Our Blog > MT Business Roundup

Under the Big Sky video series features Red Ants Pants, Bozeman-based data security firm IronCore Labs raises $1.5 million, Bozeman's Rainbow Motel reborn as RSVP Motel, venture capital firm HomeStake Venture Partners eyes Missoula for growth and more



Bozeman venture capital firm eyes Missoula for growth, investment opportunities

HomeStake Venture Partners, an upstart venture capital firm based in Bozeman, has hired an outreach coordinator, Andy Gordon, based in Missoula to help grow the organization’s membership base across the state. HomeStake co-founder Bill Stoddart described HomeStake as a “deconstructive” VC fund, one that’s looking for homegrown opportunities. While many Montana businesses are poised for growth, he said, some don’t have the collateral needed to secure bank funding or can’t provide the high returns needed to attract investment from other venture capitalists. Having Montanans invest in Montana companies, he added, keeps money in the state and helps grow the state’s overall economy. HomeStake currently claims around 40 members. As subscribed members, they gain access to the firm’s industry research and marketing. Members of the group then choose which companies to invest in based on their own unique interests. Stoddart said the firm’s current membership is capable of providing more than $20 million in financing throughout the state, though it has identified nearly $50 million in opportunity. By hiring Gordon in Missoula, it plans to expand its membership base to achieve a greater level of investment. The firm’s current portfolio includes a number of Montana businesses, including Gallatin Valley Botanical, Wisetail, Sofi (hiring in Helena and nationally), the Natural Baby Company and the Sola Cafe & Market. [Missoula Current]

Under the Big Sky storytelling video series features Red Ants Pants founder

Under the Big Sky (a Montana storytelling video series featuring interesting people, businesses and stories that are found under the Big Sky), recently spoke with the founder and owner of Red Ants Pants, Sarah Calhoun. In the video, she discusses the origins of the company she started at age 25 that sells workwear for women. Tired of wearing men’s work pants that didn’t fit, Calhoun designed pants that would fit, function and flatter working women. Red Ants Pants is based out of White Sulphur Springs, Montana, where the storefront, distribution center, and international headquarters all reside in a historic saddle shop. To show support for the hard-working side of Montana and beyond, the Red Ants Pants Foundation was born in 2011. The Foundation supports women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches, and rural communities – the three things most important to Calhoun and the Red Ants Pants Community. That same year, the Foundation launched its first program – the Red Ants Pants Music Festival. In 2011, over 6,000 fans came to celebrate rural Montana in a cow pasture. Recently named the 2018 Event of the Year by the Montana Office of Tourism, the Red Ants Pants Music Festival will take place this year July 26 through 29 in White Sulphur Springs, Montana. This full story, and all other Under the Big Sky segments and stories, can be found here. [KXLH]

Bozeman data security firm scores $1.5 million amid venture capital growth

IronCore Labs (based in Bozeman and Boulder, Colorado) recently announced it raised $1.5 million in seed funding led by Bozeman-based venture capital firm Next Frontier Capital. With this recent round of funding, the company has now raised $3 million over the past 18 months. IronCore Labs, a cloud privacy platform technology, plans to use the $1.5 million to hire sales and marketing staff. The company is also planning an announcement regarding the release of a public product in the coming weeks. The $1.5 million sum was the latest in a string of successes for Next Frontier Capital, which has raised $100 million in funds for 12 companies since its inception in 2015. Among them include several Montana-based companies SiteOne Therapeutics, Submittable (hiring in Missoula), Clearas Water Recovery, Quiq (hiring in Bozeman), Orbital Shift and Blackmore Sensors and Analytics (hiring in Bozeman). [Bozeman Chronicle]

Why Montana out ranks California and New York as the “Best Places in the U.S. to Start Up”

Montana recently ranked 4th on a list compiled by the personal finance site WalletHub ranking the best states to start up a business. The report, which was based on 25 key indicators of startup success, ranked Montana four places ahead of California on the list and 28 ahead of New York. Montana crushed the competition by scoring highly on WalletHub's three dimensions: business environment, access to resources and business costs.You can read more about WalletHub's methodology here. Montana boasts a relatively large transportation and utilities industry compared to the U.S. as a whole, but high-tech industries are growing, adding Montana jobs and far outpacing statewide growth, according to University of Montana data. And Bozeman, home to Montana State University, is also gaining a reputation as a tech town. But that’s not all. Three reasons founders are headed west include the thriving startup culture, ready employment base and low cost of doing business. You can find a complete list of the rankings here. [Inc.]

Bozeman’s Rainbow Motel reborn as RSVP Motel

The longstanding Rainbow Motel has undergone a massive renovation and reopened this week as the RSVP Motel, a new boutique motel that will contribute to the ongoing revitalization of North Seventh Avenue in the Midtown section of Bozeman. Hotel owner Dean Folkford said, “MoFi and the New Markets Tax Credit Program (NMTC) and the folks at Big Sky Western Bank (hiring across the state) have been key to financing this renovation. The strong relationships we’ve formed have allowed us to expand the scope of our project and really bring something special to Bozeman.” U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines have been supportive of the NMTC Program for years. According to Tester, “The renovated Rainbow Motel will be a boost for Bozeman’s North Seventh Avenue, helping create good-paying jobs and bolster the local economy.” Likewise, Daines said, “The New Markets Tax Credit has created good-paying jobs across our state, and today’s announcement of the Rainbow Motel renovation will continue to do that right in my own backyard.” [Bozeman Magazine]

MSU and partners receive nearly $2.8 million to expand community-based primary care expertise

