Seed funding: State competition seeks early-stage tech companies poised for growth

Technology leaders gathered in Missoula last year for the Montana High Tech Jobs Summit. A new collaboration is now looking for early-stage tech companies to participate in a statewide accelerator program. (Missoula Current file photo)

Early stage companies in western Montana could get a helping hand from a new state program that’s set to offer seed funding and mentors to qualified businesses poised for growth.

Jenni Graff with the Missoula Economic Partnership said two tech-related businesses in the startup phase will be selected from three state regions next month, including western Montana.

The finalists will participate in a business accelerator before competing for seed funding in a state competition hosted by Early Stage MT – a collaboration that includes Frontier Angels, the Missoula Economic Partnership, Next Frontier Capital and Blackstone Launchpad at the University of Montana, among others.

“It’s almost like a business plan competition for early stage businesses that need a little bit of seed money to get to the next stage of their organization,” Graff said Tuesday. “We want them to be tech-leveraged businesses. We want them to have the ability to be scaleable and grow their sales out of Montana.”

Graff said the initial showcase will be held in May in Billings, Bozeman and Missoula. More than 20 early stage companies in western Montana have been invited to compete for the statewide showcase planned in Bozeman this September, and others are invited to attend.

Qualified businesses must live in the technology realm and have developed a functional prototype or completed a sale.

“Early Stage Montana was created to bring attention to the incredible innovation happening across the state of Montana, and to make sure that these dedicated entrepreneurs are getting the capital, mentorship and exposure they need to grow faster,” said Pat LaPointe with Frontier Angels. “Our goal is to provide a platform for existing Montana businesses to begin to play on a larger stage.”

While startups in Montana are generally small in size, some have reached the next level, including onXmaps, Orbital Shift and Submittable. The three Missoula-based companies are among a handful of others in Montana now included in Next Frontier Capital’s investment portfolio.

But for other early stage businesses looking to grow, Graff said access to capital can be limited in Montana, though that’s beginning to change.

“We’ve always had a basis, but now we’re really starting to formalize a statewide network to develop this type of funding,” Graff said. “I think that’s the difference right now. We’re getting some energy around formalizing those efforts.”

Doing so could have long-term benefits to the state’s economic future, enabling businesses to compete on a larger stage and grow to the next level, adding jobs along the way.

Early Stage MT is looking to accelerate that growth, Graff said.

“Getting additional capital and learning how to better compete positions them to hire and invest more in our local economies,” Graff said. “Once we’re growing our local businesses to better compete on a national and international scale, it’s the perfect situation because they’re already committed to being here. “

Business owners can get more information and submit entry forms at www.EarlyStageMT.org