By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
A new business accelerator based in Missoula is building a $2.4 million seed fund to help startups across Montana push innovative ideas and compete with larger metro regions in the West.
Devin Holmes, founder of Montana Innovation Co., said 20 percent of the capital needed to fill the fund has already been committed, and he’s working on securing the rest from investors across the country.
“I have a desire to spread the message of Montana out of state, and get investors and potential startups to come to Montana,” Holmes said Monday. “We will consider and actively recruit entrepreneurs from outside Montana to come here and start their companies. The way we build the system is to encourage internal growth and recruit external growth.”
Holmes, founder of the Big Sky Code Academy and Montana Code Girls, among other ventures, said Montana is home to a robust innovation scene that covers a wide array of burgeoning businesses.
Still, he said, as the state’s economy continues to shift toward knowledge-based industries, entrepreneurs in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors face challenges when looking for seed capital and mentorship – two areas in which Montana Inc. looks to help.
“The goal is to build a startup accelerator in Montana for high-growth potential companies that need seed funding to either get started or get off the ground,” said Holmes. “We’re very much focused on identifying high-growth potential companies looking for seed funding in the $50,000 to $100,000 range in exchange for an equity stake in the company.”
The program also comes with six months of in-house mentorship, Holmes said. Selected startups can occupy one of the accelerators three facilities located in Missoula, Bozeman and Helena. The facility in Missoula is located off North Reserve, though Holmes said plans are in the works to move the incubator downtown.
During those six months, the accelerator will work with the entrepreneurs to identify and overcome their challenges, from customer acquisition to marketing. The goal, Holmes said, is to prepare a startup for the next round of funding.
“My goal is that companies would accelerate for the six months and that in some short amount of time, they’d be in the position to go seek a Series A round of funding,” said Holmes. “We want to get these companies to that level, so the next Frontier Capital of the world will start looking at them and invest in them.”
The program is designed to build upon a number of other efforts initiated by Holmes, including the Big Sky Code Academy, Montana Code Girls and Teachers Teaching Tech. Those programs are designed to provide the job skills needed to succeed in Montana’s growing tech sector.
By the year 2050, Holmes said, he hopes to grow Montana’s technology workforce from 6,000 to 60,000, and increase revenue in the sector from $1 billion to $10 billion.
“We felt that because we had these growing programs with youth, teachers and adults, it was time to go out and start the accelerator,” said Holmes. “This is the fifth step in a multi-step vision that I have for the ecosystem in Montana.”
Holmes said the startup accelerator is structured to invest $2 million on for-profit, high-growth businesses. The remaining $400,000 is reserved for innovative, high-impact nonprofits.
“We also want to take that same mindset and apply it to new and existing high-impact nonprofits that we’ll invest capital in to help build out the nonprofit sector,” Holmes said. “By bringing them to Montana, we’ll be able to be a catalyst for large-scale global impact while growing and expanding Montana’s startup ecosystem.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org