitive proof of the ability to significantly impact the Missoula community.”

As in previous years, respondents mentioned several barriers to faster growth, including attracting talent and hiring skilled technology workers, access to capital and finding new customers. For the first time, challenging market conditions were mentioned as a barrier to growth.

The third annual survey was sent to 242 Montana High Tech Business Alliance member companies in high tech and manufacturing and 304 non-Alliance member companies.

Interviews with the Montana High Tech Business Alliance and member companies can be arranged by contacting shannon.furniss@gmail.com or 406-360-7846. Photos and logos may be downloaded at http://mthightech.org/media/press-kit/.

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Additional 2017 Survey Press Release Quotes from Montana Companies:

Billings

“For the past three years, Montana’s high-tech companies have said in this survey that finding enough skilled technology talent is their number one barrier to growth. This report underscores the growing need for technology workers in Montana. But it also shows potential job candidates the strength of our tech industry and hopefully gives them more confidence to consider opportunities in Montana.”
Kathy Boelter, founder, Arrow Solutions Group, Billings

Bozeman

“This report presents invaluable data on Montana’s high tech sector and identifies advantages and challenges of doing business here. Finding good software engineers in Montana is highly important as high tech continues to grow rapidly in our state.”
Larry Stefonic, CEO and cofounder, WolfSSL in Bozeman

Dillon

“Southwest Montana has been fruitful for Helix’s growth path. We have been blessed to call Bozeman and Dillon home, and we’re finding the level of talent that our growing company has needed. We are consistently impressed with the caliber of associates we find in Montana.”
Kevin Sherwood, CEO, Helix Business Solutions, with offices in Dillon and Bozeman

Flathead Valley

“ViZn Energy is proud to employ more than 50 scientists, hardware and software engineers, as well as marketing, finance and operations staff in Montana – jobs that pay between $50,000 and $150,000 per year. This report from the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is an important tool to help Montana’s decision makers understand the first order economic impact that high-growth businesses like ours are having in the state.”
Ron Van Dell, CEO, ViZn Energy, Columbia Falls

“As a Montana-based angel investor who has closely watched the tech community evolve in our state over the last 15 years, I can say that we have hit an inflection point in technology opportunities both on the investment and employment side.  The Montana High Tech Business Alliance has coalesced the many businesses that depend on technology development and innovation for their future in a way that informs its members, our state and the world about what is happening in the last best place.”
Liz Marchi, Frontier Angel Fund 2, Polson

Missoula

“Dorsey and Whitney has represented many technology startups in Montana over the last several decades, including Bozeman’s RightNow Technologies. Our law firm was excited to be a founding member of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance and offer our services pro bono to form the Alliance entity and establish its nonprofit status. It’s exciting to see the Alliance and BBER gather data that fully supports the changes we’ve been seeing on the ground working with entrepreneurs – including the increase in new startup companies, new venture capital investments, and new intellectual property being created thanks to the Internet, the cloud, and many smart and hard-working people in Montana.”
Jack Manning, Partner and Office Head, Dorsey & Whitney LLP, Missoula

“Jobs in the high-tech sector pay approximately 46 percent more than the median household wage in Missoula, which is why growing high-tech businesses is integral to improving Missoula’s economy. The Montana High Tech Alliance’s annual report has become a crucial tool for benchmarking this growth, and we rely on its findings to attract and retain high-tech businesses in the Missoula area.”
James Grunke, President and CEO, Missoula Economic Partnership

“Montana Code School’s focus is to train the next generation of software development talent.  Montana has a robust tech scene and our students, who usually have no prior programming experience, attend the school because they want to find work in the tech sector where wages are usually higher than other industries and where their skills are in demand.  All of our graduates have found work in Montana because of the fast growth of high tech companies and their need for software developers.”
Amita Patel Greer, Executive Director, Montana Code School, Missoula and Bozeman

Lewistown

“This report is really a valuable data set for both those of us in the manufacturing sector as well as for those tasked with facilitating the growth of Montana’s economy over the coming years. It clearly documents the value of high-tech industry to our state, how those businesses are impacting the job and wage numbers, and what is projected for the future.”
Tom Spika, founder and CEO, Spika Design and Manufacturing, Lewistown

 

Read the Full 2017 Report (62 pages)2017 MHTBA Survey – Final Report

Read the Excerpt of 2017 Key Findings (8 pages)2017 MHTBA Survey – Excerpt with Key Findings

 

 

Christina Quick Henderson is executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, a statewide membership organization made up of more than 300 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. Search for Montana career opportunities at MTHighTech.org/jobs.

