Entrepreneur of the Week: Nick Salmon of the Collaborative Learning Network


In a recent report, the Kauffman Foundation ranked Missoula fifth among cities with a population of less than 250,000 for its number of startups. The report also ranked the city first in the small metro category for having the largest number of new startups launched between 1990 and 2010.

Each week, the Missoula Current runs a Q&A with a local entrepreneur who’s starting a new business. In their own words, they explain their startup venture, the successes and challenges of getting off the ground, and how to find out more about their operation.

This week’s entrepreneur is Nick Salmon, founder and president of the Collaborative Learning Network.Nick Salmon

Tell us about your background and briefly describe your current business.

I’m an eighth-generation educator and founder of the Collaborative Learning Network, LLC.

The Collaborative Learning Network offers a team of professionals who help communities articulate a powerful educational vision, provide meaningful professional development for teaching staff and, when needed, translate the vision into facility concepts for a future design team.

We share current research and best practices in order to reflect upon thoughtful conversations about the future of education; we inspire communities with images, stories and data from highly-effective schools found around the world and utilize a proven framework to discover a vision that is unique to each community.

We bring an independent perspective that does not assume that major facility impacts will be needed to implement the vision.

When did you first come up with your business idea?

The Collaborative Learning Network emerged from more than a decade of work with educators and creative professionals around the world focused on facilitating the creation of clear educational visions, strong connections to local communities and future-flexible facilities that support teaching and learning.

The business was launched in January 2016.

What prompted you to pursue it?

I was in need of a true work/life balance that could be best managed through serving a small group of clients in a focused manner.

What were the initial challenges and how did you overcome them?

As a virtual network of collaborators, we assemble a team based upon the specific needs of a client. As a result, each of us often work alone on a daily basis. That isolation is best overcome with frequent social contact and connection to mentors.

I participate in the Five Valleys High Performance Building Collaborative on a monthly basis. I attended 1,000,00 Cups Missoula, spent countless hours in Zoom meetings with the XQ team, present to many conferences, check in with peers on a daily basis and with mentors as often as I can.

How do you see your business evolving over the next few years?

I envision working with fewer clients for longer durations. I will incorporate more teaching into my annual calendar, including creating an on-line STEAM course on design thinking (with Sara Shifrin) that would allow isolated learners in small communities who might have an interest in design professions.

Ideally the content covered in that class would prepare a young person for nearly any future, not just design.

What advice would you give others looking to start their own business?

Eat real food.

Be physically active.

Get good sleep.

Be thoughtful about who you spend time with.

I became a father in my 40’s. I lacked the energy of a 20-year old, but I had a bit more wisdom to make it through the challenges of sleep deprivation. I think that starting a business later in life has had the same challenges and benefits.

Spend the time to explore what you are doing, what you do, how you achieve it and what you intend to produce. A clear moral compass is important at the start. In the first month, I was asked to travel to a large district in the Midwest to evaluate all aspects of a school with declining enrollment, and make recommendations regarding school closures and staff reductions. It might have paid well, but it was clearly opposite of my aspiration to work with positive, future-focused educational communities and I walked away (quickly).

Seek mentors young and old that are willing to hold a mirror up to your vision and ask you challenging questions. Treat people well, with no expectation that they owe you anything in return.

Make time in your day to be creative – write, draw, sing, tinker, hack. I have been developing a furniture accessory that emerged from that creative time, and hope to be able to see that in production soon.

Save more money than you think you will need. As an eighth generation educator, I grew up with dozens of aunts and uncles who were educators, not business people. Thankfully many business mentors are very generous with their time and ability to help establish financial priorities.

What is your immediate business need?

Create the community climate for the type of change in teaching and learning that we encounter in highly effective schools around the world. That includes learning from failure, recovery and persistence of learners and teachers working on project-based learning exercises addressing significant community issues.

That requires administrators who thoughtfully assemble teams of teachers to support that manner of working together, and trustees and community members who understand the short-term and long-term value of educating future generations in this manner. After more than 30 years of professional experience in design, theater, education and facility planning, I have a robust network of peers around the world. Local recognition for the little things I do is always a challenge.

How can people find out more about your business?

I present frequently during local, state, national and international conferences. I post frequent insights into educational issues on my Facebook page and maintain a simple website.