By Katy Spence
The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is pleased to announce our Montana High-Growth Companies to Watch 2019 in tech and manufacturing. While many of the companies from our 2017 and 2018 lists continue to experience high growth, we have a new batch of businesses you’ll want to keep your eyes on this year. We asked experts at Next Frontier Capital, Frontier Angels, Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, MSU Blackstone LaunchPad, UM Blackstone LaunchPad, and Early Stage Montana to nominate fast-growing companies around Montana.
To select the finalists, we looked for companies with five or more employees that fit two or more of the following criteria:
- Plan to expand operations or add a significant number of jobs during the next year
- Steep revenue growth and/or are working in a high-growth sector
- Poised to launch high-potential products or services
- Own or are developing valuable intellectual property
- Recently landed major clients or entered new markets
- Have management teams led by experienced entrepreneurs or top experts in their fields
- Recently secured significant investment
Leadership: Michael Swanson and April LaMon, co-founders
What they do: Community engagement app
Why we’re watching them: Imagine you’re buying a new house. The problem: it’s in a neighborhood that’s still being developed, so you have no idea what you’ll see when you look out that kitchen window next year. With an upcoming product from Alosant, you’ll be able to not only access that house for viewing during a time that’s convenient for you, but you’ll be able to use augmented reality to envision what your new neighborhood might look like in a few years.
Founded in Montana in 2017, Alosant is a lifestyle management platform targeted toward real estate communities. The Alosant app presents community-specific experiences for prospective and current residents.
It uses artificial intelligence to help remove the “burden of choice” for folks looking to get involved in their communities but who may feel overwhelmed by the options. As the company grows, they’re expanding their offerings to include features like augmented reality for developers of those real estate communities.
Alosant works with large master-plan developers and large production developers. Co-founder Mike Swanson said Alosant is on pace to double, if not triple, their number of clients this year. Because they’re focused on working with new homes, most of their clients are in Texas and on the coasts where population growth is booming.
Swanson said the networks in Montana and Bozeman have given their business an edge.
Alosant was a runner-up in the inaugural Early Stage Montana competition last year and participated in the HyperAccelerator that summer before pitching at the statewide showcase in the fall.
Since participating in the HyperAccelerator, Alosant has hired two new team members (one through the Alliance jobs board) and plans to hire three or four more in Montana by the end of the year.
Swanson’s background includes experience in digital media, research, and data analytics. Co-founder April LaMon has extensive entrepreneurial and marketing experience, including an MBA in Marketing from Indiana University, senior marketing roles with Pepsi, and a CMO position with Armstrong World Industries.
Alosant is a spin-out company from Lead InSite, a data analytics startup Swanson also founded with LaMon. Swanson said Alosant will be merging with Lead InSite in the next few years and will be looking for funding opportunities to keep up with their expected growth.
Alter Enterprise, Missoula
Leadership: Ryan Alter, founder
What they do: Custom IT services
Why we’re watching them: When Alter Enterprise was founded in 2000, the company was working with cedar shingles and wildlife cameras. It procured its first and only patent for an automated bear trap. Nearly 20 years later, the company has shifted to an IT focus and is experiencing a boom in business.
At its core, Alter Enterprise is an IT company, but Alter said they work closely with clients to produce solutions that can range from traditional IT services to cybersecurity. Just about the only holdover from the early days is a still-active research and development department, said founder Ryan Alter.
Alter said the company has seen steady, significant growth over the last two years and continues to anticipate 40 percent growth over the next year, bringing their team up to 16. To help nurture potential future employees, Alter Enterprise is working with Missoula College to hire and train apprentices.
Alter Enterprise serves a number of large local clients, including MoFi, Neptune Aviation, and Glacier Bancorp. Alter Enterprise was named Missoula’s small Employer of Choice by Missoula Job Service in 2018 for offering employee bonuses and community involvement.
Alter said the firm focuses on solutions that are simple and elegant, such as setting up a modern conference room, with a sleek and easy to use design. In addition, Alter Enterprise offers an affordable and comprehensive anti-ransomware product for desktops and servers. The company partners with LMG Security and works with them on projects around the country.
A self-described serial entrepreneur, Alter built and sold 15 businesses before he turned 40. He’s bootstrapped Alter Enterprise and plans to keep it that way.
With the agile Alter Enterprise R&D department, the company is looking at how blockchain is poised to disrupt, well, everything, and how the company could adapt to the new technology, Alter said.
DataSmart Health Solutions, Missoula
Leadership: Bernard Khomenko, CEO
What they do: Data analytics, HealthTech
Why we’re watching them: Companies spend an estimated $1.2 trillion on health benefits for their employees each year, but each company may need a different plan. A “one-size-fits-all” approach can overlook unique needs within each company. For example, homeowners in flood-prone areas require tailored insurance coverage. The same is true for health insurance.
