By Shannon Furniss for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance
“We have hundreds of customers, and it has been so fun to be able to work for world-class organizations in the technology industry from a two-stoplight town.”
-Travis Cottom, Vice President of Business Development and Solutions, Helix Business Solutions
Situated on the top floor of the historic Mary Innes School in Dillon is a technology company that does business internationally with Fortune 500 clients, employs local residents, and has grown 45 percent per year since it opened two years ago in the town known for farming, ranching, and blue-ribbon trout streams.
Two years ago, Travis Cottom, a fourth-generation Dillon resident and executive at Helix Business Solutions, decided to move back home and open Helix’s first Montana office. He started out working from a spare bedroom in his house, taking international calls out on his patio and in his garage, before he decided it was time to find an office that would accommodate his growing operation. Cottom and a handful of employees made the move to the school building where he, his father, and his grandfather had all gone to kindergarten.
The Internet has removed geography constraints, and technology companies can work from anywhere, said Cottom. “We have hundreds of customers, and it has been so fun to be able to work for world-class organizations in the technology industry from a two-stoplight town.”
Founded in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2008, Helix Business Solutions – the Oracle Cloud Partner of the Year (2014) – now has two locations in Montana. The Dillon office opened in 2014, and the Bozeman office opened in the summer of 2015. Between both offices, there are 26 employees.
In the past two years, Helix has completed more than 450 successful engagements on the Oracle Service Cloud suite. The company also works with global enterprise operations across all industries with customers like Charter Communications, Walmart, Adobe, Nike, Nordstrom, Farmers Insurance, Barnes & Noble, Under Armour, REI, Clorox, GE, Hallmark, Macys, and Enterprise Rent-a-Car to help them use technology to execute customer service strategy and improve customer experience. Solving challenges with call centers and website customer support is an important service Helix provides, Cottom said.
RightNow Rockstars and University Partnership Key to Growing Helix
Being able to live in Dillon – in a “two-stoplight town” – is something Cottom, vice president of Helix’s business development and solutions, smiles about every day. Cottom grew up in Dillon on a family farm and attended the University of Montana Western. After graduation, he headed to Bozeman to work at RightNow Technologies, which employed more than 1,100 people and sold to Oracle for $1.8 billion in 2012. He worked outside of Dillon for years and traveled internationally with his job, but “my heart was always in Dillon, Montana,” he said. “It’s a wonderful community with great people. There is no better place to raise a family and run a business with happy employees.”
Helix is always in search of “business-minded technical people,” and that can sometimes be a struggle in a small town, Cottom said. The company has come up with a two-pronged strategy to deal with this issue: “bring back the RightNow rockstars and grow our own with the university’s help.” The former RightNow employees are a great culture match and the university students are the “seedstock of the next generation of Helix,” he said.
In order to find talent in rural areas that are not traditionally known for technology, Helix has partnered with University of Montana Western to find the “best and the brightest” students and teach them technology skills, Cottom said. Week-long tech boot camps help educate students on the features that surround the implementation of Oracle’s Service Cloud. The boot camps sometimes lead to internships and maybe even to full-time, high-paying jobs, he said, adding that Helix has already hired eight of them.
One of the student interns, Nick Stull, has graduated and joined Helix as a permanent employee. Stull is making a “huge impact,” Cottom said. “Nick is working full time on Walmart, managing their call centers from Dillon, Montana – a town not big enough to have a Walmart.”
Star Student Becomes Employee
Nick Stull and his wife moved to Dillon from St. Paul, Minnesota, because she was accepted into the nation’s only four-year degree program in Natural Horsemanship at the University of Montana Western. Since his wife was pursuing her degree, Stull decided to enroll in the business school. Shortly after, Stull met Cottom who encouraged him to attend a Helix boot camp.
After completing the boot camp, Stull was offered an internship where he shadowed people and learned on the job. In the last few months he got to work on some major projects. The day after Stull graduated, he got a job offer from Helix.
“Helix is a great place to work,” Stull said. “They treat interns like a member of the team from day one.” Originally, Stull and his wife had planned to return to St. Paul after graduation from Western, but now he plans to stay in Dillon where he can do world-class consulting with international clients and have a lifestyle that balances work and family.
The partnership is proving to be valuable to the university as well, according to Beth Weatherby, chancellor at Western. “Our boot-camp partnership with Helix is exactly the kind of team effort we need to promote in order to keep higher education and high-tech businesses healthy,” she said. “At Montana Western, we provide facilities and our professors identify students with the potential to be great interns and employees for Helix. Helix provides invaluable training and opportunities for our students. Working together, we can greatly benefit Montana.”
In addition to Western, Helix has established relationships with Montana State University, Montana Tech, and Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho, in hopes of building the technology talent pool.
Cottom attributes Helix’s success in Montana to the caliber of employees the team has recruited. “The people we find in Montana have a work ethic that’s globally unmatched,” he said. That’s really the driver of growing Southwest Montana. I’d put my team up against anyone in the world.”
Southwest Montana Lifestyle a “Perfect Fit”
For Cottom, whose heart has always been in Dillon, the lifestyle and culture of Southwest Montana is “a perfect fit for our Helix family.”
“We are a work hard/play hard type of people,” he said. “Our lifestyle is outdoors and our culture is working hard – people are excited to come to work every day and live in a place like Montana.”
Over the next few years, Cottom hopes to find more untapped tech talent in Dillon and bring them over to the Mary Innes School building. There is a daycare located on the bottom floor of the school, and Cottom jokes that “we’re going to start hiring them and getting them to the top floor.”
Cottom and his wife, Emily, have two children – Philip (2) and William (almost eight weeks old).
Top photo caption: Travis Cottom, VP Business Development and Solutions for Helix Business Solutions, is pictured at a Montana High Tech Business Alliance reception in Bozeman. Founded in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2008, Helix Business Solutions – the Oracle Cloud Partner of the Year (2014) – now has two locations in Montana. The Dillon office opened in 2014, and the Bozeman office opened in the summer of 2015. Between both offices, there are 26 employees. Helix works with global clients like Walmart (even though Dillon is too small to have a Walmart of its own).
About the Author: Shannon Furniss is a Missoula-area journalist and communications specialist. Ms. Furniss is currently the communications director at the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research and the editor of the Montana Business Quarterly. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Montana.
About the Publisher: The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 225 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. More information on the Alliance can be found at: www.MTHighTech.org.