 



Rocky Mountain Bank Hosts Packed House for 2017 Bozeman Reception & Bozeman & Missoula Airports Join Forces, Expand Direct Daily Flights to More Cities

Rocky Mountain Bank Hosts Packed House for 2017 Bozeman Reception & Bozeman & Missoula Airports Join Forces, Expand Direct Daily Flights to More Cities

 

Rocky Mountain Bank hosted another big, high-energy crowd for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance reception in Bozeman for the third year in a row on February 21, 2017. Bob Gieseke, Bozeman Market President at RMB and member of the Alliance Board of Advisors, and his team served up beer and wine from the teller booth, laid out three kinds of baked brie, and awarded beautiful wine baskets as door prizes. Rocky Mountain Bank is a founding member of the Alliance and an ongoing supporter of high tech and manufacturing, which continue to outpace growth of the overall Montana economy by seven times and pay twice the median Montana wage. The CEO Bozeman roundtable and reception again drew more than 150 guests. Photos by Paige Pavalone, Pistol Creek Photography for Ndigena.


CONNECT: Bozeman and Missoula Airport Directors Join Forces to Expand Daily Flights to More Cities

At the CEO Roundtable hosted by Elixiter, Brian Sprenger, director of Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, discussed current initiatives and future plans affecting air travel out of Bozeman. According to Sprenger, primary destinations with the most consistent daily service are Seattle, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Minneapolis – the closest four big cities. Bozeman’s airport has added cities beyond that core and in the next few years will focus on moving cities with seasonal service such as San Francisco, Portland, and Chicago toward daily service. “San Francisco is a big market, especially in the high-tech world,” said Sprenger. “We’re at about 260 days a year now, non-stop. The other markets where we’re working on filling in the gap are Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles.”

Expanded service benefits companies across the state. David Thompson, Director of Engineering at SoFi, said his team members regularly drive the 100 miles from Helena to Bozeman in order to take advantage of the direct flight to San Francisco, the location of SoFi’s headquarters.

Sprenger noted Bozeman is unique in Montana, and indeed across the country, in its paired advantages of combining leisure and business travel. “What really has benefited [Bozeman] is that the leisure and tourism industry gets [the airlines] in the door, the business community keeps them here,” Sprenger said. “That is a big difference. For example, when we talked to American Airlines about their projections for this winter season, they literally told us, ‘…This is the best of both worlds. We’re filling up airplanes on Fridays and Saturdays with people who are coming out to go skiing and we’re filling up Monday through Friday with people who are flying for business.’ And they can fill a whole flight. There’s a dynamic here that is rare in the tourism world to have also a thriving business community, so that leveraging those two segments together is what’s really making us stand out.”

Bozeman Yellowstone has been Montana’s largest airport by passenger count since 2013 and made major upgrades to its terminal in 2015. In response to demand, Sprenger said the Bozeman airport will open a new runway in Summer 2017 and subsequently build a new parking garage and add a 3-gate concourse expansion to its current eight gates.

Cris Jensen, director of the Missoula International Airport, and Jenni Graff from Missoula Economic Partnership (MEP) also shared about efforts to expand air service in Missoula. In many ways, Missoula’s airport is tracking just a few years behind Bozeman in its growth and expansion. According to Jensen, Missoula International Airport is ready to break ground on a new $72 million, 8-gate facility in the summer of 2018.

Like Bozeman, the Missoula Airport is looking to fill gaps in service to key cities, such as flights to Chicago and San Francisco year-round instead of just during the summer season. Jensen also hopes to make service from Missoula to Los Angeles more accessible for business travelers. Sprenger believes that by next summer there’s a high likelihood Missoula will have air service to Dallas-Fort Worth. Missoula’s airport has some advantages Bozeman currently does not, such as year-round service to Portland. Missoula was also up 9.6% in enplanements last year – almost triple the national average, putting it neck-and-neck with Bozeman on this statistic.

