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Innovate Montana Symposium taking place in Billings, Montana leads the country in entrepreneurship, Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital receives national recognition, MetraPark visitors pumped $151M into Billings economy last year...and more



Montana leads the country in entrepreneurship, UM study says

According to a new study by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Montana leads the country in entrepreneurship. The results of the study were shared by Bryce Ward at the Montana Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Economic Update Series, which kicked off this past Thursday, August 2, in Kalispell. Ward found that in 2015, more than 10 percent of Montanans owned a business as their primary job, compared to six percent of Americans. He also found that about 3,400 Montanans start a new business each month, and that more than half of the startups formed in 2011 were still open for business five years later. Ward says this implies a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem. But unlike elsewhere in the country, startups in Montana tend to stay small. In fact, the average size of a new firm is the lowest nationwide, with an average of three employees, compared to the national average of six. The Montana Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Update Series moved across the state all week hitting Glasgow, Sydney, Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Helena, Great Falls and wrapping up in Missoula. [Montana PBR]

Innovate Montana Symposium taking place in Billings

The Third Annual Innovate Montana Symposium is taking place today (August 9) in downtown Billings. The event, which was created to help Montana’s entrepreneurs grow wages and create top Montana jobs, looks to foster entrepreneurship and build business relationships across our state. An impressive list of speakers and panelists are expected at the event, including angel and venture investors, the former lead of Google Maps, the founder of multiple highly successful outdoor recreation manufacturing businesses, the founder of one of Montana’s top breweries, many other CEOs and c-level executives, and Governor Bullock. [Innovate Montana Symposium]

DermaXon: Missoula startup receives $99K grant to research med for chronic pain

Missoula upstart biotech company DermaXon was recently awarded a grant from the Montana Department of Commerce to help fund more studies and generate data needed to attract investors for a new compound to treat chronic neuropathic pain. The $99,326 grant from the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology (MBRCT) will help finance further research and development of the topical treatment. Data generated by the research will help attract investors and grants from the government. DermaXon founders Fanny Astruc-Diaz and Philippe Diaz can then begin clinical trials for the medication to gain approval by the FDA, allowing sales nationwide. According to the Missoula Economic Partnership, biotech is a developing and thriving industry in Missoula. However, biotech has faced challenges finding a local workforce for the industry. DermaXon recently hired CEO Michelle Huie, who founded VIM & VIGR (hiring) in Missoula, as well as a recent University of Montana graduate. The company has said it is happy to be a future employer for those who study biology and chemistry at the University of Montana. [Missoula Current]

Alchemy Systems (which acquired Wisetail in Bozeman) to sell to Intertek Group for $480 million

Alchemy Systems, which acquired Wisetail in Bozeman, has agreed to be acquired by London-based Intertek Group in a $480 million all-cash deal. The Austin company employs about 270 people in four U.S. offices and makes software to monitor and train workforces in the food sector. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter. Intertek's announcement of the buyout, which includes details such as transaction and financial highlights, can be found here. [Austin Business Journal]

Missoula tech company aimed at tourism industry marks 18-month growth

When an upstart Missoula tech company won the Montana Shark Tank pitch competition last year, its founder was happy to take home the $5,000 prize. Now, Evan Tipton, founder and CEO of TOMIS (hiring), has set his sights on loftier financial goals. The company plans to launch a bridge to Series A investment round to raise $3 million in capital this year which Tipton says would be to “beef up our product development and implement our data science and customer support team.” In simple terms, TOMIS provides digital marketing assistance for tour operations. The product integrates and analyzes marketing and sales data which is then placed against an algorithm that tells clients in the tourism industry when to act, how to act and how much they’ll make if they follow suit. TOMIS opened its office in downtown Missoula just 18 months ago and has seen tremendous growth in that time with a team of nearly 30 today. A year from now, Tipton said, the company looks to have a new Missoula office, grow to 50 employees and serve as the leading marketing platform in the tours and activities space. [Missoula Current]

Polson-based Black Mountain Software celebrates 30 years

Black Mountain Software, a Polson-based company that creates accounting software for municipalities, counties and school districts in small- to mid-sized towns, is celebrating 30 years in business (and they are also hiring). President Heather Neff has been with the company for 20 years. She said a lot has changed in the software industry and in their business during that time. And while Polson isn’t necessarily thought of as a hotbed for tech companies, Neff said being located in a town of similar size to those they service makes sense and has been a natural fit. Since its beginning in the early 90s, the company has seen steady growth, adding two to three employees each year to accommodate a client base that expands by 20 to 30. Additionally, Neff said maintaining the qualities that made them attractive as a small-town company despite their growth has been critical to its success - hiring applicants with promising character traits over existing knowledge bases or skill sets because even as technology advances, those traits remain relevant. [Daily Inter Lake]

With $50K on the line, Missoula tech company Superior Traffic Services hones business plan at accelerator

A Missoula tech firm, Superior Traffic Services, participated alongside six other startups from across the state in the inaugural HpyerAccelerator program hosted by Early Stage MT, in which the business received an intense 50-hour program to help enhance their business plans and explore ways to finance their growth. According to Superior Traffic Services CEO, Jeff Hollenback, “We got a lot out of it, and it was really insightful. We went in with a business plan that was pretty conservative. It exceeded my expectations, really.” The company will advance next month as one of the seven companies to compete for a $50,000 equity investment offered by the Frontier Angels fund. [Missoula Current]

Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital receives national recognition

Bozeman Health (hiring) recently announced some impressive milestones. Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital was named as a Top 20 Rural & Community Hospitals for 2018 by iVantage and included in Becker’s Hospital Review Top 100 Community Hospital’s List. Further, Bozeman Health president and CEO John Hill has been recognized as a “Rural Hospital CEO to Know” by Becker’s Hospital Review. All are prestigious recognitions. The iVantage Health Analytics’ Hospital Strength INDEX® is the industry’s most comprehensive and objective assessment of rural provider performance. Its results are the basis for many of rural healthcare’s most prominent awards, advocacy efforts, and legislative initiatives. The Top 100 Rural & Community Hospitals play a key role in providing a safety net to communities across America. The INDEX measures these facilities across eight pillars of hospital strength: Inpatient Share Ranking, Outpatient Share Ranking, Cost, Charge, Quality, Outcomes, Patient Perspective, and Financial Stability.  Additionally, CEO John Hill was recognized in Becker’s Hospital Review 50 Rural Hospital CEOs to Know for 2018, the second consecutive year John has received this recognition. According to Becker’s, the CEOs featured on this list have overcome significant challenges operating rural community and critical access hospitals to lead sustainable and thriving organizations. [Bozeman Health]

Libby is Montana’s ‘Most Charming Small Town,’ says Reader’s Digest

Libby is the most charming small town in Montana, according to Reader’s Digest. The publication from July posted a list outlining “The Most Charming Small Town in Every State.” The paragraph accompanying the Libby entry highlights its view of the Cabinet Mountains and its proximity to outdoor recreation. It also calls out two local businesses “for a local’s experience” — Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company and The Black Board Bistro. Local economic developers see the accolade as both a reaffirmation of and a potential boost to existing efforts to attract people and commerce to the town. The full article can be found online here. [The Western News]

ClassPass to expand to First Interstate Center, looks to add 40 more high-paying Montana jobs

The fast-growing tech company, ClassPass (hiring in Missoula) recently announced it will be expanding to the fifth floor of the First Interstate Bank building in downtown Missoula and has signed an agreement with Missoula County to create another 40 high-paying Montana jobs in addition to the 70 new jobs it’s already created in Missoula. Almost all of ClassPass’s customers are located outside of Montana, so the employees at the Missoula office bring in new revenue to the local economy. When the company first opened its Missoula office, it originally applied for $345,000 in Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grant funds to create 45 new Montana jobs. Nicole Rush, the grants administrator for the Missoula Economic Partnership, said the company’s growth has been beyond original expectations. “They have actually already hired more than 70 employees at their Missoula office, so well above the grant target for job creation,” she said. [Missoulian]

Montana Made: The Oil Barn (in Big Sandy, MT)

A business near Big Sandy, Montana, called The Oil Barn has found a number of ways to utilize its product. The Oil Barn has been producing safflower oil since 2011. And according to manager Trevor Wilkerson, what started out as a biodiesel operation soon turned into an opportunity to produce safflower oil for consumption. “That’s when they found a deli that also wanted to use it in their fryers…decided they could turn more of a profit in the fryers but could also reclaim that and reuse it in tractors after they’d clean it," Wilkerson said. It’s now a developed process that benefits both the farming and food industries. While their oil is shipped worldwide, The Oil Barn also gets plenty of business in the Treasure State. They work with Montana State University and the University of Montana and also have their product in a number of grocery stores and delis. Wilkerson says the production of safflower oil has even given the local economy a boost and has the potential to bring more jobs and more industry to Big Sandy. [KRTV]

MetraPark visitors pumped $151M into Billings economy last year, report shows

A new independent study, funded by NorthWestern Energy, shows that MetraPark has a $150.9 million annual impact on the local economy. Rob Gilmore, the CEO of Circle Analytics, which conducted the study, presented his findings to the Yellowstone County Board of Commissioners this week. Gilmore said the $150.9 million figure measures the financial impact provided by only the approximate 296,000 MetraPark visitors that came from outside the area during 2017. Of the $150.9 million, $87.8 million is what Gilmore labeled the gross county product — the sum of labor compensation, capital-type income and indirect business taxes and fees, which amounted to about $10.8 million. Total labor income (i.e. compensation to employees and self-employed proprietors, including retirement benefits and health insurance) was $52.2 million. The number of Montana jobs generated as a result of MetraPark’s operation was 2,023. “We knew that MetraPark is an economic driver in this community and is a huge benefit,” said Patrick Klugman, senior project manager with Big Sky Economic Development, who helped coordinate the reporting involved with the study. [Billings Gazette]

Montana product, from Missoula-based Reflex Protect, could protect kids from active shooters at schools

With the school year around the corner, a Missoula-based start-up, Reflex Protect, is working to get their invention in classrooms across Montana. The company has created a non-lethal product that has said to be more effective than pepper spray when it comes to stopping an active shooter. Reflex Protect CEO Joe Anderson says not only can Reflex Protect help in active shooter situations in schools, they also have a version for hospitals. Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula already keeps some of the spray on hand. Anderson says the hospital version is easier to clean up after being used, so hospitals can quickly clean up and continue caring for patients. He believes the spray is "a good alternative to a loaded handgun in a nightstand drawer." Reflex Protect is in contact with Hellgate Elementary in Missoula and the Polson school district. They say the schools will be test implementing Reflex Protect in August. [ABC Fox Montana]