DataSmart Health Solutions (DSHS) uses sophisticated data analytics to help companies build the best benefits packages for their employees while saving them money. DSHS incorporates data from multiple sources, including human resources information, biometrics, questionnaires, and national health costs to identify employees and their family members who may have unidentified or unmanaged medical needs, such as depression.
Over the next couple of years, DSHS is rolling out additional solutions designed to not only improve the quality and effectiveness of benefits packages but also help minimize costs and advise employers about healthcare solutions.
DSHS works with any company that offers benefits to its employees, and its largest client employs more than 2,000 people. While most of the company’s clientele is currently outside Montana in places like Texas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California, DSHS hopes its new offerings will help them establish a bigger footprint in Montana, CEO Bernard Khomenko said.
The firm anticipates doubling its revenue annually for the next few years. To keep up with demand, Khomenko said DSHS is planning on hiring three or four people over the next six months, growing their team by 50 percent.
An offshoot of DataSmart Solutions, DSHS was formed in 2016 after its sister company was named one of “The 10 Fastest Growing Healthcare Solution Provider Companies in 2016” by Insights Success magazine. DataSmart Solutions was also named one of the “Top 20 Most Promising Data Integration Solution Providers of 2015” by CIO Review Magazine in 2016.
Figure, Bozeman and Helena
Leadership: Mike Cagney, CEO
What they do: FinTech, blockchain
Why we’re watching them: Founded in 2018, Figure isn’t even two years old and is already making waves in the world of blockchain. Figure uses a custom-built blockchain platform, artificial intelligence, and advanced analytics to provide home equity solutions for their clients. The blockchain component ensures that when an asset, such as a loan or debt, is originated, serviced, or sold, it’s exactly what it appears to be and is completely accurate and secure.
Figure raised $50 million in a 2018 seed round, followed by a $65 million Series B round in early 2019. Figure currently employs 25 people in Helena and 18 in Bozeman, with plans to double their Montana staff in the next year to keep up with their big plans for growth. With customers in 38 states, Figure has its goal set on reaching all 50 states in the U.S., including more commercial customers like large banks and commercial funds.
Figure’s primary products, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) and a home lease-back service, utilize the blockchain to ensure secure and swift data transfer. Otto Pohl, head of communications at Figure, said the company is one of the largest non-bank HELOC lenders and that their product is growing quickly. As of May, six months after its launch, the product is processing around $80 million each month. Pohl said Figure is planning on adding more home equity and debt products as well as other consumer financial services in the future.
Pohl said the big news is that all the financial services Figure offers are going onto a blockchain the company built called Provenance, of which Figure is also the first customer. Provenance is intended for a wide variety of financial applications, including end-to-end loan transactions with an emphasis on loan securitization. In June 2019, Figure raised a Provenance token offering of $20 million.
Leadership: Erica Mackey and Elizabeth Szymanski, co-founders
What they do: Childcare and community software platform
Why we’re watching them: Erica Mackey was in Africa leading a venture-capital backed solar energy startup when she had her first child. When her family returned to the U.S., she felt overwhelmed with the difficulty of trying to find quality childcare, and market research shows this is a challenge shared by other parents. As an entrepreneur, she saw the opportunity to fill a need in with a unique tech and community-based startup.
Founded in 2017, MyVillage is a platform designed to empower educators to create and run childcare services from the comfort of their own homes, helping them navigate operational issues like setting up a website or filing for insurance. In April, MyVillage closed a $5.95 million seed round, the largest ever closed by a Montana company.
MyVillage’s software has three key components: helping parents find a childcare program that’s a good fit; providing educators with tools to manage childcare and business operations; and empowering the community of educators to share resources, continue their education, and grow their business.
Parents who enroll in childcare through MyVillage pay about 20 percent less than the state average for childcare. MyVillage childcare providers make 30-50 percent more income than a typical in-home daycare business. The company currently has more than 50 schools open or in the process of opening in their network and plans to double in size by the end of the year. MyVillage’s ultimate goal is to have one million kids in quality childcare in ten years. While they’re currently focused on saturating the markets in Montana and Colorado, MyVillage leadership says it is likely they will expand to other Western states within the next year.
MyVillage currently employs 25 people, half of whom are in Montana, and they anticipate hiring ten more in the state by the end of the year. Leadership said the average wage at MyVillage is well above the Montana average.
MyVillage’s leadership team includes a new CTO, Thor Muller, who is based out of Amsterdam. Muller is a father of two, has previous experience building digital platforms as the CIO of Zola, and is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business.
Superior Traffic Services, Missoula
Leadership: Jeff Hollenback, CEO
What they do: Construction tech
Why we’re watching them: Since tying for first place with Sellout at last year’s Early Stage Montana regional competition, Superior Traffic Services has hit a bit of a growth spurt.