“Missoula is probably following in the footsteps of our bigger brother [Bozeman Yellowstone] in that we kind of view them as the cutting edge of what’s going on in the country in terms of air service development,” Jensen said. Bozeman’s example often helps Missoula make the case to stakeholders for new initiatives. “We can point to what worked in Bozeman and say it will work in Missoula,” Jensen said. “In general that tends to be a true story.”

The Bozeman and Missoula airports have taken the extraordinary approach of partnering rather than competing to expand air service. “One of the dynamics that’s changing now is that airports are working much more closely than we ever have,” Jensen said. “For the first time, two airports – Missoula and Bozeman – sat down with a major airline and told them they should come to Montana. Missoula said you should go to Bozeman first because it makes sense. You’ll be successful, and then you should come to Missoula and the other communities. We’ve changed the dynamic. American Airlines said ‘We’ve never seen this. We’ve never seen airports come together and sit in front of us.’ [We] recognize that we all have a symbiotic relationship. In the past I don’t think we recognized it.”

The Missoula Airport and partners like the Missoula Economic Partnership recognize that Missoula doesn’t have large contributors such as the Yellowstone Club, Big Sky Resort, or RightNow Technologies/Oracle in Bozeman to help fund flight guarantees. Instead, Missoula has taken a creative, collaborative approach to inspire increased support from airlines and the community. Jensen got the Missoula Airport into the business of baggage handling – a rare iniative for an airport – to help make it easier for airlines to expand service in Missoula. And efforts are underway to raise a $1 million fund from smaller contributions by individuals and the business community to help incentivize more direct flights to Missoula.

The Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) – an initiative of local hoteliers to expand tourism in Missoula – formed in 2010 and has partnered with Destination Missoula (the local convention and visitors bureau), MEP, and the Missoula Airport.  In 2014, they were successful in bringing Frontier Airlines to Missoula with direct flights to and from Denver, CO. Jensen noted his own surprise that Frontier is still offering that service from Missoula to Denver three years later.

Jensen and Sprenger both invited suggestions for airport facility improvements from the frequent flyers at the CEO Roundtable. Improved broadband and cell service, more charging stations, and access for Uber drivers were at the top of the list.


PROMOTE: Lightning Talks Feature Quiq (formerly Centricient) and Ascent Vision

Mike Myer, founder and CEO of the company formerly known as Centricient, unveiled his firm’s name change to Quiq (pronounced Quick) at the Feb. 21streception. Launched in October 2015, the rapidly-growing software startup now has 25 employees and closed a $6.5 million round of funding in August 2016 led by Venrock (venture capital arm of the Rockefeller family) and followed by Next Frontier Capital.

“The fundamental premise of what we’re building is that the world communicates via mobile,” Myer said. “More than half the internet traffic is mobile, we probably spend more time on the internet on mobile devices than any other way. But customer service hasn’t really changed to advance in the same way that the communications have changed.” Quiq is forging a text messaging channel between consumers and companies.

Myer was previously CTO of RightNow Technologies, which sold to Oracle in 2011 for $1.8 billion. Quiq’s platform builds on the enterprise scale of RightNow, working with the largest brands. Myer’s team released its first product in September 2016 and customers so far include Jackson Hole, Simms’ Fishing Products, and a Fortune 100 retailer adopting messaging across their entire customer service platform. Myer encouraged customers who want to reach Quiq to text for an immediate reply.

Tim Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL officer and Army Ranger, spoke about his decision to launch Ascent Vision in 2013. A native Minnesotan, Sheehy decided to “plant the flag” for his company in Bozeman in November 2014 with the vision to commercialize aerial surveillance capabilities used in the military for private-sector business applications. His clients include General Motors, which is using Ascent Vision’s sensors for several of its self-driving vehicles.

Ascent Vision now employs 50 people worldwide and is building a new 30,000 sq. ft. facility at Bozeman airfield. Sheehy noted the company has invested about $4 million into the local economy in the last 18 months through wages, new construction, and supply chain contracts. The team mainly includes young graduates of Montana State University and military veterans.

“Montana has been a great place to build a business,” Sheehy said. “Bozeman has been a great home for us. They’ve embraced us, they’ve helped us…We’re really happy to be supporting the community that’s supporting us. I think we’ve got a lot more growth to come.”


