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MT business roundup: Missoula's onXmaps' closes record-breaking funding and adds Montana jobs, growing laser and photonics industry, Great Falls' The Front Brewing Co. celebrates new ownership and more


PHOTO VIA GALLATIN COLLEGE (FACEBOOK)

Gallatin Valley home to a growing laser and photonics industry

The Gallatin Valley is known as a center of laser technology. Laser and photonics technology came to the valley starting in the 1980s. Since then, the industry has grown exponentially with currently more than 40 companies calling Montana home. The growth of this industry in the valley is largely attributed to graduates out of Montana State University’s engineering and physics departments and the more recently added laser and photonics technician program at Gallatin College. “We’re specifically in this program to train photonics technicians to support the local photonics industry in the Gallatin Valley,” said Trenton Berg, Program Director for the laser and photonics program at Gallatin College. The program at Gallatin College is fairly new, but students are already being picked up by companies all over town to work as laser technicians. For example, 13 out of the 15 students in the program already have Montana jobs. These students, along with the already dynamic workforce in the valley, will be creating a variety of products with local companies like Quantel Laser and Blackmore Sensors (companies also both currently hiring). Also supporting these local companies is the Montana Photonics Industry Alliance. Formed in late 2013, the Alliance serves as a hub for Montana’s optics and photonics companies, entrepreneurs, laboratories, and universities to commercialize, grow and sustain globally leading organizations that create high quality Montana jobs and economic opportunity in Montana. You can find a number of top Montana job opportunities in this space currently on the Alliance website here. [KBZK] 

Missoula’s onXmaps announces record-breaking $20.3M funding round, plans to add Montana jobs

Missoula-based onXmaps announced last week that it has closed a $20.3 million funding round led by Summit Partners. This was the company’s first outside funding since its launch in 2009. Others participating in the round include Bozeman-based Next Frontier Capital along with Bessemer Venture Partners, Millennium Technology Value Partners and Steve Burke, the CEO of NBCUniversal and executive vice president of Comcast. Together, the investment companies issued a statement calling it the “largest growth equity investment in a mobile and consumer-focused business in Montana’s history.” The mobile mapping technology company, which now employs nearly 70 between its Missoula and Bozeman offices, has said it plans to add dozens of Montana jobs in the coming years. You can find several top Bozeman and Missoula positions the company is hiring for on the careers page of its website! CEO Eric Siegfried said, “This investment enables us to take our solutions and our team to the next level.” As the Montana company looks to grow, it’s looking to build new products outside its core onX Hunt app and to also use some of this latest round of funding to acquire more customers and more data, continuing to strengthen its services. [Missoulian]

National nonprofit Bunker Labs, an entrepreneur program for veterans, launches a Bozeman chapter

National nonprofit, Bunker Labs, is hosting its inaugural meetup for its newest chapter this week in Bozeman. The organization is headquartered in Chicago and has programs in 16 major cities across the country. The nonprofit focuses on supporting military veterans and spouses to start and grow businesses. Despite Bozeman being a rather small market for its newest chapter, executive director Nate Wiens said, “We’ve got the right makings [in Montana] to be really successful here in what we can do.” Talks of starting a Montana chapter of Bunker Labs started a couple of years ago, Wiens said. Montana has the highest population of veterans per capita. “We have guys who want to get out of the military and start their own businesses,” Wiens said. The inaugural event was hosted on February 22 but will continue as a monthly meetup and happy hour going forward - bringing together veterans and military spouses to network with experts, investors, entrepreneurs and other leaders. [Bozeman Chronicle]

 


PHOTO VIA THE FRONT BREWING CO.

The Front Brewing Co. celebrates new ownership, unveils Golden Bobcat Ale to honor Montana State University

Golden Bobcat Pale Ale was unveiled last week as Montana State University celebrated its 125th birthday. The beer, which is comprised of several Montana grown ingredients, is brewed at Great Falls’ Front Brewing Company, which is now in the process of being sold to Jeremiah Johnson Brewing Company. Both the former owners and new owner, Jeremiah Johnson, are MSU alumni. According to Johnson, the brewery gets its malt from nearby Malteurop North America, which sources more than three-quarters of its barley from growers in the northern Montana region, the Golden Triangle. The recipe also includes the addition of honey to the beer which is sourced from Smoot Honey Company of Power, Montana, just north of Great Falls. Johnson said producing the commemorative beer for statewide distribution is a big move for his small brewery, and one that has personal significance for him as he applies his MSU business degree to a newfound passion. Similarly, last August, Missoula’s Big Sky Brewing Company released GRIZ Montana lager, an officially licensed beer for the University of Montana. [Great Falls Tribune]

 


PHOTO VIA @COYBOYCRICKETS

Belgrade startup releases new commercial modular cricket farming system

Shared with us this week by Cowboy Cricket Farms, LLC co-founder, James Rolin, the Belgrade-based startup has officially released first photos and specifications of its first modular cricket farming system available for commercial use and costing less than $300 per system. The system is aimed at future cricket farmers. It is self contained in a bin the regulates temperature and humidity and monitors air quality - all while maintaining food and water for the tiny livestock. The design was created to allow for even the most novice of farmers to have success. Edible insects are on the rise in the US as the world population continues to grow, requiring the need to develop new, sustainable food sources. Compared to beef, crickets are over 2,000 times more efficient with their water and 14 times more efficient with their feed. They also have twice as much iron content and are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Cowboy Cricket Farms guarantees to buy all of the crickets and frass (cricket poop used for fertilizer) that their partner farms can produce and want to reach 1,000 farms by 2020. [CowboyCrickets]

Debut event: Micro-fund pitch competition in Missoula tests and rewards local startups

Hosted by the Missoula Economic Partnership (MEP), Blackstone LaunchPad and Hellgate and Goodworks venture networks, Missoula recently held its inaugural micro-fund pitch competition featuring four local startups (which you can read more about in the full article). Nearly 50 participants listened to the pitches and paid $5 to cast their votes for what they thought to be the best pitch. The money raised from the event went to support Missoula Works, a local upstart employment and placement agency. Jenni Graf of MEP said eight applications were received for the inaugural event, making it difficult to select the final four, but says she hopes to make the event a regular occurrence in time. [Missoula Current]

 

 
PHOTO VIA WALTER HINICK / THE MONTANA STANDARD

Company to invest $251 million in Butte's nearby Montana Connections Business Development Park

Utah-based Power Block Coin, LLC, was approved this week to develop a campus of high-powered data centers in Montana Connections, a special tax finance district west of Butte. The company plans to invest $251 million in capital improvements over 36 months with the goal of bringing 135 megawatts of power to its campus. The campus will convert “electricity into digital currency mining, including bitcoin. In addition to that, Tilton said the company could support other businesses that need large amounts of power, such as certain types of medical research and artificial intelligence.” The project is expected to bring nearly 15 Montana jobs by the end of 2018 and employ nearly 50 when it is fully up and running, with salaries expected to range from $37,000-$48,000 per year. [Montana Standard]