Montana State University’s College of Nursing has received a grant totaling nearly $2.8 million that will enable MSU and its partners from across Montana to address the shortage of nurses in areas across the state, particularly in rural areas. In addition to nursing students, the project will also provide professional development opportunities to current registered nurses. According to Sarah Shannon, Dean of the College of Nursing, the overall project is expected to work with more than 100 baccalaureate nursing students, 20 preceptors and mentors, 40 practicing nurses and 40 faculty members. [Montana State University]

Iron Mountain opens new facilities in Montana

Iron Mountain Incorporated® (NYSE: IRM), the global leader in storage and information management services, today announced the opening of two new information management facilities in Montana, located in Missoula and Helena. The facilities are the company's first in the state and represent a commitment to delivering the full suite of Iron Mountain's solutions portfolio to the greater Montana business community. They join Iron Mountain's worldwide network of more than 1400+ facilities providing solutions for records storage, data management, data centers, secure shredding and document imaging. "We're excited to enter the Montana market and support the state's business community," said Jim Dodson, senior vice president & general manager, Records Management, Iron Mountain. [Business Insider]

A Montana ranching company aims to revive U.S. textile industry

For more than a century, sheep shearing has been common practice across Montana. And the vast majority of the wool sheared from sheep gets sent off to wholesalers where it is then sold on worldwide commodity markets. However, one operation located in Logan in the Gallatin Valley is departing from typical Montana sheep shearing. The wool from the lambs at this operation, all raised by the Dillon-based Helle Rambouillet Ranch, will be processed into yarn, fabric and finally woolen garments bearing the Bozeman-based Duckworth label. Wool clipped in early June will show up on the company’s website and in about 75 specialty outdoor stores early next year. Duckworth’s vertical integration concept is designed to help the owners extract more value from their wool. And in addition to offering high-quality products, Duckworth’s owners have a bigger goal in mind. They see their homespun effort as a step toward reviving the U.S. textile industry, which has suffered severe contractions in recent decades. According to Bernie Bernthal, president and co-founder of Duckworth, “It’s a story of American self reliance, the story of a four-generation Montana family and how to get more involved in the value chain.” [Billings Gazette]

Bitcoin mining finding home in Montana

Bitcoin is making headlines all over the world, and this new technology could be forging a new direction for Montana’s economy according to some economists. Three companies have already invested (or are planning to invest) substantial capital and are building data centers in the state. Due to Montana’s relatively low energy rates, cold climate and abundance of unused warehouse space, companies are highly interested in mining the new cryptocurrency in Montana. But there is another reason, too - free money. A year ago, Montana Governor Steve Bullock granted one firm $416,000 to operate its business along the banks of the Blackfoot River at Bonner east of Missoula. Additionally, the last Montana state legislature acted to lower property taxes for large data centers in an effort to attract them to the state. Several companies have already ramped up operations in the state including Project Spokane, which was founded in 2016 under the umbrella of parent company Hyperblock Technologies and operates near Missoula. CryptoWatt LLC also began business in Butte earlier this year after investing $62 million and activating 2,000 computer servers at the former Mike Mansfield Advanced Technology Center. And another company, Power Block Coin LLC, has announced plans to locate in Butte and invest $251 million in cryptocurrency mining. Complimentary businesses are also popping up, like a local new business in the Flathead Valley called CMH, LLC that is providing services to cryptocurrency mining businesses (e.g. leasing space, infrastructure and power). [Big Sky Business Journal]

Medicaid expansion a huge success

Medicaid expansion could become a major election issue in the upcoming midterms as it’s set to renew in 2019. Montana approved Medicaid expansion in 2015, which extended coverage to more low-income and disabled Americans. During its first two years, Medicaid expansion provided beneficiaries more than $800 million in health care and infused a significant amount of money into the economy. A recent study funded by the Montana Healthcare Foundation and Headwaters Foundation found that Medicaid expansion in Montana introduces $350 to $400 million in new spending to the state’s economy each year. Medicaid expansion spending enters our economy in two ways. First, it supports new health care spending. Nearly one in 10 Montanans were enrolled in Medicaid expansion as of March 2018. Most expansion enrollees would have been uninsured in the absence of the expansion. Second, Medicaid expansion spending replaces existing spending. Even without Medicaid expansion, beneficiaries would have received some health care, but Medicaid expansion changed who pays for their care. The effect is similar to when a Montana company wins a government contract – it brings money into the state’s economy that would otherwise not be there. Medicaid expansion impacts Montana’s economy the same way, and this new money stimulates economic activity creating Montana jobs and income. It’s estimated that between 2018 and 2020, Medicaid expansion will generate about 5,000 Montana jobs and $270 million in annual personal income. [Montana Business Quarterly]

State-of-the-art plant in Cut Bank adds 12 new, high-paying jobs

Cut Bank’s Pardue Grain celebrated its official groundbreaking ceremony last week, although construction is already well underway for the new pulse crop processing facility. Owners, Roger and Lisa Sammons, along with their team are looking forward to doing business in the new state-of-the art facility in September, just in time for the 2018 harvest. “Pardue Grain is going to be able to increase Montana producers’ access to foreign and domestic markets for value-added and Montana-branded products. We are creating jobs and paying higher wages on the Blackfeet Reservation and in Glacier County,” said Sammons. “It’s a solid-based agricultural business and any time that we can add value to our crops before we send them out of Montana, it’s a win-win,” he said. The $5.7 million toll processor facility will include a food-grade processing line for pulse crops, which include chickpeas, peas and lentils. The new facility will add 12 high-paying Montana jobs, including a food safety coordinator, a transportation and logistics manager, and shift foremen and plant operators. [Cut Bank Pioneer Press]