ACCELERATE: 2017 Survey Finds Montana’s High Tech Industry Surpassed $1 Billion in Revenue Last Year

The Montana High Tech Business Alliance also shared preliminary results of our 2017 survey report from the UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research. According to BBER’s findings:

  • The Montana-based activities of Alliance members were responsible for $1.09 billion in gross sales in 2016.
  • Members expect to hire 963 people in 2017, a 19.2 percent increase.
  • Montana high-tech businesses are still growing 7 times the overall Montana economy and paying twice the median wage.

This year’s survey includes responses from 82 non-member high-tech and manufacturing companies (in addition to 138 member responses) and adds new insights on Montana’s business climate and beneficial business resources.
The 2017 report will be released to members, the public, and the media on Thursday, March 2.


 

Christina Quick Henderson is executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, a statewide membership organization made up of more than 300 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. Search for Montana career opportunities at MTHighTech.org/jobs.

 



15 Montana Companies to Watch in 2017

15 Montana Companies to Watch in 2017

By Christina Henderson

Here’s a quiz – how many high tech and manufacturing companies do you think we have in Montana?

On December 20, 2016, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance emailed our third annual survey of Montana tech companies with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana to 242 Alliance member companies and 304 non-member companies in high-tech and manufacturing. That’s 546 total tech companies in Montana.

This doesn’t include the tech companies we haven’t found yet. We have to hunt them like rare wild beasts as they tend to hide in remote business parks and second floor offices without signage.

The Alliance is ramping up our efforts to raise the visibility of Montana’s many world-class businesses and related jobs that need to be filled. To kick things off, we’re highlighting 15 Montana companies to watch in 2017. To form this list, we looked for startups and growth companies that fit at least one of the following criteria:

  • steep revenue growth and/or working in a high-growth sector
  • received notable angel or VC investment
  • poised to launch high-potential products or services
  • plan to expand operations or add a significant number of jobs in 2017

Here are our picks in alphabetical order.

1. Ascent Vision, Bozeman

Ascent Vision founder Tim Sheehy was a Navy SEAL officer and Army Ranger who saw an opportunity to provide lower-cost aerial surveillance to government and industry. Launched in a barn in 2013, Ascent Vision formed a joint venture with Australian gimbal maker UAV Vision and in the first year grew from two people to 50 and multi-millions of dollars in sales. In late 2016, Ascent Vision broke ground on a 30,000 sq. ft. facility to meet high demand for sensors in unmanned aerial vehicles, maritime surveillance and self-driving cars.

2. Audience Awards, Missoula

Launched in 2013 by award-winning filmmaker Paige Williams, Audience Awards is a platform that connects brands to high-quality, user generated content through video contests and film challenges. Partnerships with GoDaddy, Hilton Worldwide and Kodak have brought Audience Awards recognition in Forbes, Entrepreneur and Inc. magazines. The company raised more than $500,000 in funding in late 2016 from Alliance of Angels and Victress Capital, expanding its offices and its team.

3. Centricient, Bozeman

Centricient closed a $6.5 million round in 2016 led by Venrock (venture capital arm of the Rockefeller family) and followed by Next Frontier Capital. Centricient is re-imagining customer service for a mobile world, connecting customers and enterprises through text messaging. The firm was founded by Mike Myer, the former CTO of RightNow Technologies which sold to Oracle in 2011 for $1.8 billion. Centricient also formed a partnership in 2016 with Helix Business Solutions, an Oracle Service Cloud solutions integrator, to sell and implement messaging to its customer base.

4. Clearas Water Recovery, Missoula

Clearas Water Recovery, maker of a patented biological wastewater treatment system, closed a $4 million series B round in 2016. The 40-person team has developed a scalable, algae-based system that purifies industrial and municipal wastewater to the highest regulatory standards and creates a useful byproduct. According to CEO Jordan Lind, Clearas earned $4 million in revenue in 2016, and has a backlog to reach $16 million in 2017 and $27 million in 2018. Lind is a 3rd generation Montanan, descended from sugar beet farmers, who co-founded a previous high-growth Missoula tech company as an MBA student at the University of Montana.

