By Christina Henderson
The Montana High Tech Business Alliance celebrated our 4th anniversary in April and achieved a new milestone when I flew to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada for my first CEO Retreat with Technology Councils of North America (TECNA) April 24-26. The Alliance joined TECNA in February 2018. Over strong beer and plates of poutine, I connected with 20 other executives from technology associations across the U.S. and Canada.
My peers taught me a lot. The first night, grizzled TECNA veterans surprised me with the news that Montana had a previous iteration of a software association in the 1990s and early 2000s. Apparently there was a memorable TECNA retreat in Whitefish around 2006 where one attendee lost a thumb in a boating accident on Flathead Lake. It wasn’t clear what happened to that Montana software association, or the missing thumb.
My colleagues confirmed that tech ecosystems across North America share common challenges like attracting talent, increasing diversity, expanding access to capital, and boosting visibility and connectedness.
I found that in many respects, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance holds its own compared to our peers. With 338 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates, our membership numbers are as high or higher than states and regions with far greater populations. For example, Iowa’s Tech Council has about 300 members and Kansas City’s has around 150. And in Montana, we have assembled a substantial body of content – four annual high tech industry surveys, a Kauffman-funded case study on Montana’s entrepreneurial ecosystems, and a library of industry analysis and profiles – relative to other states.
Montana does face some disadvantages. Our staff team (two full-time and two part-time employees) is smaller than the majority of tech councils. And the human and financial resources urban tech associations leverage were staggering, with events attracting 3,000 attendees, six-figure contributions from individual companies, and separate foundations to support workforce development. The biggest organization, Communitech in Waterloo, Ontario Canada, boasts 1,400 members, more than 80 employees, and substantial government support. Learning about bigger players gave me a vision for what Montana’s tech industry could look like in the future.
Katy Spence and I will travel to Des Moines, Iowa in July to represent the Alliance at TECNA’s annual conference. We look forward to advancing Montana’s participation in the larger high-tech ecosystem.
This is the first of what will be a regular column from our executive director.
About the author: Christina Quick Henderson has served as executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance since its launch in April, 2014. Henderson writes and speaks on Montana business trends, entrepreneurship and high-growth companies for Montana Business Quarterly and other publications. She holds an English degree from the University of Iowa and an MBA from the University of Montana, Missoula.
About the publisher: The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 325 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates.