Local Business Resources: A mile wide & a mile deep!
Maybe you have just started a business or you’re thinking about getting started.
Kathy Wojcik | Thursday May. 1st, 2014
Maybe you have just started a business or you’re thinking about getting started. Perhaps you own a business or lead an organization. No matter what organizational role you find yourself in, eventually you are going to need some help.
Help is tricky. Some people can reach out easily. For others, it can be tough to ask for assistance. However, if you are fortunate enough to live in the Gallatin Valley area, help is readily available and much of it is free!
Several choices are universal and obvious. There is a Chamber of Commerce in each of the following cities: Belgrade, Big Sky, Bozeman, Ennis, Gardiner, Livingston, Manhattan, Three Forks and West Yellowstone. Chambers of Commerce help business owners and potential business owners understand the local economy, local government and the community as a whole. Many Chambers sponsor networking events and learning opportunities. Get out, talk with others, learn, listen and have some fun.
Prospera Business Network, located in Bozeman, is another valuable resource. They offer small business loans, assistance with business plan development, provide growth and business expansion guidance and relocation information. Prospera also runs the Montana Women’s Business Center (MWBC). Believe it or not, women own 25% of the businesses in Montana! The focus of the women’s center is to help women start, grow and sustain their organizations. Their services are free and counseling, mentoring and training are available. Both Prospera and MWBC hold learning sessions, conferences and networking events.
Out here in Montana, the wildlife abounds. BEAR, which stands for Business Expansion And Retention, provides a pool of business specialists who will give you insights and share their abundant ideas and experience. If you send BEAR an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, the BEAR coordinator and a BEAR volunteer will schedule an in-person intake session so you can explain your current challenges. Then you’ll be able to choose from a wide array of experts and specialists who will give you two hours of their time (pro bono) and guide you through that challenge. Yes, pro bono, that’s gratis. As in FREE! BEAR has professionals in marketing, real estate, human resources, sales, insurance, manufacturing, product launch, web design, management coaching, SEO and analytics, communications, business strategy, organizational development, finance, taxes and legal compliance.
Want to talk with someone who has “been there, done that”? Then SCORE is the place to go. SCORE is a national organization sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Bozeman has a 40-member group that is ready to serve your needs. These experts, many who have worked in major corporations during their careers, span the full range of business management. Like BEAR and Prospera, all SCORE counseling is confidential and FREE. You can schedule a counseling session online or via phone. Located out in Belgrade? A SCORE representative will arrange to meet you in Belgrade to make your life more convenient. If you are ready to put together a business plan, SCORE can help there too. Check out their online Business Plan Guide. In addition to counseling and guidance, SCORE sponsors monthly business lunchtime workshops. These workshops are held in the large community room at the Bozeman Public Library.
According to CNN Money, Montana is the #1 entrepreneurial state in the nation. The survey was conducted by the Kauffman Index for Entrepreneurial Activity. This is dramatic growth, because only a year ago, in 2012, Montana was rated #17.
Some of this increase is due to the boom in the Bakken, however the index cites a growing technology hub centered in Bozeman. So let’s talk technology.
If you have an idea and want to meet others who are in a start-up mode, check out Start-Up Bozeman meetings held at the Rockford Coffee House on Main Street and 7th Avenue every other Tuesday from 7:30am -10:00am. This informal group of innovators talks about challenges they are facing and how they can help each other. So grab a great cup of joe and get your morning started in a productive direction. This gathering is led by Rob Irizarry, who is also responsible for Start-Up Weekend in Bozeman and Missoula.
Speaking of Start-up Weekends, strap on your rocket launcher and grab a Red Bull. Start-up Weekend is a life-changing event for many entrepreneurs and want-to-be entrepreneurs. This event is not for the faint of heart. It’ s a 54-hour blitz that lets you pitch your start-up idea and receive feedback from peers. After everyone votes on the best ideas, teams are formed. Collaborative work is done including coding, model creation, marketing, and by Sunday the team has a chance to pitch their concept to a panel of local entrepreneurs. Start-up Weekends have been held in more than 200 cities worldwide. Bozeman typically hosts two per year, one in the spring and another in the fall. Check out www.bozeman.startupweekend.org to learn more.
Looking for a micro-loan so you can get started? Are you in rural Montana? Get online and look at Bootstrap Montana. This group issues loans up to $20K to rural entrepreneurs so they can successfully grow their business. These loans are targeted to sales and marketing activities. And guess what? Yep, these loans are interest free! Are you tilting your head and making squeaky throat noises in disbelief? Well, believe it! Zero-interest. Yeah, really! Find them at www.bootstrapmontana.com
Still hungry for more? Ok, try Innovate Montana. This portal is a private public partnership resource. You’ll find collaborative clusters in Clean Technology, Bioscience, Healthcare, Energy, Optics, Advanced Manufacturing and Information Technology. Innovate Montana can help you find access to capital, select an appropriate business site and guide you to valuable sources of business and economic information. They can also link you to technical schools and universities where you can have research done. Innovate Montana is run by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
Montana’s Bioscience Alliance is located in Billings, but it serves the entire State. It is a hub for hospitals, clinics, entrepreneurs, laboratories, biotech companies and universities. The goal is to help these organizations commercialize, grow and sustain globally competitive business under the big sky! They can be found at www.montanabio.org
Not surprisingly, Greg Gianforte, the former leader of RightNow technologies is now heading up several business programs in the high tech arena. The Bozeman Technology Incubator will assist entrepreneurs with a wide variety of start-up issues. Gianforte also is a strong contributor to the Montana Tech Alliance. This group serves high-tech and high-tech manufacturing companies helping them grow and thrive.
Finally, there is the Blackstone Launch Foundation. This charitable foundation funds a campus entrepreneurship program. Montana is only the fifth location in the nation to be granted such a program! Other Blackstone Launch’s can be found in Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Montana Blackstone LaunchPad is based upon a three-year, $2 million grant and is a partnership between the University of Montana, Montana State University and Headwaters RC&D. The goal is to demonstrate that entrepreneurship is a viable career for students. Through a network of venture coaches and external entrepreneurial support, ideas will be morphed into sustainable companies. Montana’s Blackstone LaunchPad has the lofty goal of creating 150 new ventures over the next five years. This means more jobs and a healthy economy for years to come.
So if you’ve got a dream, an idea, a concept, a product or a service, you have no excuse. The support and tools are here in abundance. They are right outside your door. All you need to do is reach out, get online, make a phone call. Just ask! Like the natural resources of our beautiful state, our business resources are a mile wide and a mile deep. So get up and get going!