5. Elixiter, Bozeman

Founded by Billings native and RightNow Technologies veteran Andrew Hull in 2011, Elixiter is a marketing services firm focused on clients of the Marketo platform. Rapid expansion led Elixiter to relocate four times in four years. Since the company’s inception, Elixiter has averaged 100% year over year growth and landed on the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest-growing companies in 2016. Fortune Magazine ranked Elixiter number 52 on its inaugural list of 100 Best Workplaces for Women. The company has a team of about 40 consultants serving clients like FitBit, Aetna, Cisco, and Lynda.com.

6. Foundant Technologies, Bozeman

Co-founded in 2006 by MSU graduates who were early RightNow Technologies employees, software-as-a-service company Foundant Technologies helps philanthropic foundations streamline and simplify their grant proposal processes. Foundant was on the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest growing companies in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and named one of Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work. By late 2016, Foundant had 50 employees, more than $4 million in annual revenue, and merged with Washington firm Smalldog to offer the promising new CommunitySuite – financial solutions for community foundations.

7. Girlzilla, Malta

Misty Kuhl’s vision for Girlzilla – a marketplace for women’s used outdoor gear – earned her a spot as a Native Entrepreneur in Residence and $125,000 in funding from New Mexico Community Capital, as well as a seat at Obama’s 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Palo Alto. An enrolled tribal member (Gros Ventre) of Montana’s Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Kuhl graduated (cum laude) from Montana State University as a first-generation college student. She then relocated to Albuquerque, NM where she was a small business owner, whitewater rafting guide, and REI sales lead. Kuhl moved her company home to Malta, Montana in 2016 in the hope of bringing sustainable economic opportunity to her community. The Girlzilla platform is slated to launch in 2017.

8. GTUIT, Billings

GTUIT was Montana’s fastest growing company last year, reaching the 203rd position on Inc. magazine’s 2016 Inc. 500. The firm grew 1,894 percent over three years and earned $10.9 million in revenue in 2015. GTUIT was Launched in 2011 by three engineers with decades of experience in the Bakken oil fields. After convincing their first customer to fund the prototype, the co-founders developed a process that cuts emissions and puts flare gas to use instead of burning it as waste. In 2015, GTUIT received equity investment from Caterpillar Oil & Gas and an award of excellence from the World Bank Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership.

9. LMG Security, Missoula

After earning degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from MIT and writing the world’s first textbook on Network Forensics, Sherri Davidoff launched LMG Security in 2008. LMG is a cyber security consulting, research and education company experiencing fast growth in a hot field. LMG’s global clients include government agencies, health care organizations, and Fortune 500 companies. Davidoff teaches at industry knowledge centers like SANS and Black Hat and has been featured in Wired Magazine. The LMG team has doubled in size over the last three years to 25 employees and climbing. The firm just purchased a new building on the Clark Fork River in Missoula.

10. Montana Precision Products, Butte

Montana Precision Products was created in 2013 when SeaCast Inc. and General Electric formed a 50-50 joint venture to build parts and castings for GE’s jet engines. SeaCast was owned by Butte natives and brothers Bert and Mike Robins, who continue as owners of Montana Precision today. According to General Manager Chris Eurich, Montana Precision has around 135 employees in Butte. The company invested $1.5 million in new technology in 2016 and plans to grow its workforce by 50 percent in the next three years to meet growing demand for more fuel-efficient LEAP jet engines.

11. onXmaps, Missoula

Eric Siegfried launched onXmaps in 2009 as a new graduate of Montana State University’s College of Engineering to solve his frustrations finding accurate land ownership maps while hunting in Montana. He started making GPS plug-ins and later launched the ROAM app for hunting and backcountry recreation. Siegfried bootstrapped a $500 initial investment into a multi-million dollar enterprise employing 65 people. Thanks to the ROAM app’s popularity, onXmaps is expanding its offices in 2017 and plans to have 200 employees in Missoula in five years.

12. Orbital Shift, Missoula

After earning a Master’s in Computer Science and an MBA from the University of Montana, Orbital Shift founder and serial entrepreneur Kevin O’Reilly relied on bootstrapping and early customer feedback to fine tune his SaaS products in online workforce management. Today over 40 percent of Orbital Shift users log into the software every single day. In late 2016 Orbital Shift closed a $1.25 million Series Seed round led by Next Frontier Capital and added an office in Bozeman.

