A Culture of Entrepreneurship: Essential to Montana’s Economic Vitality

Job creation is a three legged stool: move them in, grow what’s here or create new ones. The creation of new jobs, through entrepreneurship, is probably one of the most exciting and potentially valuable elements in building economic prosperity in Montana and the entire US.

By Liz Harris

Are entrepreneurs born or can they be taught? It’s a debate that is ongoing. However, we do know that successful entrepreneurship is fed by certain things: access to capital, strong networks and support systems and by a culture of innovation. Successful entrepreneurs need the 3 M’s, management, markets and money (generally in that order). A number of exciting things are happening in Northwest Montana to build a more fertile environment for entrepreneurship.

A working group made up of successful entrepreneurs, investors and economic developers has been meeting with the Subcommittee on Economic Affairs of the Legislature for the last 18 months to examine various legislative models and initiatives being employed around the country to encourage capital formation. There has been testimony and research shared about the need for capital, what kind, how much and what currently exists. It is evident from the research that early stage capital in the $200, 000 – $1,000,000 range is the greatest need in Montana. A model is emerging that uses tax credits to incent private investment capital into the state but that would be privately managed. There has been a great deal of information shared about “angel” investing and investors. Here in the Flathead, we have a number of individuals who are invested in local startups. Angels do a lot of handholding as businesses grow. It takes money and time. The National Association of Seed and Venture Funds did a seminar for a group of individuals last falls interesting in learning more about direct investment.

Flathead Valley Community College, Jobs Now, Inc. and the Flathead Regional Business Center have been working for three years to secure funding to build a business enterprise center at Flathead Valley Community College. The center will serve as a one-stop business resource center for business development, workforce training, research and entrepreneurial support. In addition, it will house a small incubator for start ups. The facility will have state of the art technology for teleconferencing and distance meetings. Last year, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship was formed in Springfield, Mass. Community colleges are uniquely positioned to be responsive to entrepreneurs. We are very fortunate to have an excellent community college in FVCC. There are many organizations and individuals deeply committed to seeing the project a reality for NW Montana.

The University Of Montana School Of Business established the Montana Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs (MADE) in 2002. Steve Anderson from Artisans Doors in Kalispell was invited to be a part of this group which, among other things, teaches a graduate level class in entrepreneurship to students at U of M. The group is made up of entrepreneurs from the Northwest who are committed to promoting entrepreneurship in Montana. MADE will launch a new program this fall that honors successful entrepreneurs and brings them to Montana to interact with students and others. The individuals who will be honored this fall are world class.

Building a culture of entrepreneurship starts early in life. Kids are encouraged to experiment and innovate and through programs like Kids Commerce where they try their hand at running a business. Most successful business people will tell you it’s an experiential learning process and the one common thread in all successful ventures is RISK. Entrepreneurs always take risks.

Our challenge will continue to be nurturing businesses that can scale. There is a difference between the entrepreneur who wants to self employ and one who wants to grow. Creating an environment for growth will require a good deal of work but will have enormous economic impacts for the Flathead.

Liz Harris
Jobs Now, Inc.
490 W. Reserve Dr.
Kalispell, MT 59901
[email protected]

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