No Boundaries in Montana Startup Community: Murdoch’s, Workiva, Arrow Solutions Group

“Entrepreneurship doesn’t follow geographic boundaries. It’s one of the key reasons entrepreneurship is so powerful in the United States – city and state boundaries are defined for political convenience and generally don’t impact the flow of people or companies across local geographies.”

– Brad Feld, author, early stage investor and entrepreneur

Two years ago, in July 2012, the Montana Programmers persuaded Brad Feld, a Boulder venture capitalist and author of the book Startup Communities, to give an inspiring talk to the Montana tech community. Rob Irizarry wrote up a great summary. Mamalode made a clever pitch video and t-shirt.

I watched the video of Feld’s talk West Hunt posted online, read Feld’s book, and was blown away by his vision for what the startup community in Montana could become.

In his talk, Feld said Montana needs to think of itself as one big startup community, rather than encouraging individual cities or regions to compete against one another. Population-wise we’re a small state and need to band together for critical mass. Plus we’re not even close to reaching a saturation point for entrepreneurial opportunity.

Feld wrote, “…playing a zero-sum game, especially within neighboring geographies, simply stifles the growth of the startup ecosystem. Instead, take a network approach and connect your startup community with the neighboring ones.”

Many entrepreneurial leaders in Montana get this.  I constantly see people in different cities teaming up and working together.

Inspired by Brad Feld’s talk, Bob Clay organized the first Startup Weekend in Montana. Startup Weekend is a global movement that empowers participants to form teams, build products, and launch startups in 54 hours. Two years later, Startup Weekends have been held twice in both Missoula and Bozeman and the movement is spreading to other cities. Mentors from Bozeman showed up to work with teams in Missoula, and vice versa. Today we have Alliance member companies like Drop TripTampout, and Contractor Sherpa  that launched as winners of Startup Weekends with team members scattered across Kalispell, Bozeman, Missoula and Helena.

There are numerous examples of businesses in Montana working across city, state, and even national boundaries:

  • Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply has 1,200 employees and 26 stores across four states (MT, CO, WY, NE), runs a booming e-commerce business from headquarters in Bozeman, and ships from its warehouse in Missoula.
  • Workiva (formerly WebFilings) employs more than 850 people with offices in 12 U.S. and 3 non-U.S. cities, including Bozeman and Missoula.
  • Arrow Solutions Group, Montana’s only specialized IT & engineering staffing and recruiting agency, connects professionals with companies in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, & South Dakota and has offices in Billings and Boise.

It was with a similar vision for geographical collaboration and inclusiveness that the founding board members of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance – Greg Gianforte, Rob Gilmore, David Hayden, Rob Irizarry, Jason Mittelstaedt, Lance Tinseth, and Jeff Trom – set out to build a statewide membership organization. We’re here to be cheerleaders for high tech and manufacturing across Montana and to facilitate connections among the nodes of a thriving, statewide startup community.

Christina Henderson, Executive Director