13. PFL.com, Livingston

Founded in 1996 by CEO Andrew Field as a traditional print shop, PFL went online in 1999 with the first ever e-commerce site for commercial print – PrintingForLess.com. PFL landed on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies three times and was featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and on CNBC for its innovative HR policies. Two decades later, the firm has 225 employees and is evolving into a marketing technology company. PFL has developed a popular SwagIQ gifting plugin for Salesforce and carved out a niche MarTech category called Tactile Marketing Automation that’s on track for steep growth in 2017.

14. Spika Design and Manufacturing, Lewistown

Lewistown native Tom Spika started his company in 2001 as a two-person shop on the family farm. Today Spika Design and Manufacturing is a multi-million dollar company, designing and building aviation maintenance equipment for global markets. Spika was Montana Exporter of the Year in 2013. The firm now employs 60 people, including Tom’s daughters Katie Spika (COO) and Bekhi Spika (Marketing Director), and is developing innovative programs to attract and train local talent for high-paying jobs. A 6,000 square foot expansion in 2016 is accommodating new contracts and engineers.

15. ViZn Energy, Columbia Falls

Ron Van Dell had stints at GE and Dell Computer and was CEO of three startups in Austin and Silicon Valley before coming to Montana to join ViZn Energy as president and CEO in 2014. During Van Dell’s tenure, the industrial-scale battery manufacturer has grown from about 15 employees to more than 60 scientists, engineers, and software technicians working on the forefront of the clean energy revolution. ViZn previously raised over $37 million in independent investments and was closing up another $25 million round of funding in late 2016.

 

These are just a few of the Montana companies we’ll be keeping an eye on in the coming year. Who would you add to the list?

 


 

Christina Quick Henderson is executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, a statewide membership organization made up of more than 300 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. Search for Montana career opportunities at MTHighTech.org/jobs.

 



Engineer Turned Lawyer Helps Montana High-Tech Companies with IP, Patents: Q&A with William MacBride, Founder, MacBride Law

Engineer Turned Lawyer Helps Montana High-Tech Companies with IP, Patents: Q&A with William MacBride, Founder, MacBride Law


Quick Facts:
Company: MacBride Law, LLC

Location: 2066 Stadium Drive, Bozeman, Montana 59715

Industry: Law, Intellectual Property and Patents

Founded: 2016

Employees: 3 employees

Key Leaders: Diana White, Contract Legal Assistant and Ryan Chauner, Contract Office Administrator.

 


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How did MacBride Law get started?

I organized it myself, upon moving to Bozeman from Helena in 2016, with the vision of integrating law and technology in a high-tech, developing community.

 

Who are your customers?

Retailers, banks, individual families, scientific, manufacturing and engineering companies, as well as mining companies and individual landowners and lessors.

What does your company do?

I provide legal assistance in the areas of intellectual property including patents, copyrights and trademarks and related product and brand development, and IP pertaining to natural resources, such as mining, oil and gas. I am a licensed patent attorney, able to prosecute patent applications. I also provide real property and immigration, family and business services, as well as small business development in these areas.

Who do you hire?

Part time legal, technical and research assistance.

What is special about your company?

I have 40 plus years in science and natural resource related business, having been a professional geologist for 11 years. I have worked for prominent oil and gas, mining and consulting companies, Pennzoil Company, Gold Fields Mining Company and Scientific Software-Intercomp. I have degrees in geological engineering (BS from Colorado School of Mines), finance (MBA from University of Houston) and law (JD from University of Denver). I have represented companies in the Middle East, China and Taiwan and made presentations before governments in China and Oman.

I respond promptly to my clients’ needs and understand corporate cultures. I endeavor to understand the nature of a client’s business and provide support for its activities and mission. I am a registered patent attorney, member of the American Immigration Law Association and the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, as well as president of the board of World Montana.

 

Is there a story that best illustrates what you do and why you do it?

I spent a great deal of my time in the past as a mining lawyer working with landowners to acquire mineral properties around the western U.S. As a result of the fair and open treatment they received from me when I represented the company, many of those landowners subsequently came to me with their own business issues.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to continue developing a sole practice responding to a select group of clients.

