Entrepreneur center brings students and businesses together

Montana State University business student Trisha Jones has been doing market research for a
start-up company in rural Montana that wants to develop Indian rice grass as an alternative for
people who can’t eat wheat products.

By GAIL SCHONTZLER Chronicle Staff Writer

Jones, 23, a senior in business management, has been getting a taste of what it takes in the
real world to turn a great idea into a successful business.

"The experience of working with an actual person, as opposed to … hypothetical cases in
class," Jones said, has been "amazing."

"This is the first time I really have not wanted a class to end," she said Wednesday. "I’ve
learned a lot and really enjoyed it."

Jones is one of seven students working this semester at MSU’s new Center for Entrepreneurship
for the New West.

About 30 people from MSU and the local business community attended Wednesday’s official
opening of the center, which operates within the TechRanch, a business incubator that
provides office space and other help for fledgling companies at the Advanced Technology Park
on West College Avenue.

The idea of the entrepreneurship center is that business students get hands-on experience with
real start-up companies, while the companies get free help in marketing and other research
from the students.

The state of Montana stands to benefit from the creation of new jobs in clean industries and
new wealth, said Rich Semenik, MSU business dean. And other than buying some pens and
pencils, the center cost basically nothing to start, Semenik said. TechRanch donates the space,
computers and books were donated, and the students are supervised through a class in

To hire a professional firm to do the same research would be very expensive for fledgling
companies, said John O’Donnell, TechRanch director.

Mike Reilly, MSU marketing professor and director of the entrepreneurship center, said the
experience students get is a lot different from what they learn in class.

"It’s a lot more scramble than analysis," Reilly said. The problem with most business colleges,
he added, is "we’re still pretty much trying to produce execu-droids for Fortune 1,000, which
have been net losers of jobs in the last 15 years. Where the jobs are is in start-up companies.
What it takes to succeed in a small start-up is different from a Fortune 1,000."

Jessica McClarty, 27, a senior in business management, has been helping find venture
capitalists and "angel" investors who’d be most likely to be interested in investing in TEXbase,
a new textile software company. "If you just jump in and start asking for money, people will turn
you away," she said.

Linda Ward, a graduate student in business, has been working with Parvis Inc., an on-line
foreign language tutoring company, and Bacterin Inc., which designs coatings to reduce
infections with medical devices, like hip replacements.

"We’re trying to keep the money and the jobs in Montana," said Guy Cook, Bacterin president.

Gail Schontzler is at [email protected].

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