Founded in 2009, the construction tech company has built a system to manage portable traffic signals, message boards, and other construction zone traffic control equipment in real-time. By providing a solution to automate traffic control in busy and rural construction zones, Superior helps make the road safer for drivers and workers.
After ESMT, CEO Jeff Hollenback said a local investor approached them out of the blue looking to fill their entire fund request of $2 million, which will go toward building more equipment. Hollenback said the investment will be well-spent, as every piece of equipment the company currently has is already out on job sites.
Year over year, Superior has experienced about 50 percent growth in revenue, and anticipates 100 percent growth in 2019 and 2020.
Superior has added four employees in recent months and plans to add two or three more tech employees. Hollenback said there may be opportunities for sales and leadership positions as the company continues growing.
Hollenback said the company is excited about a beta product that is getting positive feedback – a mini signal designed to replace flaggers on more dangerous job sites. He added that there’s been a push for Superior to get into the smart work zone market, which integrates message boards and radar sensors to provide real-time traffic updates.
Superior holds three patents for both hardware and software, including their Real-Time Traffic Management System.
Vision Aerial, Bozeman
Leadership: Shane Beams, founder
What they do: Drone manufacturing
Why we’re watching them: Montana native Shane Beams thinks Bozeman, Montana is the best place to live in the U.S. And he should know – he spent a year traveling around the country with his wife after working with a manufacturing company in San Diego for five years.
While they were on the road, Beams spent a lot of time tinkering with drones in his motor home for fun. When people asked about purchasing his tech, he realized he could have a viable business on his hands.
Vision Aerial was founded in 2013 with a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to manufacture recreational drones. After they raised 200 percent of their goal, the company shifted its focus to commercial infrastructure inspection drones in early 2016.
Vision Aerial is one of the 2019 Early Stage Montana finalists. Beams said ESMT took the company’s business idea and ironed it out into an actionable plan. Vision Aerial is currently looking for investment to build out sales and marketing as well as production capacity.
Right now, Vision Aerial’s production capacity is between $1 and $2 million in annual revenue but plans to increase that 2.5x with investment. With an increase in production, Beams said the company anticipates revenue growth of 500-1000 percent in the next ten months.
He added that Vision Aerial is working with a couple of well-known companies, such as NorthWestern Energy. The ultimate goal is to not only provide the drones but work with clients to help them learn how to use the equipment in a way that can reduce costs for their energy users.
Beams has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Montana State University and has an extensive background in product development. He is working with a board of advisors which includes experienced businessmen and industry experts like entrepreneur and investor Ken Fichtler; First Security Bank CEO Jim Ness; and former astronaut Loren Acton.
XY Planning Network and AdvicePay, Bozeman
Leadership: Alan Moore and Michael Kitces, co-founders
What they do: Financial planning support and platform
Why we’re watching them: With a master’s degree in Family Financial Planning from the University of Georgia, Alan Moore started his own financial planning firm at 25 after realizing he wanted to be his own boss. When other financial planners started to approach him with questions on how to run their own businesses, he started a side gig in 2014, XY Planning Network, to help them through operational obstacles. Moore said he knew XY was more than a side gig when he started spending more time working with those financial planners than he was at his own day job.
In 2018, XY Planning was ranked the 168th fastest-growing private company in the U.S. by Inc. and No. 1 in Montana. The company was also named to Inc.’s The 346 Best Places to Work in 2019.
XY Planning Network currently serves about 990 customers in 49 states, though the company anticipates crossing the 1,000 member threshold next month. With rapid customer growth has come rapid company growth – Moore said XY is planning to add 18 to 30 new Montana positions to its team of 43 in the coming year, as well as looking to add new services including tax preparation for advisory firms and a virtual assistant company for new firms that can’t yet hire an assistant. XY’s bookkeeping app is one of the company’s fastest-growing services.
XY is entirely bootstrapped, and its revenue has grown organically 50 percent year-over-year with a goal to maintain that growth.
XY’s sister company, AdvicePay, grew out of the need for a payment platform for the advisors already in the network. Moore said there are nearly 300,000 financial planners in the U.S. that AdvicePay could help. AdvicePay raised a $500K seed round led by GoodWorks Ventures and Front Street Capital in 2017 and closed a $2 million crowdfunded seed extension this year. Moore said success of the crowdfunding comes from advantageous relationships and the funders’ belief in the product, many of which are also end-users of the platform.
About the Author: Katy Spence is the Communications Director for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. She worked previously with the Missoula Current and Treesource, and has an Environmental Journalism Master’s Degree from the University of Montana.
About the Publisher: Launched in 2014, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is an nonpartisan nonprofit association of more than 370 high tech and manufacturing companies and affiliates creating high-paying jobs in Montana. For more information, visit MTHighTech.org or subscribe to our biweekly newsletter.