Why are you in Montana?

I came here in 1994 to work with the Gough, Shanahan, Johnson & Waterman law firm, having employed that law firm in the past to assist with my mining exploration work in Montana for Gold Fields. I knew that the living environment would be attractive to my young family.

What do you like about Montana? Your community?

Bozeman is a progressive and active town, of well-educated individuals. Montana is a friendly and beautiful state, open to entrepreneurial spirits.

What do you do for fun outside of work?

We like to hike and camp, and travel as much as time permits. We enjoy the MET Opera Live in HD, and spending as much time as possible with our children and grandchildren.

Is there anything else you want us to know?

My wife is from Kentucky, and I am from Philadelphia. We are Rotarians. We love our home here and we love to share and integrate the particular cultural elements of those backgrounds with our friends.

Connect:
MacBride Law

MacBride Law Facebook

MacBride Law Office Phone Number: (406) 577-2777

 

About the Publisher: The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 300 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. Search for Montana career opportunities at MTHighTech.org/jobs.

 



Bank of Bozeman Celebrates 10+ Years Supporting Montana Entrepreneurs, Q&A with President Clinton Gerst

Bank of Bozeman Celebrates 10+ Years Supporting Montana Entrepreneurs, Q&A with President Clinton Gerst


Quick Facts:

Company: Bank of Bozeman

Location: Bozeman, Montana

Industry: Banking

Founded: 2005

Employees: 20 employees

Key Leaders: As a small bank, all of our employees wear multiple hats and are key to our success.


How did Bank of Bozeman get started?

We opened for business on April 15, 2005. By the end of 2005, we had attracted 133 stockholders who shared our vision of what a local bank can be, and out of those, approximately 100 were local investors. Today, there are just under 200 stockholders.

What does your company do?

Bank of Bozeman is a local, independently owned community bank. We provide financial services and years of expertise to many individuals and businesses in the Gallatin Valley and surrounding areas.

Who are your customers?

Our customers are people who value the same things that our employees value in Montana. They enjoy spending time outdoors, usually on the slopes, hiking in the mountains, biking on our many trails, or cheering on the Bobcats. Many are business savvy entrepreneurs who chose the Gallatin Valley and seek a local bank to help build their business.  They believe in giving back to the community; they are relationship driven, and appreciate the expertise that Bank of Bozeman provides.

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Who do you hire?

We have a diverse team here at Bank of Bozeman with many years of expertise; from current MSU students, to recent grads on up to Commercial Lenders who combined have over 75 years of banking experience. We have four employees who have been with the bank almost since the beginning. We believe that everyone brings something to our team and encourage our employees to grow with our company.

What is special about your company?

I think that because we’re a small business our self, we are best suited to help local entrepreneurs reach their goals. Our goal isn’t to be a ‘big bank’ but to be a great partner and we know that our clients appreciate that we’re independently owned. We also rotate local artists through the Bank as part of our Artist In Residence Program.

What bests illustrates what you do and why you do it?

Character and integrity mean more to us than a strong balance sheet.  We have made loans to individuals and companies who have modest resources but we know that they will work hard to honor their commitments.  If times get tough they know we will work with them to see them through it.  Our depositors know their money is hard at work in our community with good borrowers and projects.

What are your plans for the future?

We will work as a team to grow our business responsibly by delivering exceptional relationship banking through focused solutions for our valued clients, listening and meeting their needs. We plan to maintain our independence and give back to the community we live and work in.

Why are you in Montana?

When I interviewed for this position at Bank of Bozeman, my wife told me that even if I didn’t get the job, she wanted to live here.

What do you like about Montana? Your community?

Bozeman offers culture, beautiful surroundings, and an entrepreneurial spirit.

What do you do for fun outside of work?

I enjoy hiking and fishing in the summer and skiing in the winter. I occasionally try a round of golf.

Is there anything else you want us to know?

One more thing, if you don’t already bank with us, please come by and see how we are different from other banks.  We are proud that we rarely lose clients to other banks, and we would love to show you why.

Connect:

Bank of Bozeman

Bank of Bozeman Facebook

Bank of Bozeman Twitter

Bank of Bozeman LinkedIn

Bank of Bozeman YouTube

 

About the Publisher: The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 300 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. Search for Montana career opportunities at MTHighTech.org/jobs.

 



Missoula’s Sunburst Sensors Continues to Innovate in Wake of $2 Million Ocean Health XPRIZE: Q&A with Jim Beck, CEO & Co-Owner

Missoula’s Sunburst Sensors Continues to Innovate in Wake of $2 Million Ocean Health XPRIZE: Q&A with Jim Beck, CEO & Co-Owner

Quick Facts:

Company: Sunburst Sensors, LLC

Location: Missoula, Montana

Industry: Chemical sensors

Founded: 1999

Employees: 10 employees

Key Leaders: Professor Michael DeGrandpre, University of Montana Chemistry Department, Co-Owner and Founder


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How did Sunburst Sensors get started?

Sunburst Sensors was launched in 1999 by Michael DeGrandpre and David Irwin to manufacture the SAMI-CO2 (Submersible Autonomous Moored Instrument for measuring dissolved CO2 in seawater). The technology was developed by DeGrandpre at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) in the mid 1990’s while in post-doc.

What does your company do?

Our company manufactures CO2 and pH instruments for marine and fresh-water use.

Who are your customers?

Our technology is primarily used for research by government agencies and universities around the world. Our customers are researchers interested in bio-geochemistry of carbon cycle as well as biologists, etc.

What is special about your company?

Sunburst Sensors, LLC won both purses of the $2 million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE in 2015.

Why are you in Montana?

Mike and I are from Helena and were high school classmates. (Read the story of how Beck and DeGrandpre reconnected at their Capital High School class reunion.)

What are your plans for the future?

Our plan is to continue to develop and sell world class instruments for our customers.

What do you like about Montana? Your community?

I was actually born in Missoula while my dad was in law school, but grew up in Helena. This is a great place to raise a family if you enjoy the outdoors like we do.

What do you do for fun outside of work?

Typical Montana stuff – hiking, skiing, hunting, rafting, photography.

Connect:

Sunburst Sensors

Sunburst Sensors Facebook

Read more:

Scaling Positive Impact – ‘Aphrica’ To Revolutionize Understanding of Ocean Acidification (XPrize News)

SBIR/STTR Success Story: Sunburst Sensors, LLC (SBIR)

 

About the Publisher: The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 300 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. Search for Montana career opportunities at MTHighTech.org/jobs.

 



Internet Marketing Powerhouse Hagadone Digital Accelerates High-tech Growth in Western Montana: Q&A with Kimberly Weaver, Multimedia Specialist, Kalispell

Internet Marketing Powerhouse Hagadone Digital Accelerates High-tech Growth in Western Montana: Q&A with Kimberly Weaver, Multimedia Specialist, Kalispell

Quick Facts:

Company: Hagadone Digital Montana

Locations: Kalispell, Montana. Hagadone also has offices in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Beloit, Wisconsin; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Waterloo, Ontario (Canada).

Industry: Digital Marketing, Website Design, SEO and Social Media

Founded: 1999

Employees: 3 in Montana 50+ Internationally

Key Leaders: Darah Fogarty, Multimedia Specialist, Kalispell and Kevin O’Day, Multimedia Specialist, Missoula

hdmt-logo-copy

What does your company do?

At Hagadone Digital Montana, we create innovative, customized digital marketing solutions designed to build your business and brand online.

As a full service Internet marketing agency:

  • We create and expand the reach of your brand identity.
  • We develop your online voice to resonate with consumers.
  • We establish your business as an in-the-know industry expert.

We are Montana grown and invested in the future of our state. We believe that local businesses power the fire of innovation, and our purpose is to add fuel to that fire. We’re here to help.

 

Kevin O'Day of Hagadone Digital in Missoula.

Kevin O’Day of Hagadone Digital in Missoula.

What do you like about Montana?

What don’t we like?! The mountains. The people. The entrepreneurial spirit. The bright future.

What is special about your company?

We are dedicated to bringing global advantages to Montana companies.

Connect:

www.hagadonedigital.com

facebook.com/hagadonedigitalmontana

Instagram: hagadonedigitalmontana

Twitter: @hagadonemontana

About the Publisher: The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 300 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. Search for Montana career opportunities at MTHighTech.org/jobs.